Closing my window to the world

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 1 Apr 2022, 8:50 PM

In my growing-up years in Kolkata — Calcutta back then — I used to be fascinated by this woman who was our next-door neighbour. She was married to someone in a joint family, and she and her husband had a room of their own (as did all the other brothers — there were several of them — and their spouses and kids, each “family unit” had a room of their own while the living, dining and kitchen areas were all common). Now this room was right next to the balcony on our first floor, so if I went to the balcony (which I did fairly often), I could look into their room through the window. This window was a fairly small one, but, remember, this used to be the era of the small screen, we never thought we could get less of a “view” just because the exposure was limited. I could see their bed, which was rammed against the window, and which appeared to take up most of the space in the room. All social congregations were held on the bed (there were never any chairs to lounge around in) — along with drinking many, many cups of tea, into which biscuits were dipped and then eaten in an ungainly manner.

When she was alone in her room, she would sit at the window and stare out. There was no landscape to stare at, she looked at people, and probably framed a story around each of them. In a sense, she was looking at life passing by, with always a bemused look on her face. So, I found it fascinating that someone could spend (at times) the better part of the day looking out of the window. For me, that small wooden-slatted window, fortified with vertical iron rods (and no, it wasn’t prison-like in any way — not to my childish eyes at least), became a metaphor of a window to the world, and I secretly harboured a desire that, one day, when I could make my own life choices, I’d like a window just like hers to see the world from.

All this came hurtling back when a friend visited my place last weekend, and remarked on how large my ceiling-to-floor windows were. “Hmmm,” I said distractedly, without even looking at them. My friend then proceeded to take photos on his phone from a particular point that looked right at the glassy windowy facades in the apartment building opposite. He joked (or at least pretended to joke while he may have been deadly serious) he was being reminded of Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon theory etc., but, again, I didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing.

It was only later, when he WhatsApped me the photos of life boxed into different frames that was visible from my window, that I sat up straight. Here I was facing life, in all its glorious forms, right in front of me — unlike the lady from my past who could only look at the street — and yet I couldn’t be bothered. What’s happened to me?

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