Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Brick by brick

When your eight year old comes back beaming from the washroom in a restaurant and exclaims “they have soft closing seats in the loo”, there can be only one conclusion. You must be constructing a house ! And yes Sir, I am.

Soft closing seats aside, am not petrified anymore by fully or partially vitrified tiles. Fossil stone, engineered wood and high-density fibres are now like a random bunch of friends from various childhood schools.  Antique brass and powder coated hinges don’t leave me creaking. My TLA vocab has grown too, taking in its sweep RWH, MSS, MDF and WHU (what-have-you). Also, have figured out a thing or two about faux art - Monier is not a French painter, Odele is not a Roman princess. Artize could make a good photoshop option, but means something else altogether these days.

House construction occupies mental bandwidth like nothing else possibly can. Courtship or marriage wouldn't possess one as much as construction, for what else can explain affairs on the side ? Work could never obsess most people as much either – how else can one explain job hopping? Try googling for people who have cheated on a house construction, by leaving one midway and starting another, you will have reached the end of what google knows! House construction wins hands-down when it comes to being the single most important master in the lives of each of us earthlings, who mostly innocently venture into such an activity.

Some people are born to be passionate about something – they become the experts in their chosen field – Sachin Tendulkar and Oprah Winfrey are good examples. Lesser mortals can fancy their chances at expertise ..with house construction.  Practically everyone that has constructed a house- be it the size of a shoe box or a shoe factory, has an expert opinion on every aspect of the construction – and mostly this expertise has been gained at the cost of a screw up.  If you do take the risk of asking someone for advice on what you should do, be prepared to be inundated …with what you shouldn't do ! Don’t go to that architect – in fact don't go to any architect. Don’t go for teak…Don’t ever consider anything other than teak. Don’t go for marble floors – it is the most overrated thing ..next only to the Taj. Don’t go for granite counters, don’t plant those trees, don’t paint those colors and stay away from such neighbors!

At home, house construction plays Pope maker. And the Pope decides. And the Pope wears the pants. And decides what is good and what is bad, and curses you for always playing the devil’s advocate. The Papal role is of course reserved for the one who spends most time at home. Most logical, if logic was ever a criterion to go with. I resign, devil’s advocate is probably as far as I can ever get to having a say, legal or otherwise, in matters of house construction.

One fine day, after having bought the site, I broach the subject of planning the house. The son begins with his wish-list - a Jacuzzi, a basket-ball court, a cricket field and a velodrome make it for starters. A gaming room and bedroom that turns into a disco come in as after-thoughts.  The better half, holding her papal instincts back if only briefly, suggests a gym, with the noble intention that getting me to invest in it would get me to use it, if only occasionally. Mother asks for a kitchen large enough to qualify for Michelin stars – the rest of the house, if any is needed, could be on the first floor or even on the neighbouring site. My dad asks for a garden that is at least as big as the kitchen. The basics are expected to fall in, fairly easily – the living room, dining, bedrooms, bathrooms ..all make their appearances – just that I’m left wondering if what A considers to be the bathroom space is indeed what B considers to be ideal for the kitchen and C thinks would make the perfect place for the puja, from a V perspective. Arrrgh ! I take it on the architects, I tell you, they are all about options and not about decisions! And that’s exactly when I’m reminded with the all-knowing “ahem”, it’s not the architects silly, it’s the Pope who decides!

And Pope it shall be. The Papal decisions come in a flurry. We will not have the living room there, we will not have those kind of windows in the kitchen, we will not have those floors and the stairs, they will not be there. So how do we go upstairs, I innocently ask. Stairs of course, will be there, but not “there” as in, not in that part of the house – silly me. I thought we were going to have an escalator! The papal decisions leave me floored – a number of good decisions that identify the bad designs are taken. Good riddance of bad rubbish – to hell with those stupid ideas. But the devil’s advocate cannot resist popping the question - how do we go about identifying the good designs – where is it good to have the dining or the living or the stairs or the garden or whatever. Pat comes the reply – the Pope decides, lesser mortals can design. That leaves me resigned to design. And re-design. Ad infinitum.

And then the parents and assorted well-wishers and relatives chip in. The dreaded V word begins to make its rounds. The word I had avoided – had specifically asked the architect to steer clear of. V for vastu.  Since I take pride in being a rational animal, I have steered clear of religion and belief to the extent that I made a pre-nup with the wifey on letting me steer clear of it, and have relished the day when my son, all of 5 years, popped the question “Is there God, and why should we believe”? Anyway, cutting the rationality crap, I for one couldn't care less for vastu, but since I’m anyway a careless person, others tend to care. 

Weekends are spent window shopping ..and door shopping and tile shopping and WHU shopping. Designs, materials, quality, affordability, availability accessibility and lot of other ities occupy weekends. Options, options and even more options play out in my sleep. All my rationality is used up in making mental pugh matrices, only to be over-ruled either by the contractor for being too expensive, or by the architect for being inconsistent and finally by the Pope for being, well, not Papal in origin! To be fair, I’m terrible at decision-making myself, and I always knew it. But just as you never learn how to swear until you learn to drive, you will never learn how to decide (or how not to decide), until you build a house.

As the house gets into shape – exteriors are done, plastering in progress, the contractor is haggling us for the design of the compound wall and such sundries, am left wondering if house construction – or any construction for that matter.. is a matter of the heart or the soul. The debate of the head vs heart is pretty old fashioned – and in the case of house construction, they are both nearly on the same side. The body (head and heart) needs a house, but what about the spirit? Does the soul crave for a house – complete with wooden floors and pergolas, Hettich in the kitchen and Grohe in the bathrooms? Couldn't we live on earth and disappear leaving behind nothing at all? Plants and animals leave behind pretty much nothing. But we leave behind monstrous amount of legacy, hardly of relevance once we are gone. 

And in my case, decidedly, that will include soft closing seats.