I wrote the title and then sat back and stared at the screen. It seemed apt, but how was I to ever summarize all that my parents had taught me in one post? I am what they call a cocktail, a heady one at that. Born to a Punjabi father and a Catholic mother, my sister and I virtually had the dual advantage. We lived in a one room kitchen, but it was the finest one on the street. Mom had a keen sense of design and colour, not to mention the economics. She’d shop off season, when things were cheaper and insisted on homemade stuff right from soap to ketchup. Dad on the other hand was pretty hands on right from fixing the television to renewing the walls. Every Christmas we had new wall paper thanks to our parents’ ingenious idea. Dad would shop for rolls of wrapping paper from Crawford market (as that was cheaper) and Mom made glue made out of wheat flour and voila, we had new walls.

My sister and I, thus, had a modest upbringing. We never had surplus, but always had enough. We went from ration queues to water woes and ‘hand me downs’ from cousins to borrowed outfits from friends, all in good time. Perhaps, this was the reason why we were and still continue to be so grounded, for our self- esteem wasn’t built on the tangible. We were taught to be creative in adversity and that is one of the greatest lessons we have ever learnt.

Every part of my childhood home reflected use of space due to the lack of it! Unlike the present day designer homes, it had special touches that only a family can add. Dad was a part of the film industry and I remember one day he brought home a life-size candle that was a damaged prop really. We gathered round it as though it had been unearthed from the Arabian folktales. Coats of oil paint, a bit of wiring, a dash of carpentry accented with bright yellow cellophane paper for the flame and ta da, we had a designer lamp with an inbuilt altar. I’ve lost count of the number of admirable glances that ‘not so tiny’ prop managed with every guest visit.   

Almost everything in our house was second hand, our car, refrigerator, TV, AC, cupboard, even our sofas. Dad’s logic was, “Why spend on 1 item when you can have 3 for the same value?” Dad loved his car and every morning he’d proceed to wash it himself. That one hour was an equivalent to the non-existent gymming back then.  The use of the AC exclusively in summers had a well rehearsed ritual. Dad would cover the windows with bed sheets for that extra cooling effect and then proceed to keep the AC on for 30 mins only. Once the room was cool enough, he’d then switch on the fan. By another 30 mins, we were accustomed to room temperature, but were ‘mentally’ in an AC room. Mammoth electricity bills were unheard of! The B/W TV almost had a will of its own. Every Saturday, just before the 6 pm Hindi movie, it would start showing temperamental blurry lines. Dad would rush to the terrace to fix the antenna and I’d be yelling from the 2ndfloor, guiding him when to stop the wrestling for a clear picture. After a bit of cajoling, the TV set would finally oblige, just in time to see the Doordarshan Logo form..

Mom on the other hand, prepared for Diwali and Christmas in July! (Yes, you read me right). She’d pick for bargains on materials, and then hire a tailor who’d come and stitch at home for Rs 80/- per day. Patterns were picked from magazines loaned from the local raddiwala and we had outfits like no one else. Old sarees were made into identical frocks for us siblings and the leftovers were tailored as table cloths. Yes, we were the residential ‘Wagle ki Duniya’ brand ambassadors. She also was an excellent cook, so leftovers would almost be transformed into another delectable cuisine which we would unwittingly gulp down. Even in the space restriction, she managed to have a balcony garden with flowering pots. These flowers would then adorn the vases as apt table décor for family get-togethers. She’d buy a bale of cotton material and stitch them into curtains using our old bangles as curtain holders, stating that it was effective easy maintenance.  In short, whatever Dad earned, my Mom managed to spend sufficiently and still save wisely.

I remember nothing was thrown out of our home. It was always recycled! Either it got a fresh coat of paint or was carpentered into something new. Thus the creaking cupboard  became the shoe rack;  the old door became my study table while the sofas were traded for a sofa cum bed. The surplus, if any, was given to needy families around that included the dhobi, the sabjiwala, the neighbour’s maid and the fisherwoman. Anyone who came to our home never left without something to eat or drink. We had a ‘Dada’ who came all the way from Ulhasnagar to sell Sindhi sweetmeats. The fisherwoman ‘Aruna’ who really was a girl of 10, visited our home till she became a mother of two. Those were the good ol’ days and my parents taught me the best way they could, by living the example! Simplicity reigned supreme and bringing up a child was no rocket science that needed aids of hobby classes and activity clubs.

Today I see modern day parents ‘talking the talk’, but ask them to ‘do the walk’ and they need a drive. Eventually in this rigmarole they miss the bus! I struggle sometimes myself, but then again genetic engineering does have its way of resurfacing.  I really am a chip of the old block and hence as a force of habit, even today I ask the courier or delivery guy if he wants a glass of water. I used to be met with skeptical looks earlier, now they ask me even before I can offer them. I am always looking for off season bargains and insist on attempting to fix things myself before I call for ‘professional help’. Though the second hand concept is almost extinct in upper middle class homes today, I still prefer to scout flea markets rather than walk to a branded store. Recently I was renovating my home. What with all the accessories so easily available in the market, I was spoilt for choice. Yet, somehow I was not feeling house proud. That is when I decided to do a mural for my living room. And when I was done, I seemed to glow like a ‘larger than life candle’, with the appreciation and accolades that followed. 

Psst…the bench you see is made from my former main door, the flowers, leaves and tea lights have been purchased.

I know one thing for sure, being creative economically does not mean just because you can’t afford it, but it means what you can turn your resources into. You are being watched far closely than you think by little minds and these tiny little moments are what you will leave behind as a legacy. I know  I definitely cherish mine and hopefully can pass on the pearls of wisdom to my daughter…. 











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