Saturday Features

A story of space

  • Each day, the same spaces unfold a different story. What is created anew is a personal geography, charted out from space to space, place to place, unmaking us even as we make them
- Pranaya SJB Rana
The city is a multi-layered assemblage of signs and meanings, each of which must be deciphered anew every day. For depending on the time of day, the weather, the season, the mood, everything can change in an instant. If the bed were a space of stasis, the city is a space of flux

Dec 2, 2017-The story of space begins with the bed. For, that rectangle is the place where everyone spends most of their lives. One-third of life spent sleeping, lying comatose, eyes closed, transported into a realm few understand. The bed is also where the first story is born. For, even the youngest of children dream. The bed charts progression in life—from the crib to the parent’s bed, one’s own twin bed, the marriage bed, the sick bed and finally, the death bed. 

Your bed is your own. There is nothing else like your bed. Your bed knows your contours and you know its dimensions. You and your bed have a relationship most intimate. Your deepest fears, your most carnal desires, your weakest moments, your most embarrassing instances, all are shared. Your bed is your friend and saviour, your comfort and succour. The bed is only a place for fear for the insomniac and an inability to sleep is perhaps the worst of curses. 

Surrounding the bed is a room. The room is a larger extrapolation of the bed. The room, your bedroom, is the first space for the play of subjectivity. It is where you hang up your drawings, your posters, your pictures.

Those embarrassing mementos of childhood and your teenage years that you look back on ten years later with a feeling of acute shame, accompanied by a quiet nostalgia. There is often an almirah and a desk or two, maybe a table for your incidentals.

A space for study and a space for storage. Only you know the currents of the room. There is a certain flow that can only be known when you have inhabited it for a certain number of days, which can vary by size, shape and complexity of the room. For the first uncertain days, you might find yourself bumping into the edges of tables or standing perplexed, your task forgotten.

There is a way to move, a rhythm that must be learned. Ask any child where something goes in their room. In even the most disarrayed of rooms, everything has its place. 

The room is in an apartment, on one floor of a building, a house. The room is but one enclosed space interconnected with other enclosed spaces by a corridor. What makes one room unique is what functions are carried out in that space—the sleeping room, the cooking room, the shitting room, the bathing room, the living room and the dying room.

Like with the inside of the room, the apartment too has its patterns of movement. Every morning, from the bedroom to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, back to the bedroom, to the corridor and out of the apartment. Every evening, this set of movements is reversed. 

Outside the apartment, outside the house, the neighbourhood unfolds. Where the home was populated with people you knew and maybe cared about, the neighbourhood is the first space where you encounter the other. The species of humans who inhabit the neighbourhood can either be homogeneous or heterogenous, depending on where you live. Heterogenous neighbourhoods are recommended because they are more conducive to healthier and richer lives. Diversity, after all, is the condiment of life. 

And out beyond the neighbourhood, the city. That structure of strangers. In the city, with its thousands of inhabitants, rhythms converge and overlap, people bump into each other. The city requires navigation, a mental map of which corner leads to what street. The city requires active acknowledgement of the other as a living thinking being.

You must stare into the stranger’s eyes if you wish to avoid blocking his path. The city is a multi-layered assemblage of signs and meanings, each of which must be deciphered anew every day. For depending on the time of day, the weather, the season, the mood, everything can change in an instant. If the bed were a space of 

stasis, the city is a space of flux. Everything is constantly in motion and everyone has somewhere they need to be. There are buildings they must seek, apartments they must enter, rooms they must go into and beds they must occupy. 

My bed is maybe seven by two feet, a narrow strip of space with a mattress that sinks when I step in. If I lie in bed, facing up at the ceiling, to my left is a wall, eggshell white and to my right, a brown wooden end table upon which I recently spilled some water, discolouring it. I cannot sleep like a corpse, for I must sleep like a foetus. I cannot sleep on my left, for sleep comes easier on my right. 

Every morning when I wake, the room is bright with light that streams in through the slats of the blinds that do not close all the way. So, I find myself waking earlier. There are angles to this room, sloping fourth-floor roofs that divide it into 

thirds, a worn wooden desk under one of the eaves. Two windows face out onto the street, one looking down at a kebab shop operated by surly bearded men and the other on a gay club with a rainbow flag on its door. Though the room is small, there are areas I rarely frequent. From the door, I go to the desk and from the desk, I go to the bed. 

Outside the room, a narrow corridor leads to the kitchen and beyond the kitchen another narrow corridor leads to the bathroom. My pattern of movement here is much the same as everyone else’s. I live in a borrowed space, one that is not my own, and so, I am never completely at home.

The apartment is occupied by two others, to whom I mumble greetings when we cross paths. Since this is Copenhagen, we talk of the weather. We give each other space because the kitchen can only accommodate one person at a time. When I cook my chicken curry, they leave me alone. When they roast their pork tenderloin, I leave them alone. We don’t know much about each other, except for our names. The Danes are a private people and it turns out, so am I. 

The neighbourhood of Vesterbro unfolds into Copenhagen. The long arrow of Vesterbrogade pierces the heart of Copenhagen like an arrow. I walk past tourists fawning over Tivoli gardens and past drug pushers and prostitutes staking out their street corners. I navigate the thousands of parked bicycles as new arrivals stream out the hundred-year-old wooden doors of the central station.

Here, the pavements consist of two large stone slabs, separated by a strip of smaller stone squares. It makes for an uneven walk, the feet finding purchase on two different surfaces in every other step. My neighbourhood offers what any lively heart of any lively city would offer, a variety of indulgences, both vices and virtues. 

Each morning and each evening, I return to the same spaces. The apartment, the room, the bed. The story of space is a story of cycles, of repetition and difference. Each day, the same spaces unfold a different story. What is created anew is a personal geography, charted out from space to space, place to place, unmaking us even as we make them. 

(With due apologies to Georges Perec)

Published: 02-12-2017 08:31

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