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May 30, 2018

Finding the ‘I’

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Devika Swarup

While redesigning your home, don’t forget to add a touch of whimsy

The other day I had lunch with a friend in her bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi. We sat under a sprightly garden umbrella, near towering neem trees and surrounded by idiosyncratic shrubbery. I suppose I am rapidly becoming one of the ladies who lunch. Earlier that week I had been to a luncheon party in an almost-neighbouring garden. It was peopled by women in heels. One pair of teetering heels had threatening-looking red soles. The lady who belonged to them kept crossing and uncrossing her long legs so that we would notice her Christian Louboutins. Perhaps, these red-bottomed designer heels are not the ideal footwear for walking on the deep green grass which had obviously been watered the day before. Nor did the sparkling clutch bags or the long diamond earrings quite go with the sylvan surroundings.

The luncheon party guests tried to avoid the sun and flitted from one white wrought iron table (duly protected by garden umbrellas with floral patterns) to the next, in pursuit of the more happening guests. At least those who announced their place in the hierarchy of the branded, almost-wearing-labels-inside-out to make it easier for those trying to zoom in on the ‘arrived’. The crockery and the cutlery were perfectly matched, as were the serving dishes. Similarly, the garden with its neat rows of flowers and manicured lawn was picture-perfect. But there was something that jarred. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it — there was a reason, perhaps, why I was not transported to the realms of bliss.

Discord in harmony
There was something robotic about the way the afternoon played out that lazy Sunday. Even the palette of the food being served was in harmony. Clearly the hostess had catered to both the appearance of the culinary fare as well as to the taste buds. The flower beds were in straight, neat rows; antiseptic like those created and managed by PWD (Public Works Department) gardeners. The gardener was merely replicating what his peers and those of previous generations had always done. In other words, follow the time-honoured traditions: design by rules and make sure there isn’t a single, symbolically speaking, hair out of place.

Whimsy had been banished from this half-acre of green. Unlike my friend’s quirky garden down the road, with its tiny pond which had ceramic frogs placed at its rim as well as a ‘created’ small dome topped by a gilded rococo birdcage. Her garden had evolved like her. Not too long ago she used to religiously follow the leader (whoever the high priestess or priest of fashion at the time might be). She blindly adhered to her or his dictates: the colours, the cuts, the hemlines and even the fabric. For long the ‘match-match’ culture ruled. Saris with matching blouses, even if she had to go miles to find the exact colour; rigidly-coordinated salwar kameezes and pants perfectly in sync with blouses and shoes that blended in. Then, she had merely transitioned from the uniform of her Sacred Heart Convent School to that of her peers — in college and later in her early years of married life.

A quiet revolution
So there was no ‘I’ factor in her wardrobe or in her home. Or, indeed in the way she went about her life. It was all about blending in. The evolution of an individual style or a personality was not even a gleam in her eye. Until one day, she might not even remember which one, she began to feel stifled by the conformity, the sameness of it all. Perhaps it had to do with her evolving circle of friends: the addition of a few eccentrics and did not live by the book or people she befriended in the art classes she had begun to take. Even the world depicted in the films on Netflix opened to her. Without stepping out of her home she could now enter other rooms, other worlds.

A quiet revolution had begun: conformity was shown the door. In the near past psychoanalysts might have called this phase ‘individuation’, coming into one’s own. Her designs on life evolved, as had those of her friends. Whimsy was ushered in, and made to feel at home. Once it entered, there was no telling where it would take you. So, she began to redesign her wardrobe, her home, garden and herself — her life to quite an extent. It wasn’t so much the evolution of style as her designs on life that had irrevocably changed.

At the root of this particular evolution of self was the discovery of the self, one’s individual personality. From there on it was just a matter of matching the rest to it: from a home or its interiors, wardrobes, vacations, dinner parties, including the kind of food and how to serve it. The last outpost of evolution of design: whimsicality with a dash of insouciance. In my book, that is.

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