During my growing years life was on a shoe string budget. Every paisa was accounted for as we lived from one salary date to another. Excess was seen as sin. Life was a strict regimen with everything accounted for before the pay packet arrived. Even the meagre `50 father would have to send every month to a struggling relative. There was no way we could dip into it. And there was a ban on borrowing.
So if at any time the quota of essential items got exhausted before the timeline, we just had to do cheerfully with easier substitutes like more vegetables and soups. Of course such occasions were few, thanks to my mother’s expertise. The little kitchen garden my grandmother tended with her gnarled green fingers flourished with baskets of beans, ladies’ fingers, drumsticks and spinach that would be shared with admiring neighbours. Most of all lovely “gongura”, its serrated leaves and green and red stalks swaying in the breeze, would find its way into chutneys, pickles flavouring our food and lives and of which we gave sparingly to others. Every Andhraite is born to gongura, my mother said.
I am not complaining. Not that we were on a regular starvation or deprivation diet. We just had enough, nothing to spill over. The eagerly awaited delicacy was on Sundays, no midweek holiday would persuade my mother to break the routine. There was no budget for medical expenses and we were told to keep fit. The customary cough, cold, fever were treated with home remedies. But I recall we were never happier or healthier. Nothing can equal the joy of having just enough, not even the joy of abundance. In abundance there is no value for things, no excitement, no delicious anticipation.
The wardrobe was severely limited containing stuff picked with a discerning eye from annual discount and clearance sales. Nobody ever knew and we dressed with taste. Only in one sphere even within the limited means life was a bonanza. The only family in the locality with volumes of Encyclopedia Brittanica and Books of Knowledge, we were the neighbour’s envy and the afternoons turned the home into a library. The Illustrated weekly and the Life magazine and Readers Digest were looked forward to.
It is my upbringing, I think, that has given me a minimalist philosophy. Life is enjoyable with just so much, a table sparingly laid with taste, the minimal look with expanse and unobtrusive artefacts in the drawing room, an uncluttered elegance, as the prime design element. A select wardrobe where fabric, colour, motif is a deliberate choice rather than an extensive one. Enough is grace but abundance a surfeit that takes the edge off living with feelings of guilt.