The house

I was invited for a meal at ‘the house’ that is owned by a cousin of mine. The first thing I noticed as I parked the car in the driveway was the huge Chandelier that is strategically placed, so it can be seen from outside through the glass window on the second floor. Main door had beautiful wood carving. As you enter the house, on the right side you find the formal lounge with leather couches and a  solid wood coffee table. There was also a solid wood display cabinet with beautifully arranged Swarovski animal collections. On the left side was the study with a collection of encyclopaedias adorning the shelves. There were few awards from the mallu associations framed and hung on the walls, along with a photo of Jesus and Parumala Thirnumeni. After the formal lounge is the formal dining room with massive 8 seater solid wood dining table and chairs. There was a giant buffet & hutch by the side of the of the dining table that held a 5 pieces set of Royal Albert Old country roses, A 5 piece set of Noritake ( Unknown pattern) and a 5 piece set of Aynsley ( cottage garden), all of which are displayed exactly how it is displayed at Macys . The second shelf held a collection of lead crystal glasses of all shapes and sizes. As it was Christmas time, there were many pieces of Lennox Christmas decorations scattered all around the house.

I was lead to the kitchen to get my drink. There was a giant punch bowl with cups  on the kitchen island. I was handed a disposable plastic cup, the original cups that came along with the punch bowl is for display only.. It looks like this is a standard practice in most Mallu houses eastern part of US. Every house that I visited, be it rich or poor had a collection of expensive china ( Royal Albert’s Old country roses is the most fashionable) and crystal glasses in the buffet  & hutch, but disposable cups and plates are the only thing they all use. Apparently, some great soul has worked out that it is cheaper to use disposable plates and cups than spend money for water/dish soap and gas to heat the water. (Dishwasher is also only for display and often functions as a repository for plastic shopping bags and other useful items.) No one really cares about the environmental impact. Dirty paper plates can’t be recycled, I read somewhere that almost of half of the solid waste discarded each week in US is paper products and most if it can’t be recycled because of grease contamination, yet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, mallu households only use paper plates and cups. ( paisa labhikkande??)

Oh, we were talking about ‘the house’. It was the dream of the owner of ‘the house’ to own a large house. She works 80 hours/week. ( apparently, she has maxed out on the overtime, I don’t know how the over time works in US or that how anyone can work 80 hours a week legally). She leaves home at 5.30 in the morning and comes back at 8 pm. She also suffers from severe arthritis and most of the days she is in severe pain, but they owe a huge sum of money to the bank, so she has no choice but to work. She is terrified that one of these days, she will be medically unfit to work and the house will be foreclosed.

It brings me to the question, is it worth to sacrifice your health and mental wellbeing , so you could live in a mansion, own expensive furniture, dinner sets, crystal glasses etc that is never used and work your ass off, so you could pay for all these.. is that what the American dream is all about?

22 thoughts on “The house

  1. If they were having a party , paper plates and cups makes clean up easy. On daily life they might be using old ceramic plates , you have to search the dishwasher behind the plastic bags ..:).. Anyways dishwasher and washing machines are like dinner sets only in most houses .That might explain her arthritis in the first place..(Isn’t she making Kerala breakfast/lunch/Dinner everyday after work?)This is very common Sarah.. If you come to Kerala now , you will see the big house the same families built here for there parents . Castles everywhere and most of the houses , there will be 1-2 old people .. and they concrete / put tiles the entire area around the house ..Every house is a showplace .. Do you know there are 2 magazines devoted entirely for articles about building a house and decorating it ? Nalu pere kanikkande..??:)

    • Chithra: They don’t use paper plates just for parties, they use them every day for every meal. Initially I thought it was just my aunt. I have 14 uncles and aunts ( including first cousins) in Philly alone and it was the same in all their houses. I saw an ad in a mallu paper in US advertising a massive palace for rent in Kottayam. The house belongs to an American Mallu and I think the white house is a tad small in comparison 🙂

  2. For the first time, we served our very close friends store bought food. But guess what, it tastes better on China plates. We were all sick and hence store bought. But coming to your question, it is all relative. People have different priorities, they work hard to leave wealth for their families, they live a life for others, in the rat race of “successful” families, they want to belong.

    • Shankari: My cousin hasn’t had a vacation in years, she doesn’t sleep in the master bedroom because her arthritis makes it difficult for her to climb the stairs, (she sleeps on the living room couch). Why live like this?
      I agree with you fully, food taste better on China..

  3. There is a story of man offered free of cost of whatever land he covers walking till sunset and he walked to get maximum and at sunset he collapsed. What his body needed was just six feet land.

    • Bipin. my favourite Leo Tolstoy story..How much land does a Man need. My father used to buy us Russian fairy tales/stories for us.. In the mid to late 70’s there used to be a place in TVM where you could buy Russian books. The first time he went there, he gave my oldest sister all the books, which she promptly kept in her treasure chest and I never got to read them. After whinging and whining for a very long time, he bought me some books and this particular story was in that collection..

  4. Of late, I too have been wondering on what exactly the “American Dream” is. I always thought owning ‘a home’ was the American dream, but I think because of the easy credit policy the dream ballooned and took people under when the balloon bust.
    I do give your cousin credit for working hard to pay the mortgage off, because a lot of people just walked away from their mortgage obligations when the market value of the house dipped below their outstanding mortgage.
    On using paper products, it is common practice to do so, when you have large crowds coming in for a Christmas party or Onam party. No one has enough cups like the one that comes with the punch bowl to serve for all. People do get offended if one gets a crystal cup and one gets plastic/paper, so you take the issue of the table by giving everyone paper products. Correll plates are used for daily living. Dishwashers are generally run once a day if everyone in the family is working, by loading it when you finish breakfast and then completing the loading after dinner.

    • MS: All of my family living in Philly use paper plates for every meal. Like I said, someone worked out that you could buy 100 ( or 1000, can’t remember) plates for 4$ and it is much cheaper than spending money for the soap, water and gas. The China is easily 20 years old and has never been used. It is all for the show ! Dish washer isn’t used in any of their houses either.. because you need to rinse the dishes first in water and it is such a waste of money.

  5. I’m grinning widely reading this.. You are right about the fine china..I have seen it everywhere, but never had the fortune to eat in one yet in any Indian homes which have it..So I have prudently decided against getting a hutch in the formal dining room… I think it’s mostly true about the 8-seater big dining table in the formal dining room too.. I have never used mine yet since I finally got it this year.. :D…bcoz, in the party I had after, we had too many people to sit down together or we only host family/close friends with whom we share a cozy meal at the table in eat in kitchen area..Same with the dishwasher – I run it once a month just to make sure it doesn’t clog..:D.. I don’t think I accumulate enough plates to fill the dishwasher in two days, the rest of my vessels are either too big to go in it or too hard to be cleaned by it (like chaya pathram)..

    I don’t know anyone who uses paper plates on a daily basis though.. That’s just extreme!..About the American dream, I don’t know anymore.. It used to be about owning a nice little house, but I am seeing this movement of buying bigger and bigger houses where I live too.. 🙁

    • Thumbi: My dining table is 60 years old, it was my grandaunt’s and someone gave it to her when she came to Australia. It didn’t come with chairs, so I bought 6 cane chairs that are different colour to the table.I really would like to have new table, but I can’t give away the table my grandaunt gave me and don’t have place to keep two dining tables, so I am stuck with a mismatched dining table and chairs. I hosts parties every month as I enjoy having friends over. I own a wedgewood signet gold dinner set and use that every time for parties. As I only have a six seater dining table and often have 12 to 15 people at a time, someone will end up sitting on the hammock..retaining wall etc.

  6. I think as we age we realize that there are other things to life than climbing the greasy pole / keeping up with joneses – The children growing up before you know it for instance and you wondering if you really got to enjoy the time spent with them. I think perhaps the best advice that I got was from an elderly relative – he had “climbed” near to the top of the pole becoming a private secretary to PM but his greatest regret was that he didn’t spend enough time with his kids when they were little! His advice to me was to get my priorities straight early on in life and not regret like him when it was too late.

  7. Interesting observation- seen this in many homes, similarly with sofas in the ” formal living rooms” where kids are shooed off routinely, no messy newspapers or tea cups or scattered pillows for short naps etc. What is the point of calling it a living room, when it is like a crypt, with no activity or life? Even nice clothes not worn, kept for ” a special day” — getting by with tired outfits. — I am guilty of this, and am trying to get out of this mind set myself.
    We have a 6 seater dinner table set that is in the area off the kitchen, and we ourselves hardly sit together and eat anymore since we don’t gather at a set dinner time per se. Our formal dining room holds a piano that my daughter plays when she comes home from college. During winter it houses my 3 jasmine and curry leaf plant. I do yoga there and during Navarathri put my bommai kolu.
    We have well used corelleware no hutch and no china. Only 2 friends have a hutch filled with china ware that they use during gatherings. I know several people who never open their hutch, just keep it for display.
    During get- togethers we use all our corelleware plates and flatware, unless we have 30 people when I switch to paper for uniformity.
    just my 2 cents

    • Mona: I own a 1930 Colclough tea set, bought in an estate sale. The owner of the set never used it for she was keeping it for a special occasion that never happened and her children didn’t even want to keep something their mother loved so much and took such good care . I don’t want to live for tomorrow. I wear the best brands, I take care of my figure and ensure that I am always prim and proper, for I know tomorrow may not come.. I have my today and I want to enjoy every bit of my today.

  8. I think this happens back home too. My mom owned these fabulous tea cups (dont know the brand) and ice cream cups. But I have never ever seen her use it. Every time I asked, she said its for occasions only. Surprisingly, in my 20 years of life at home, the occasion never came. Same with sofa sets-she will cover the beautiful sofa sets with some ugly looking duvet so that dust wont settle or people who sit wont make it dirty.

    So I made it a point to always use my best china with my guests (I use paper plates too if the guests are more than 8. Because my set contains only 8 pieces). We have a semi white sofa set. I have spilled tea on it many times. You just need to wipe it with a cloth. But I am sure my mom will be terrified at even seeing me using it like that.

    I guess some habits never change, no matter where you are.:/

    • Jina: Apart from the wedgewood set I own. I also have a large collection of plain white bone china plates. My friends don’t really mind if they got the wedgewood or the cheap bone china plate. However, I think if I was calling my Indian relatives over, they would have minded if everyone didn’t get the same plate. I try to live as environmentally safe life as I can. But then again, I am a hypocrite, I used paper plates when my kids were little for their birthday parties.

  9. Hi Sara, I live in US and I completely agree on what you wrote. I know many people who do double shift but don’t have time to spend for their children. Children eventually drift away. Family members don’t even see each other some days as they are on ‘opposite shifts’.And when it comes to big houses, I am surprised how much effort or money need to be put in to clean those mansions regularly? I think we need a ‘home’ which is a safe and personal space for our family and not a ‘display home’. Regards, Smitha

    • Smitha: I think a home is a roof over your head where you hear laughter and joys of being alive.. I can’t imagine living in a house where there is no laughter because people are so busy working to pay off the huge mortgage..

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