TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MADHUMITA GUPTA
There was literally nothing that Kiran Chandra Roy could do when the tenant fled from Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh, rather than pay months of outstanding rent. The silver lining was that he was a skilled carpenter and in his hurry to flee, had left quite a few pieces of furniture behind, which Capt. KC Roy, my dadu promptly confiscated and carted home. That is how this teakwood table, polished to perfection, some beds and a few pieces of smaller furniture came to our family in the late 50’s. The other items were distributed between dadu’s sons, my mamas. Ma got this table, a bed and a tea-table. The other items have disappeared since but the table survives.
Originally made for six, eight at a pinch, the table travelled from Itarsi to Jaipur, from there to Udaipur, when dadu retired and my mother got her first job at Mira Girls’ College. And since a woman could not live on her own in the ‘60s India, that too in orthodox Rajasthan, my grandparents – dadu and dida – came along to support her, and choto mama followed to study there. My mother, ambitious as she was, refused to throw up the coveted job, and chose to stay back and work in Udaipur even after her marriage.
My father to and fro-ed between Udaipur and wherever in India he was posted in his highly mobile job in the army. So, at any given time the household had four or five people, while dida, who adored cooking and feeding people, continued her reign in the kitchen. The table groaned under the happy weight of the usual finicky five-course Bengali meals – teto, bhaja, daal, maach/murgi, mishti. Dida would have been horrified at the mere idea of anything less.
Originally this shape-shifting table was elliptical with a squarish center-piece of 41” x 36” and semi-circular flaps, supported by foldable legs on either side. When extended to its full size, it could seat six to eight people. It had convenient drawers on both sides to store crockery and cutlery. Made of teak, it was originally wood coloured. And when it lost its sheen, and it was deemed impossible to find a carpenter good enough to restore it to its original glory, it acquired a range of cloth and a hideous rexin cover, and finally, a dark, zero-maintenance sun-mica top. This has since then been changed a couple of times, and is now a faux-marble top with white painted legs and chairs to match.
I look back at how much the table has travelled – born in Itarsi, taken to Udaipur and then with Ma’s transfer in 1970 to Alwar, where it stayed in one piece till 1985. Many a birthday were celebrated around it and it was part of innumerable dinner-table conversations and other memories. One particularly unforgettable time is when my best friend Anu came to spend the afternoon with me, not knowing that the house was already full of visitors. After a heavy lunch everybody wandered off for the long siesta and with all the rooms occupied, we were left without a place for our never-ending chats. Not to be outdone, we found some pillows and a dhurri and made a bed of that table, where the family found us in the evening, gently snoring away where we must have nodded off.
I got married in 1985 in a rather unconventional hurry as the wedding was planned around when my husband could get away for a week from his new work place. No one had actually given much thought about furnishing our new home, but just in the nick of time, Ma got this genius idea of getting the flaps removed from the original table and get them joined to form a circular table “You will need a table, right?”
So, a carpenter was summoned, the flaps removed and joined to make a new circular table. This came to us and resumed its travels, first to Rajkot, Gujarat, then to Jaipur and finally back to Alwar in 1995. It was this new half-table that saw us through my rookie cooking days, where my husband waded through my inedible-to-passable-to actually good culinary experiments. My birthdays had been celebrated around it in the ‘70s and from ‘87 it became a part of our son’s birthdays, where all homework was done and where, in a nutshell, all our growing up as a family happened. The table was witness to more than the people who made and used it. It actually saw four generations grow up around it.
While we had the circular half of the table, the main central square part stayed resolutely in Alwar and came to us when ma, at the age of seventy, made her home with us. For a few years the two halves were in the same dining-room, one serving as the dining table and the other housed our music system, books and our very large collection of audio cassettes. Our procession of pets deemed the area under the tables as kennels and spent their time under the table chewing the lower rung. Now in a kind of a full circle, the square part of the table – painted and restored to a pristine white – again presides as our dining table, while the circular one witnesses yet another family growing at my nephew’s place.
If these tables could talk what stories they would have from before I was born. Tales of the small meals, large spontaneous get-togethers, landmark family decisions, pets…