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An Open Plan

The Indian Express - February 03, 2013

When the husband and the contractor renovated the house.

My husband has a home renovation fetish. He itches to break down walls, paint them, alter window heights and enclose balconies. I am not enthused by the whole process. I have a theory that painters take as long as they do because our homes are more comfortable than theirs and there is a dis-incentive for them to finish their work. They get paid on a daily rate, and they certainly enjoy a nice afternoon snooze alone in the room that is being painted, get tea and cold water twice a day, or more if they ingratiate themselves with the household help.

I walked into the house yesterday to find all the pictures taken down, and a happy husband telling me that the painters would arrive tomorrow. I protested violently that I hadn't been consulted, to which he said I had been, and that I had said "yes". This probably was true, but it must have been done the way children do it — when mom says you can go play in the rain if your dad says "yes", they skip over to dad, and ask an innocuous set of questions and dad, reading the newspaper, mutters annoyed, "Yes, yes, yes... now go out and play."

Catching me at the dining table at my computer, with my cellphone ringing, and the pressure cooker whistling, he must have said "The house really needs painting, doesn't it? We must get it done, don't you think, before it gets too hot? Do you want to meet Rajat bhai (the contractor)?" I must have distractedly said "Yes, ok" to the first two and a vehement "No" to meeting Rajat bhai. He is the best ever contractor and a great dispute arbitrator, but I have learnt by now that when he recommends something with a gleam in his eye, saying "Kya first class dikhega yeh", it's a disaster waiting to happen. He also provides helpful advice like "Backside paint karo, acha dikhega." We lived in an identical flat above our present one. When that house was getting done up before we moved in, I had delegated to both of them (cleverly, I thought) the tedious decision about locations for plug points. They put their heads together and came up with this — when you were leaving your bedroom, the only way you could now switch off the fan was to clamber across the bed, fully dressed, shoes and all. They placed a single plug point at waist height near the dining table, my favourite working place, such that my computer wire blocked the way to the bar area; so for several years, I had palpitations, as the head of the house followed by the hound of the house, made their way to and fro. When we moved to our present flat, I implored Rajat bhai to place the plug point out of harm's way. He did put one at floor level on the other side, but thoughtfully left the old plug point exactly where it was.

Being a creature of habit, I still use the original plug point and spend many an evening guarding my precious computer from man and beast. Rajat bhai and my husband faithfully replicated all the flaws in the old flat as if their sense of well-being depended on that. It reminded me of the joke about the man who married a second time and no matter what wonderful things his second wife served him at breakfast, he would shake his head mournfully and say, "Not like what my first wife made". Accidentally one day, she burnt the toast and ruined the coffee. Her husband beamed and said, "Exactly like my first wife made it".

So finally what colour will our walls be? Having been married to each other for ever, we know that white is the only colour that enjoys consensus. White cupboards, pelmets and door frames match the white walls. "Doesn't it feel like living in a hospital?" asked a friend of mine. Then she added thoughtfully "I guess you are no better than he is. Your entire wardrobe is made up of many shades of mud and cow dung."