(As told to Anupama Kondayya)
We used to be separatists.
Reserve the regular and mundane for ourselves in the house, the special for guests and occasions. We saw our parents and many other Indian households do it while we were growing up, and we followed suit. We didn’t even think about it; stowing away the good crockery/serveware, the runners, placemats and good linen for guests while using plain, boring things for ourselves in our daily lives. The life and times back then were different. But we brought them straight into our home.
In our initial days of marriage, I used to enjoy setting the table and making the meal look presentable even if it was just the two of us eating. But it became a copy of our childhoods when we hosted parents, since we ended up replicating what they were used to. Meals became facts of life, a necessity rather than an occasion. Something to get done with in the day, with the stress of getting it done in time dominating the spirit of a meal as an occasion.
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Until one day, my husband and I stared down at our plain beige plates and bowls and, literally, lost appetite. It was one of those moments that horrify you with their utter transparency. Why had we been doing this to ourselves? Especially given that we were the privileged ones who ate ALL our meals together.
My husband’s job affords us the luxury of him eating lunch at home. He is the one I spend most of time with (either in person or in thoughts). He is the reason for my existence and role in my marriage. The same applies to him with respect to me. No doubt that guests – whether friends or visiting extended family – are equivalent to Gods in Indian culture, and they bring us immense joy even if they are around for a few hours/days. But the primary figures in our lives for the rest of our lives, the sources of strength are members of our nuclear unit. They are the ones we wake up to, eat with, live with, laugh with. We only get so many moments, so many days to live with them. It hit us that these figures deserve to be treated at least as well as if not better than guests!
And so we replaced our boring plates and bowls. With a lovely vibrant dinner set in red and white that we use for guests as well.
We replaced our cheap but functional cutlery with elegant, solid pieces. We now try and set the table nicely for every meal, even the morning tea. We plan elaborate buffet brunches just for the two of us. We don’t use a random plate and mismatched bowl when we make guacamole-and-chips anymore; we pull out the lovely chip-n-dip plate gifted by cousins. We use all the lovely serveware we had reserved for guests, for ourselves, too, now. We ended the divide between linen reserved for ourselves and guests. We buy flowers even if it is just the two of us around. In our house it’s simple now – it is special to us whether someone is here for a while or forever.
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How many times in a day can I tell the people in my life that they are special to me? When we put in just a little more effort in that table setting, in dressing up even if we are at home all the time, in making the bed look beautiful, in making the house smell nice, we are trying to reiterate to our family as also to ourselves that this right here, the daily, the everyday, the mundane is what makes life. Life is the special occasion that we show up for every day. It is what we celebrate with this approach, while showing appreciation for the co-travellers who stay on this journey with us day in and day out.
We save the best for every day. And that is how we try to make the mundane memorable.