The patterns in my balcony
On the importance of ornate balustrades
Words: Sohini Sen
Images: Sohini Sen and TLJ
Some of my favourite memories from my childhood have been of the days spent in my grandmother’s house— reading with her, watching her cook, waiting for her to come back from work so that I could enamor her with stories from my school. Each afternoon, after our lunch and before the siesta that almost every Bengali swears by, we would both plonk ourselves on our chairs in the balcony. Her's, a big wood and iron reclining chair and mine, a small cane one with bright cushions. She would read the newspaper, I would prop my feet on the balcony railing, fit them into the tiny gaps between the geometric designs and read whatever picked my fancy that day. I think my 8-year old brain thought that the designs on the balcony were meant solely for me.
Ever since, I have been in love with balconies. And I judge the warmth in each of them by looking at their railing designs. Are they no-nonsense, rod straight railings that make your house look a bit like prison? Or are they the new age ones, which have just glass and no iron at all, allowing you a full view of whatever is going on in the neighbourhood? My favourites remain those with floral designs— where the iron would be curved in such a way that balancing anything on them would be difficult. And yet, if you ever wanted to tie up a loose end of a saree, while playing an impromptu game of house, those curved ones would be your best ally.
During Diwali we never put up artificial lights. It was always a line of thin candles in the balcony, which lit up the house. The curved lines would each have a candle, as would the base and any other place we could make a candle stand. During fights with my sister, we would invariably divide the house by taking a ribbon or dupatta and stretching it from the balcony to wherever we could— thereby marking our territories. At times, I may have even pretended that the railings were my students and having not finished their homework, they would be given a good earful by a stern teacher. In my current house, the railings double up as a medal hanger for all my finisher medals from running marathons across the country. My flatmate uses her side to hang planters. We still have room for more.
Why is it that we only look for designs in our houses in terms of whether the kitchen is modular or not? Or whether the LCD be hidden and folded up when not being watched? Or if there's neat little utility space which can house the laundry? Why can’t we also look for fun bits of design and art in smaller, perhaps under-utilized corners like our balconies?
Yes, the city life is fast-paced and we hardly ever spend time sitting in the balcony. But even the few hours that we do, we might as well make it the best idea-invoking, toes-in-the-railing-while-reading, trinket-hanging time for us.
Sohini Sen has been travelling through the country to find stories to write about. She loves working out and making plans for everything. Currently in love with the colour orange.