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June, 2012:

Sofa so good

The moment I heard that Ikea was planning to invest several billions of dollars and arrive in India in a big way, my reaction was naturally: ‘Whoa! Who the hell is this Ikea?’

It turns out that Ikea is a major international brand, which specializes in ready-to- assemble furniture, the kind that are bright and trendy in brochures but quite out of place in your house.

Before we discuss Ikea, let us lounge on some furniture — which have always filled a lot of space in our homes —  that help fill some more space in this column, too:

In the olden days, most furniture came in one large piece, which meant that your house had to have doors — I will get a bit technical here — wider than Adnan Sami for the beds and sofas to be carried in. The other option was to buy furniture, put it in a place and then construct rooms around them. (Mughal style of architecture — specialized buildings that are either fit for dead furniture or deader human beings — is a good example of this).

But most people seemed to go with the third choice, which is to put expensive sofas and settees outside the house, while they plonked themselves on the bare floors inside. This alone explains how the concept of porch came about.

And then for some time, steel furniture was hugely popular. The one great advantage of steel fittings was they made an unmistakable creaking sound, which obviated the need for ‘do not disturb’ sign outside the bedroom.

This is the handy chart by which people deciphered what was happening inside a bedroom that housed a steel cot:

Silence:                                                  No one inside

Snoring:                                                 Someone sleeping inside

(Editor’s note: If you are below 18 years you are advised to skip the next two references)

Screech…screech..screech…:     Newly-married couple inside

ScreechScreechScreech:              You are outside N D Tiwari’s bedroom

(Editor’s note 1: We know you kiddos cheated)

Another thing with steel beds is that you can, by just feeling their surface, tell whether it is summer or winter outside. If you ask me, what the Met office needs, to get its predictions precise, is a few reliable steel beds, and not any fancy satellites hovering in the sky.

But with the passage of time, and with home space getting all premium, steel fixtures have given way to flexible furniture system and multi-purpose furniture. For instance, these days, cots also double up as cupboards, providing snug room for storing extra pillows, blankets and a new generation of lizards and cockroaches that now need not scurry to dark corners the moment the lights are turned on.

Dining tables have also gotten modern and stylish with the times, and, thanks to human ingenuity and resourcefulness, they can be expanded or contracted according to the available space in the furniture showroom, but never in the dining room of any house. Three things never work inside an actual house: The multi-purpose vegetable slicer/skin peeler, children’s bubble toys and the electric chappathi maker. Now, you can add the expandable/contractible dining table to this list.

But unlike the other three, which you can straightaway dump in the litter bin the moment you buy it, a dining table is not a total waste. A dining table, as the name itself clearly establishes, is a good place to keep your car key, cheque book and sundry other things that are not even remotely connected with eating. (And on the other end of the spectrum, a toilet commode is over which a modern man chooses to solve crosswords or answer bosses mail on the Blackberry).

Anyway, getting back to Ikea, one of the reasons why self-assembling furniture may be gaining ground is the fact that the serviceperson or the guy who comes to assemble new stuff generally doesn’t turn up or infuriates you in myriad ways.

Even if you are Obama, you cannot possibly escape such exchanges:

Serviceperson: I am from ABZ company…

Obama: You were supposed to come yesterday and assemble the new water purifier. Keeping it in mind, I had even asked Michelle to stay at home. But you never turned up. What happened?

Serviceperson: (No serviceperson will ever give a direct reply) I will come today. What is your address, sir?

Obama: I thought you guys had my address…

Serviceperson: I am calling from the service department; only the marketing department handles customer details, sir.

Obama: (audible sigh) OK, I live at No: 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The building is White House.

Serviceperson: Thank you. But what is the nearest landmark, sir?

Obama: (Sounds of exasperation and anger. Sounds of a phone being flung to the ground and sounds of more drone attacks being ordered on Pakistan)

But thanks to the do-it-yourself assembling, which brands like Ikea are promoting, our experience is bound to be a lot different. And this is how I foresee it to pan:

Existing experience: Order furniture —> Wait for it to be delivered —> Wait for it to be assembled by a technical guy —> Endure typical comments from the spouse for the enormous delay.

Expected experience: Order furniture —> Attempt to assemble it —> Fail —>Endure typical comments from the spouse —> Wait for it to be assembled by a technical guy —> Endure typical comments from the spouse for the enormous delay.

So I am not taking any chance, I am not letting go off my sofa, which, in case you needed telling, is where most modern families manage to assemble on to watch TV, without which modern families cannot be expected to assemble together at all.