In the early 70s, my paternal grandparents, Valli & Ganesan, moved to a small first-floor apartment. Over the next 40 years, their seven children, children’s spouses, grand children lived in this warm and cozy home. The living space in their home seemed to be endlessly expandable and all were welcome in the home and heart of my dear grandparents.
The home had very few movable assets. Kitchen was disproportionately well equipped and always busy. My grandmother believed that her “God” was this family and the path to Moksha was through the happy stomachs. We sat on the floor, around our portly grandmother, and ate wholesome meals. We slept on mats neatly laid out on the floor, shared pillows, played board games sprawled on the floor of the living room, watched cricket matches leaning on the wall corners, read comics huddled in room corners and entertained guests laying out plates full of bakshnam (snacks) and filter coffee over the sparkling mosaic floor. Most belongings and bedding of the family and visitors were stashed in the open lofts during non-use hours and brought down using a shaky wooden stool by the youngest member of the available family, from time to time.
One rainy day, after a few years of moving into this flat, my grandfather has a epiphanous moment. He invested in a sturdy, sparkly Sofa-cum-Bed!. This first piece of furniture to occupy our living room brought a whole lot of stories along with it. This heavy, unwieldy piece was brought through the small wooden front door with great difficulty and placed along one long ( relatively) wall in the living room. The Sofa had a bright sapphire squeaky cover and gold metal handles. It’s the most beautiful piece we have ever seen and soon the extended family made a visit to admire the sofa.
Suddenly, my grandmother lost her power position as the most important person in the entire family. The Sofa cum-bed rode up the Maslow’s pyramid and occupied this enviable position for a good twenty years to come. My grandmother hated this competitor and vowed never to patronize this four-legged sparkly creature ever. The kids were barred from sitting on the sofa as we had the deadly potential to jump start the depreciation process. Important guests and elderly family members were invited to sit on the sofa. They were lovingly instructed to “behave with utmost care” and my grand father always had a watchful eye on the proceedings. My grandfather used his special dusting/cleaning technique to keep it at top performance level. When we needed to use it as a bed, my grandfather took great care to unfold it and place a thin mattress on top. Anyone who slept on it must either be sick or have a passport with lots of stamps on it. Most woke up from this uncomfortable bed with either a stiff back or blood shot eyes due to lack of sleepAs years rolled by, the springs of the sofa forgot their job, cushions flattened, rexin cover faded, paint on the handle rubbed off. My grandfather used all the techniques available in his repertoire to resurrect the sofa to its full glory. The jutting springs were guarded with extra cushioning from home pillows, the handles repainted to silver, the wooden plank base supported with newspaper and rexin cuts patched with strong cello tape Visitors had to be guided carefully to sit in the best patches of the sofa and the family members had developed a strong signaling system to wean visitors off the sofa. My grandfather came up with an idea to cover this with the best bedspreads and tie the four ends of the bed sheet to the sofa legs. It proved to be great idea as the sofa got a different character based on the bedspread we used during the period.
Despite all the harrowing changes to the physical structure of the sofa, its soul remained intact. This piece of furniture witnessed some great moments and bore the weight of amazing people. Many marriages were finalized after the prospective bridegroom sat on this sofa and fell for the women of this family. Many functions were performed in this home and every inch of this sofa were occupied by friends and family. Many sick bodies were repaired and cleansed after spending a few days on this happy space. . Grandchildren piled on this sofa for smiley family pictures. Arguments were resolved amicably, good family decisions were taken by my grandfather and his sons as they sat over this comfort couch. This was an only elevated off the ground option, for grand children to evade the maids broom act in the mornings. Uncles caught a few winks on hot afternoons, comic books characters came alive as children bounced around this aging furniture, aunts sat on the farthest corner and kept an eye on the evasive postman or maids and my grandfather sat with his vethalla potti (betel leaf box) after his lunch.
I don’t seem to remember the time or year when the sofa cum bed left our home. It was reluctantly replaced with a boring wooden sofa. Maybe it was the time when I was no longer a child, maybe it was the time when my grandparents “really aged” and relinquished the powers to the next generation, maybe it was the time when life became messy and complicated.
I miss the sturdy, squeaky, sapphire coloured rexin clothed sofa-cum-bed. Just like how I miss my grand parents warm physical presence!!!