Do you have a living room in your house? What an idiotic question, you murmur? Let me explain.
So you have a comfortable sofa/couch with bright soft cushions, some great paintings on the wall, a corner table strewn with knick-knacks and artefacts, a colourful foot rug thrown casually, a low table with a couple of books and a lovely bookshelf with rows upon rows of books. You entertain your guests in this room and relax with a book on the sofa.
But do you LIVE in it? No? Then you don’t have a LIVING room. So there!
Ask the L&M. He will tell you that the living room is meant to be lived in. He has been doing it for the past two decades, no less! That was when he quit his corporate job and decided to work as a consultant, operating from home. And that is when I began losing ground…er…the living room. I fought tooth and nail to hold on to it but it was a losing battle till I had to beat a hasty retreat to the inner rooms if I even wanted to sit down. You see, there was no vacant area on any of the surfaces – including the floor in the living room (LR).
It began innocuously enough as all such calamitous things begin. Since he had to work from home, the L&M needed a home ‘office’ and the living-cum-dining room was commandeered for the purpose. When it came to the actual acquisition, it included everything in the room, as happens in all acquisitions.
He had figured out everything –the room was large enough to accommodate a big computer table (remember the huge CPU, the bulky monitor, the printer, not to forget the UPS — that computers consisted of in those days?), the dining table could be used to sit and work at, the five seater sofa was a bonanza for someone who loved surfaces to store things instead of shelves. Then his eyes went to the showcase-cum-bookshelf that held artefacts from many countries he had travelled to and stacks of books.
‘No!’ I screamed. There was no way he was going to get that one!
He shrugged. I knew then that I had a battle on my hands.
It is thanks to him that I have been able to really understand all those words and terms from history books that I remember reading in school. In fact, it was a practical lesson this time round. Words like conquest, surrender, defeat, war, secession, ceding, victory, coup, encroachment, territory, occupation, stealth warfare, etc. etc. have all been played out in real time in that kingdom/battlefield called the Living Room!
Of all the words ‘cede’ kept popping into my head most frequently and unbidden and along with it the name of C P & Berar. Why? Perhaps because Berar was the most mentioned ceded territory in middle school history books of my time. From Mughal reign to British rule, Berar was ceded God knows how many times! Anyone who is interested in finding out can check the wiki link here.
After that small aside, let me come back to my own kingdom, which was in dire danger of being conquered.
He practically began ‘living’ in the room — his clothes strung over chairs, doors, sofa….his assorted footwear thrown casually around the room, the TV set placed strategically so that if he even fractionally turned his head from the computer monitor he could watch a programme on the TV. I looked on apprehensively, and feared the worst.
Initially I kept straightening the room as best as I could without touching his papers and letters but soon gave up. And then I went away for a couple of weeks and when I returned home, I nearly passed out of shock. There was no living room! I mean it. It had simply vanished! There was no sofa, no dining table and no floor! It was a nightmare playing out all over again as the time when I had been forced up the wall.
The scene has been played out in the many big and small LRs we have had in the numerous houses since. I tried all ruses, even pretending that that the bedroom was actually the living room so that he may be attracted to it as his office,., but no! He wanted the room in the front, please! I almost became bald pulling out fistful of hair over the years. The room had nothing – no art, no artifacts, no bookshelf – nothing except his clutter.
So when we moved back to Mumbai a few years ago, I thought I would make it fairly clear to the L&M that this time round I would brook no nonsense of the literal living room. For one, the living room was too small, just about the size of the bedroom and if he began ‘living’ in it, I would have to ‘leave.’ For another, his work had reduced a great deal. Big or small, I was not about to ‘cede’ it this time around. I gave him one of the bedrooms for his office and all his mess and told him to stay there. He eyed the TV in the living room longingly, but I was firm!
I drew up an agreement carefully, listing all the stuff that I knew from experience over the years that would sooner than later come into the living room. I added more and more items till it was longer than the finance bill with its clauses and sub clauses. He nodded most solemnly, promising to abide by the agreement to the letter.
For the first few weeks it was unbelievably clean and I had sore arms from pinching myself through the day. The L&M still ‘lived’ there sans his paraphernalia. I had gloated too soon, alas!
Years of battle had still not taught me anything at all. This time it was not encroachment but stealth warfare that I had to deal with. So first one homeo medicine bottle came out, hiding behind a cushion on the sofa. He must have seen me spy it, for he surreptitiously (or so he believed) extracted it and took it out of the room. Two days later a garden chair sat in front of the TV with the L&M resplendent on it.
‘I need a hard-backed chair for my back; it hurts on the sofa. Don’t worry, I will remove it when I switch off the TV!’ he hurriedly assured me. I rolled my eyes.
‘I want the chair out of here when I am awake, not asleep,’ I said sarcastically, for the damned TV was on all waking hours, even if he wasn’t watching anything! The sarcasm was completely lost on him as he was deep into one of the shouting matches on TV. Suffice to say that I hop-skipped-jumped my way around the chair through the day, giving him looks that would have scorched him had he been aware of anything outside the damn TV.
By now he had started violating sub clauses and some main clauses as well at alarming speed. For instance, the clause that stipulated that only that day’s paper should be out on the centre-table was the first casualty. So it was no surprise that the sub-clause ‘the paper should be neatly folded’ went for a toss too. The medicine bottles began appearing in the mornings and went back by mid-morning, but then soon began overstaying their welcome in the LR. I found his sneakers peeking from under the sofa one day. A couple of days later they stood defiantly in the open, near the table.
‘I will put them away, don’t worry. I was too tired,’ he replied to my protest, without taking his eye off the idiot box.
I knew then that I had lost another battle. The encroachment had begun to turn into occupation aided by some stealth warfare and might soon become a siege.
The latest update is that I have ceded yet another living room after another defeat in the latest battle in the War of the Living Rooms.
Damn C P and Berar!
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