As India kicks into deep election mode, I’d like to draw your attention to what I call the ‘Teen Murti template’ of home décor that’s alive still in many urban Indian homes. Here’s a checklist of its instantly recognisable ‘caste marks’ that endure even three generations later.
n The cool uncluttered look. There is always space to walk through and around, which straightaway bans over-large, over-stuffed sofa sets and gigantic glass coffee tables.
n Old furniture mixed easily with new. A colonial easychair or antique swing on the verandah or simple cane chairs with cotton blockprinted cushions. A leather reclining chair for the Oldest Inhabitant. Some kind of chattai on the wall or floor. Thoroughly modern TV-DVD and comp (though not always). Bang & Olufsen speakers, “So expensive, but such clean design, darling. The children gave it to us for our 30th wedding anniversary.”
n Real rugs, kelims or carpets on the floor. Silk carpets are usually avoided in favour of light wool in earth tones;
or with a biscuit or ashes-of-roses ground.
The design will be very subtle, no obvious ‘char bagh’ here. There’s every chance of a real Bukhara rug with its ‘lozenge’ design in ruby and cinnabar that gleams when taken out to be beaten.
n The divan, with an all-India medley of colourful cotton cushion covers. No velvet, no silk, no Omar Khayyam. But a B&W ASI photo of the Konarak sun chariot wheel in a frame of solid silver, next to the fruit bowl on the teak sideboard.
n Open bookshelves. This means that people actually read in the house and want quick, easy access to books, they can’t be bothered fiddling with glass doors.
There are usually two kinds of bookshelves. One, the high wall unit, a must. Two, the four-foot highs, low elegant linings for corridors, passageways, guest rooms, every available bit of wall.
n Atop these shelves are the Bankura horses, the Husain woodcut, a delicate Murano glass bubble (no vulgar mirrors festooned with pink glass roses to proclaim how many dollars you spent).
Just so, the exquisitely inlaid cigarette box from an Arab country, the small, beautiful Russian icon with its muted gilding, bookends in rose-wood from Kerala shaped like elephants.
And more bookends shaped like lean, Modigliani-like African figures (reversible: a man’s head on one side, a woman’s on the other), a bowl of spinach jade or something exactly like it; a beautiful ceramic bowl
or two (no boring browns) but in deep, mysteriously thrilling blues and greens.
n The music will be highly eclectic, proof of the home’s deep internalisation of the eclectic Nehruvian idea of India: K.L. Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Bade Ghulam
Ali Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bauls, Sufis, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, perhaps even that rare, heartbreaking recording of Dinu Lipatti’s last piano concert at Besançon in France.
n The paintings will be real (tribal women by B. Prabha or something by the early Progressives), plus pencil drawings, charcoals and good quality art prints bought at the museum shop of a great world capital.
Frames? Minimal and austere. Who you go to for framing is keenly discussed over fine tea, real pedas from Mathura and ginger snaps…
Teen Murti House is still an Indian’s castle. Just look around.