(insert "life is a journey" cliché here)
I’ve always prioritised the financing of my travel adventures over the funding of home renovations. Yet my scuzzy kitchen counter top was plaguing me.
In 2010, I’d been saving flat out for my trip to India – yet bemoaned the fact that I ‘couldn’t afford’ to replace the counter top. Though still completely functional, it was stained, the laminex lifting at the edge, an eyesore compared to the glossy Caesar Stone jobs in magazines and friends’ homes. It stressed me that I couldn’t make up my mind which kitchen company to use, whether I should wait until I could afford to do the whole kitchen, yada yada, procrastination central. “When I come back, it’s got to go,” I decided. “I can’t STAND it any more!”
Flash forward to India, to Southern India, to Chennai to be precise. My travel buddy and I were staying in a rambling travellers’ accommodation of some repute.
Broadlands was a maze of dilapidated courtyards and terraces, varying levels full of doorways and archways and steps. Viewing from the roof top, it reminded me of an Escher image.
Our room was located on the roof – one of the larger rooms available, with our own porch. It was not the lap of luxury, with hard creaking beds, a concrete floor and a cold shower, but I didn’t care about these things. The adjustment to a different way of living, the thrusting out of the literal comfort zone, the accumulation of dirt on the feet and it not mattering – these are an unusual kind of delight of travel, reminding me of the summer freedom of childhood, bach holidays in NZ. My kitchen bench concerns were far, far from being on the radar.
A number of travellers had made Broadlands their home. Stopping there, a respite from moving on, some stayed for months on end. It was a way of living in India. Yet just metres from Broadlands’ front door was another way of living, of having to live. On the corner of the street, where it intersected with the busy main road, an Indian family lived on the footpath.
It was no broad, sweeping or sheltered footpath either, but jagged and potholed. Yet daily as we left to see the sights of Chennai, we saw the mum with her blanket spread out, small piles of their very few belongings, two toddlers dressed in not very much as all. In the evening, should we be out and about at night, we observed the woman sleeping on the hard ground with her children snuggled beside her. The husband slept nearby in an auto (the motorised ‘tuk-tuk’ taxi of India), clutching his mobile phone. At first we thought how selfish it was of him, until we realised the auto and the phone were the most likely the family’s only access to income, and he had to be ready to take a customer immediately should his services be needed.
We also passed the family at meal times. The mum set up a small one-element gas ring with a pot on top, again on the small patch of concrete that was their home. Food preparation took place on the blanket. She had no kitchen, let alone a kitchen counter.
Needless to say, when I returned home to Melbourne, my kitchen counter no longer mattered. To this day, I still have that scratchy, stained laminex bench – it doesn’t bother me much any more. I’ll get around to it one day.