Saturday, November 20, 2010

Downsizing To New Heights

Four years ago, we got a big grant to set up a Resource Centre for People with Special Needs. Part of the funding included rent for a new building and we lost no time in finding a fancy, spacious one - right next door to my house, as it happened.

It was a theatrical house with an ornate, spiral staircase, a balcony on the inside and immense glass windows everywhere. Everything was marble and carved wood, there were enormous amounts of storage space and each room had its own bathroom. There were even two kitchens.

Our funding also allowed for furniture and curtains and we had a ball setting ourselves up in royal splendor.

But as pleasant as it was to work in such exalted surroundings, I don't think we were any more productive or creative, nor did our efficiency improve. Indeed, there was a little sense of embarrassment and furtiveness about having such a luxurious office and I, at least, often found myself explaining to guests that "actually, the rent is quite reasonable given the size of the place."

But in fact, it was the size of the place that was the problem. It was so large it was difficult to fill, especially on the days when the awareness team was out in the field (which was most of the time).  Giving it to one of our space-starved children's centres wasn't an option because a) it wasn't kid friendly having no garden to speak of and very steep stairs right in its centre and b) our landlords didn't want kids in their house because they thought it would disturb the neighbors (since I was the next-door neighbor, this logic was lost on me, but they were firm about it).

So last month, faced with a budget crisis, we decided to give it up and move to a smaller, less expensive place. That place is a building which - one way and another - has been part of my life almost since the day we moved to Dehradun 22 years ago.

369/1. The Old House. The Guest House. Latika Vihar. The Foundation's First Office. The Training Centre. We have called it many names, but its nature - steady, solid, good to the core - has never changed.

369/1 was our first home in Vasant Vihar. Ravi and I moved into it when Anand was six and Cathleen just short of three. It was here that Moy Moy joined our family and here that the children lived and grew for ten years. When it got to be too cramped for us ( it had only two small bedrooms and Mummy had moved in and guests were a constant feature), we moved to a larger place, but we couldn't bear to give it up completely. Not only did it contain many of our most treasured memories, its landlords - Pramod Tyagi and his wife  - are two such generous and gracious people.

They never raise the rent, for one thing. We have to do it on their behalf periodically, which is saying a lot, given our active fundraising genes and our preference for saving money wherever we possibly can. But even we know there are limits to taking advantage of people. Especially these people. Something of their good-heartedness must have gone into the bricks and the plaster because so many good things have happened to us here.

So we hung on to 369/1 over the years and used it to house many different activities including, at one time, the Foundation office itself -  it was a homecoming of sorts when we returned to it on Monday, but one which involved squeezing our somewhat bloated selves into a much smaller place.

So before we moved, we went through a purge at the big office:

sifting through alarming piles of papers, books, correspondence, old photographs and slides (remember slide shows?) and an astonishing collection of things which had no business being in an office in the first place (Gift items galore: Silver bowls! A statue of a deer with enormous antlers! A Buddhist tapestry!).

Finally, we wedged our furniture and the winnowed down contents of our desks into our new digs:

and though now no cats will be swung in the course of our days (we used to swing so many in the other office!), there is joy in the Foundation. There is more of a spirit of togetherness now, as we regularly bump into each other in passing and overhear each team's conversations and plans. We are saving Rs 21,000 per month in rent. It cost us Rs 500 to shift all our stuff yet we earned Rs 400 from selling all our recyclables to the kabari-wallah. And, best of all, on the day of the move, the Tyagis paid us a surprise visit. We sat and had a nice chat with them for about half an hour, catching up on each others' lives. And then as they said goodbye, Pramod pulled out his check book and gave us a donation of Rs 5001 - "I wish we could do more," he said.

He has no idea.


ana @ i made it so said...

wow jo! good landlords, good tenants... a great cause. and downsizing? a welcome change in a world where everything seems to be only getting bigger and bigger (including our wants).

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

ana, you said it! And in some Zen-like, lose your life to save it, appropriateness, soon after we moved, we got the grant to open our brand new state-of-the-art center in the government hospital . . .