The poetry of growing up as Fauji Brat (born, raised and transferred) essentially meant that by the time one was in grade 5 one had to have traveled across the country’s vast landscape, lived in a tented accommodation, a temporary, an additional temporary and then finally the designated quarters! What was common to allotted housing however was the ubiquitous show case/display cabinet / vitrine in the drawing room !It may have been a free standing unit or a built in one. Some were open shelved while others had sliding glass shutters or glass fronted doors. It was an important piece of furniture by virtue of the preciousness of its contents and consequently as a result of which the best craftsmanship was often lavished upon it by each officer who occupied that house .Wood inlays, marquetry, veneering and carvings. Thus the showcase ultimately grew in stature and often became the show stopper in the living room.
The display objects varied depending on the geographic locations of the posting, travels or on those much awaited gifts from relatives who made an annual visit to Hindustan from “Foreign” lands! Interior design those days meant mismatched MES furniture, wooden packing cases that doubled up as a couch or a bed, fresh flowers in empty jam or liquor bottles, old Banaras sari drapes, hand embroidered duvets, netted doily covers for the water jug and white washed walls. The only means of salvation to take this ‘Military décor ‘(as it was called then) anywhere close to being called Stylish were the artifacts displayed in the showcase.
I remember Maa was very picky about what was put out! Each piece was selected with great care .A request ….’Maa please keep that beautiful Kashmiri jewelry box on this shelf ….was met with a stern’ No ! The reason ? ‘I don’t want people to guess where our last posting was’!Not that it was a state secret but of course, it would steal the impact from the conversation starter…’During our tenure in……’ !!!
Like fashion in clothes so also fashion in display items. The roaring 60,s saw the advent of an eclectic mix of Indian and ‘imported ‘stuff, Belgian crystal ashtrays, masks from the Southeast, taxidermied wall mounts ,elephant legs that served as ottomans or peg tables , tapestry from Nepal and brass lamps from South India !
The 70,s was a turbulent and testing decade. The Indo –Pak operations sent the country on a dizzying roller coaster ride with gut wrenching ups and downs. History rarely divides itself up into neat 10 year packages but in the Indian context it conspired to do just that! In the midst of all this chaos India got introduced to the much talked of and controversial Hippie cult. This counter culture brought in its wake a paradigm shift in interior décor, Psychedelic was the new buzz word. The display unit took a back seat literally. The disinterest was very obvious as one noticed the …hurriedly put together colored pebbles in a gold fish bowl, knick knacks picked up on a nature trail, painted drift wood, lava rocks, a miniature model of a sail boat and maybe some books that squatted comfortably on the coffee table .Musical instruments from the guitar to the sitar stood on tiny druggets in every availabe corner !
The 80,s and the 90,s were essentially ethnic! Born as a humble metal kitchen utensil, current status ‘retired’ proudly rubbed shoulders with Carrara marble statuettes from Italy. A shinning lacquered copper milk vessel served as a planter for a tiny variegated peperomia .The showcase also housed a beautiful collection of lamps, silver Ganesha and bronze figurines! Everything from the brass kitchen tongs to a measuring cup found its rightful resting place as a display item in the show case.
Drawing /Living room display units enjoyed iconic status for centuries . Slowly but surely they were being phased out not so much because of space constraints but more because the very concept was being trashed. People no longer felt the need to display travel souvenirs in a show case as proof of their visit ,it was simpler to just share pictures on Google + or on any social networking platform !Stark interiors have come to stay taking the concept ‘ Less is more’ to another level altogether ! Surprisingly a lot amongst us still owe allegiance to the Vitrine so in fond memory…. a hukka on a shelf in a niche somewhere , antique silver on a beautiful two toned slatted wooden coffee table , a flower arrangement on a console maybe ..But display we will! I plead guilty !Scented candles in onyx candle stands, hand painted porcelain plates , wood and shell inlay cat , antique metal horse , framed photographs, bronze Masai warriors ,Mahogany masks, a hanging brass diya , a railway lantern , a marble Buddha , dancing bamboo, terracotta lamps, family pictures and more ..all engaged in the endeavor to transform a house into a home ! Shalom! Peace on earth!
RIP showcase. I know you did not coerce, struggle or resist! You let go with grace. You will be missed!!!