“A chair,” I said.
“We have many, but before we can sell you one, we need to know about you,” he said, as respectfully as his training could possibly permit.
“A comfortable one, is all I need.”
“Of course, sir. But you are still talking about the chair. We need to know more about you to show you what might be most appropriate.”
“I must say, I do not understand.”
He ushered me to the southern wall of the showroom. I thought, perhaps the comfortable chairs were kept there.
“You are new at this aren’t you?” he asked, in a manner that did not expect a response. I was not sure how I should have answered that question. I chose truth.
“No. I have bought chairs before.”
“I doubt it, sir. I believe you have seen many chairs and chose a few, but you have not bought a chair, ever. For those who have bought a chair, always qualify the chair. Executive, chairman, boardroom, and such.”
“I did say, comfortable, didn’t I? That should qualify as an appropriate and useful adjective.”
“That still qualifies the chair; it does not qualify who will sit in that chair.”
“How does that matter?”
“It matters the most, sir.”
“Ok, I’ll be sitting in the chair.”
He smiled, took me to a section of the showroom where there were many chairs. He invited to me to test some of them and pick one. I asked a few questions about the material of the chair. Some were flexible-nylon, some breathing-cotton and he mentioned some unpronounceable material; I realised that the difficulty in pronunciation was directly proportional to the cost of the chair. Then, there were features; lumbar support, swivelling, height adjusting, arm-rest-adjusting and such.
“This chair feels good,” I said.
“Good choice,” he responded with practiced professionalism.
“Wasn’t that difficult, was it?” I asked.
“Spit it out man. The sale’s done. What were you thinking all this while?”
“A chair sir, unlike other furniture is not just a piece of furniture. It has more meaning than its structure.”
“People take away things with them when they leave, but they never take away their chair. A chair therefore retains the value of the person who occupied it. But never the value of that person; but the meaning of what that person represents. A new person may occupy the chair and at that time; the chair transfers the received meaning to the new person. And so it proceeds. The actual chair may get replaced due to wear and tear, but the meaning remains. The chair becomes the icon for the person. In time, the person matters less and the chair matters more. If you follow politics, you will understand what I mean.”
I smiled, and said, “This is a personal chair; there are no people around me to make that meaning; I understand what you mean, but it may not apply to me.”
“There’s a sanctity to a chair by virtue of where it is; behind which desk it is.”
“Yes, I agree. The chair and the desk have more value than the person who occupies them right?”
“Yes, and more. I have sold chairs for many years. First-hand and second-hand. After a while some chairs become sad. They miss the first occupant who gave them their reason for being. Sometimes the second or the third occupant; anybody who gives meaning to that chair.”
“I’ll take this one, let’s finalise the price.”
Back home; nylon-sheathed chair with lumbar support is what I sit on, and think about the incident. At once, humans, by virtue of who they are, lend meaning and authority to the chair. Then, the chair takes over and lends that meaning to the human who then occupies it.
And we are confused about who deserves the respect; the chair for the received meaning, or the person for the transferred meaning.
PS: Title taken from “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Act II. Scene II, by William Shakespeare.