Indian homes: Shanti Nivas to Casa Grande

Alpana Parida,

Not just names, even the way Indians view their homes has changed. It's no longer the place where we let our masks slip but an avenue for showing off our international tastes and aspirations.

Homes used to be the very definition of our roots - and our current home was to be clearly distinguished from our 'ancestral home' or 'native place'. The women in the home were exalted as grih laxmis and this was a sanctified place that was not to be desecrated. Liquor was consumed outside, perhaps in the verandah or terrace and in vegetarian homes, the non-vegetarian indulgences - if any - were outside.

Homes were unsullied by the external world, they were havens that protected us not only from the elements but from the sullying effects of alien cultures. They were also places where we could let our masks slip. We spoke in our mother tongue, ate with our hands from stainless steel thalis and threw mattresses on the floor for extra guests - who were both frequent and many. They were spaces that were shared with no concept of personal space.

Our homes were where we stored everything and threw nothing. Mismatched curtains and sofas, the totally inappropriate machine made carpet (woolen in Mumbai?) and the Eureka Forbes vacuum cleaner (bought but never used), to say nothing of the bric-a-brac in show cases, the souvenirs from foreign trips and the sundry kitsch that defied provenance;all jostled for space.

Our homes were called Shanti Nivas, Gauri Sadan, Upasana, Diwan Shree, Kanchenjunga, Usha Kiran, Sah Jeevan and such like. They rooted us and we built our lives around our homes. Kids grew up and left - but the homes remained, often sprawling, unmanageable properties - with the ageing parents who stayed on as caretakers of a home that no longer was suitable for their life stage. Selling the home was never an option.

So much has changed about the way we view our homes now. For starters - the names have undergone a total transformation. Now we have Palm Springs, Miami Vista, Silver Oak, Hamilton Court, Bellissimo and Casa Grande in not only the metros, but in smaller towns like Kochi, Vadodara and Ranchi. The real estate industry is selling maximized spaces with minimalistic dêcor. Pristine white leather sofas and wooden or Italian flooring have become de jure. Interior decorators have mushroomed and coordinated walls and curtains have become a necessity.

The homes themselves appear international. A cursory analysis of real estate advertising throws up properties with views - both the interior and the exterior, that could be anywhere in the world. There is little of India that you see. The lure is that of an international lifestyle with jacuzzis and swimming and/ or plunge pools, rain showers and fitted kitchens;the new world is the promise of an escape. Exemplified by the hiding of all ugly things - the functional - the wires, the flush tank, the switchboards - and keeping only the aesthetics.

In less than a generation, we are living international lives. Our homes are no longer the place where we celebrate our traditional lifestyles, the one refuge where we can be ourselves. They are places where we flaunt our international tastes and aspirations. Where no mismatched dêcor exists and our interiors are as much statements of style as our clothing is.

Our need for making the indulgent, the everyday is now a necessity: the occasional indulgences of the past have become a way of life today at so many levels. The entertainment - which used to be the eagerly awaited Chitrahaar, the Sunday movie and the few English serials have given way to a 24-hour bonanza of channels and programs. The rare dessert or soft drinks that were the highlights of festivals or weddings, reside in our refrigerators and have inundated the everyday - chocolate has become the daily meetha. From at most twothree pairs of shoes/chappals - we now have a countless array. There is nothing occasional about anything in our life anymore.

In such a scenario - the occasional foreign trip, the stay at the luxury hotel or resort are no longer sufficient as rare indulgences. We want the experience everyday, just as we want 24x7 entertainment every day. We want our homes to become like the luxurious and sanitized world of hotels.

The aspiration of the foreign was always a promise of a better world. From hankering for brands/products that visiting relatives would bring in, we have tasted the foreign shores ourselves. We no longer are the recipients of others' largesse. We travel from Pattaya to Patagonia and eat pasta and paella. We shop abroad and take gifts to the same relatives who had brought us the coveted Yardley perfume and the microwaveable popcorn. We tell them to not bring anything because "Now you get everything in India".

In this taking of control of our aspirations, is the key to how we look at homes today. We are no longer content with morsels of the good life. We seek it and acquire it. The rise of the new "gated communities" is due to the fact that they create a bubble, a haven that we can escape to. It is the formation of a community where we belong, we trust and we celebrate.

The discourse of homes today is that they are as symbolic of an "escape from" as they are of an "escape to". They are as much a seeking of an international, luxury experiences as they are of escaping the current breakdown of communities.

Alpana Parida is President of DY Works (alpana@dyworks. in), a leading brand strategy and design firm. The article has inputs from Snehasis Bose, Senior VP, strategy

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