The drawing room is an obsolete space | Pakistan Today

The drawing room is an obsolete space

Why do we still have one?

My house has a drawing room, and it does not make sense.
Perhaps I’m wrong. What I have, is a folding four-door panel on the side of the entrance hall, behind which I assume a drawing room still exists. I cannot say for certain, because I have not been in this room for over a month. For all I know, my drawing room may have been secretly demolished by the authorities for road expansion, or re-colonised by the British; neither of which would subtract any value from my life.

Your house is a place of you. The drawing room is not a place of you. It is a space you rarely tread for the fear of contaminating its pristine floors with your dirty feet, and smudging the upholstery of its opulent sofas. The fabulous wainscoted walls of your drawing room have heard no laughter from your children, because they are not allowed inside. The beautifully embroidered cushion covers in your drawing room have never felt the purring of your pet cat for the same reason.

When I walk into your drawing room, I don’t see a trace of you. I only see what you’re pretending to be, or aspire to be. You have welcomed me into the physical body of your house, but I am yet to see your home. If a friend of mine were to direct me into his drawing room, I’d be furious; for I did not come to examine his organza curtains and admire the expensive furniture he hauled in from Chiniot. That’s what he wants me to do. I’d rather be led to a pile of books, or an Xbox; some place that is marginally useful.

Even a guestroom may be useful. You can store your own stuff in its closet. You can move your gym equipment or work desk into the guestroom so it partially serves as your gym or study, if there’s space lacking in other rooms. However, you cannot move your dumbbells and treadmill into a drawing room without defeating its purpose.

Historical examination reveals that the drawing room is a relic of our pre-independence age. Upon colonising the subcontinent, the British blessed this land with tea, railroads, pocket-less dresses for women, a famine in Bengal, and a rigid class system which – among many things – manifests in the shape of a drawing room.

Commonly mistaken for evidence of Eastern hospitality, the drawing room is a British tactic of social intimidation. The most expensive and ostentatiously decorated room in your house – which is simultaneously the most inefficient and infrequently visited room – features little more than an exhibition of our socioeconomic stature. It’s Victorian showmanship, masquerading as concern for the guests’ comfort.

This is especially true when you consider the kind of guests you are most likely to lead into this glittering geode: the rishta-walas, potential business partners, and distant relatives visiting your home for the first time. ‘Hospitality’ is what you display to your dearest and closest cousin languishing on a wobbly chair in the TV lounge, playing Street Fighter on your gaming console; the kind of guest you would never serve 7Up in a wine glass under a crystal chandelier. An invitation to a drawing room has more to do with social muscle flexing, than it does with ensuring the guest’s comfort.

The ‘TV lounge’ is a magnificent place. It is the only indoor space large enough to allow your child to safely manoeuvre around in his walker, if he has one. It is the most important shared space in your house, with the kitchen in close second. This is a room that truly belongs to you, as well as your loved ones. All imperfections in this room – from the crayon marks on the wall, to a permanent stain on the couch – sing of life that is being lived on its own terms. The TV lounge is a place of comfort for the inhabitants; its capacity to impress an outsider is only of secondary concern.

Consider a rough estimate of the money you spent on building and furnishing your drawing room, which is also taking up a sizable chunk of your plot. Imagine that amount being spent instead on your TV lounge, or other rooms that serve real utility. It makes little economic sense to purchase two sofa sets – one for the family, and the other for formal guests – rather than one high-quality, durable sofa set for everyone.

Yes, your furniture may get dirtier or wear out faster. But it also means that you have a smaller space to clean and fewer pieces of furniture to maintain. Besides, getting ‘worn out’ is generally a sign of an object serving its purpose by being put to efficient use; which is far better than hoarding lavish objects in a separate room that we rarely utilise.

Combining the guest space with the family space also encourages the residents to keep their living environment clean. After all, your house is not the Schrödinger’s dump, which is only truly embarrassingly filthy if an outside observer opens its door and verifies that it’s embarrassingly filthy. The TV-lounge needs to be cleaned anyway, at least semi-regularly.

The drawing room is a costly, archaic tradition that is both environmentally and economically unsustainable – especially at a time where real estate prices are soaring, and we’re all learning to make do with smaller, smarter homes. It is the product of a class-conscious, consumerist society that spends money for no other purpose but to prove to others that it has money to spend.

Why do I still have one?

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.



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