It was love at first sight. There it stood, all 150 kgs of it (as I was to learn later), looking coyly and enticingly. Sarada was naturally upset. And it took me quite a while to convince her that we could all live together, without impinging on each other’s space. But before you run off with other ideas…
We, Sarada, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, his wife Aarthi and I, were visiting a friend’s bungalow. The head of the family had passed away and the old home was being vacated. Furniture was being sold and we were asked if we were interested in anything. Sanjay and Aarthi picked up a cupboard and my roving eye fell on what I learnt later was called a Compact. It was anything but compact, for it was a huge wardrobe in rosewood. On opening it, I stumbled into another world.
A marvelous piece of craftsmanship, it was made by Curzon & Co in 1930 as a metal badge at the base testified. After so many years its doors still swung open without pressure having to be applied at various places. Inside, it made very intelligent use of space. The door on the right had shelves on it where you could keep handkerchieves, cologne bottles and card cases. The door on the left had fishbone pattern tie racks which folded upward on to the door thereby preventing ties from sliding off. Below this was an umbrella and walking stick rack.
The main cupboard had a mirror with space behind it and a wardrobe space where rather uniquely, the rack was perpendicular and not parallel to the cupboard body. You could pull the rack out to inspect your clothes and select the attire for the day. On either side were pegs for hats. And below this, was shoe space. In short, this cupboard was named a compact because it was meant to carry in it all that the well-dressed man was wearing.
I was still wavering when my friend pressed a wooden panel and out came a secret chamber. In fact the compact had two of them and such was the level of finish that unless you knew where to press the chambers would not be visible. That decided me. All that was left was convincing Sarada. Money changed hands and the compact arrived home.
I use the term ‘arrived’ rather loosely. First of all it had to be transferred from the first floor of the old bungalow to a tempo traveller below. This was done via the verandah which was large enough to accommodate a modern flat. But back home things were not so easy. My parents were safely away. (My father in particular hates these acquisitions of mine and frequently grumbles that the house is more a museum). Lifting the compact to the first floor was more than we had bargained for. An army of labourers was pressed into service. With plenty of ropes an attempt was made to lift it from the tempo onto the verandah. A whole host of passersby added to the chaos, each giving his own instructions. One or two were of the view that this is typically the idle sport of some well-to-do freak whose blood will certainly run in the gutter when the revolution came.
After two hours, the compact had moved by ten feet or so and was suspended midair with its head down, rather like Trishanku. The neem trees in the front yard had been roped in as well and looked as though they were ready to snap. The army of labourers had vanished to have tea and refreshments after which a renewed assault would be made. It was then that Kuppan, our electrician, had a brainwave. Why not unscrew the doors he wondered. That would make it a lot lighter. And so we lowered the compact and had its doors removed. They weighed 75 kilos together. These were quickly brought in via the stairs and then the compact, a lot lighter, made its journey via the verandah, into the house.
The carpenter took his time in polishing it and getting it ready. I of course gave it quality time, speaking to it often and ensuring that it settled in well with the rest of the household. It appears to have taken the migration well. Not bad for an 80 year old who is 150 kilos in weight.