Kuldip’s and my plan is to split our time between Australia and India over the next few years. So, during our three-month stay in Chandigarh in India’s Punjab last year, Kuldip and I bought an apartment there. We left India bound for a few months in Europe shortly after settlement knowing that when we returned the following year a lot of time, money and effort were needed to bring the place up to western standards.
We got back to our Punjabi ‘palace’ six weeks ago and to say it’s been hard work since we crossed the threshold would be to put it mildly. To start with, the maintenance and repair list we had given the developer before we left wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
After a long flight from Brisbane to Delhi via Singapore where we had a six-hour stopover followed by a five-hour road trip from Delhi to Chandigarh, we experienced every dismal ‘d’ word you can think of when we saw that our apartment was in worse condition than when we left it. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s book, Heat and Dust, is well titled and while it’s not always hot everywhere in India, dust is dominant. Our little domain was no exception thanks to the gaping holes that awaited installation of air-conditioners or exhaust fans and through which the wind whistled. Our Indian dream was a dustbowl that left us disappointed, discouraged, depressed, dejected, dismayed and disheartened.
When he could finally speak, Kuldip said: “We’ve made a big mistake buying a place in India.” Kuldip may have wanted to take flight, but since I had just been on a long one, I didn’t relish the thought of another. What confronted us was undeniably soul-destroying, but India had, by now, seeped into my soul as it had done with Prawer Jhabvala’s main character, Olivia. And like Olivia, I was in India to stay.
Six weeks on, our apartment is beginning to look like home. The developer has avoided us like the plague since we arrived, so we’ve chosen the path of least resistance and fixed many of the items on his list for him. The painters have also been and gone and while the original paint job was a whitewash, literally and figuratively, our two young Punjabi painters, Avinder and Brahmdev, did an excellent job especially on the feature walls that comprise amethyst, crimson red, ‘Sikh’ orange, lime green and aquamarine for the living, dining, and guest rooms and the master bedroom and study respectively. The final effect is so foreign to Indians that we had a stream of people from the complex we live in come to our place to take a peak at what the “foreigners” have done. While Indians wear lots of bright colours, they paint the interiors of their homes in one of two colours, whitewash or beige (that is, if they paint them at all!). While what we’ve done is out there according to the locals, they love what we’ve done too.
Now that the painters have been and gone and curtains to match have been hung in the living and guest rooms, as well as the master bedroom, Kuldip and I have had fun hanging some pictures on the walls. For example, the Monet prints we bought from the artist’s home at Giverny in France last year look stunning hanging along one wall in our living room. (The Monet prints comprise Impression, Sunrise, Water-Lilies, Green Reflections, Woman with a Parasol, Poppies and The Magpie.) A framed poster of the cover of my book, Just the Ticket and the tapestries of Renoir’s Danse a la Campagne and Danse a la Ville, which we also bought, last year, at Mont Saint Michel in France all look sensational hanging on the red feature wall in our dining room. All of the framed images were done here in Chandigarh at a fraction of what it would cost in Australia, or anywhere else in the western world. All we need now is for the furniture to arrive, which was originally promised for 7th April. But that’s incredible India where everything happens in time, not on time!