I have the luxury of time to read, swaddled in a warm duvet, by lamplight, sipping of a cup of Rooibos imported from a far away place and grown and picked by strangers who more than likely do not have access to the same luxuries, let alone the essentials for sustaining life.
So I ponder, after just having read “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. This book has done what good writing does – transport a reader into the details of life, thoughts, habits, customs, beliefs and trials of others from a distant place and culture, which superficially have differences from the reader’s experiences and yet reveal a universality of concerns and ways of living. This book made me care about the persons written about, helped me examine my prejudices and faulty thinking and made me realize that my life has been, and is, one of immense privilege and luxury.
I have just had my shower, of hot water, with horse shampoo to wash my hair, and Mrs. Stewart’s bluing to bring out the white of my greying mop. The twelve year old ratty towel has absorbed the excess water from my body. I am luxuriating in the feeling of cleanliness and mulling over the scene in “A Fine Balance” where the young student boarder of Dina Aunty has his first shower in the bathroom where a hoarde of worms crawl from the drain as he is trying to bathe in cold water. No host of worms craw from my bathtub drain – the water flows away with a satisfying slurp – no feelings of disgust mar my regular ablutions! This is immense luxury!
I have clear memories of bathing in a cold, white-tiled bathroom in 1950s Hungary. Friday night was bath night. Mother heated buckets of water on the coal stove, poured it into the bathtub and thus would begin the ritual family cleanse, first with me, the youngest one, then sister, then Mother, and at the end, in greyish water, Father. Handsoap served as shampoo, and one set of two towels for us children, and one set for Mother and Father. As we convened, all clean, in the parlour in our pajamas and socks, we snacked on bread with home-rendered lard as a treat. This memory brings back incredible feelings of comfort and luxury!
In the book, Dina Aunty pieces together a quilt over a period of time, from leftover fabrics from her sewing commissions. The chapters in the book are also fragments of the quilt of a complex story, of the fragments of stories of what happens to people on their journey through life. It is an apt metaphor.
The conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, employed the block of lard as his metaphor for life-giving sustenance, and lard is a magical, luxurious substance to me. Rendered properly, it is beautifully translucent, has a silken feel, smells pure, functions as lamp oil or as an ingredient in candles – hence supplies light, and is a necessary ingredient for preparing food. It is an ultimate essential for sustaining comfort in life – pure luxury!
I am curious to know what others’ ingredients for luxury are…..