This tray was one of several wooden items I picked up at the art department sale after we completed filming The Bourne Supremacy in Goa in early 2004. It had been sourced from the north of India for pennies and used as set decoration as a magazine holder in Jason Bourne’s cottage on the beach. Something about the uneven handmade quality of the wood delighted me. Being on the move so much in my life, decorating a home – or even developing my aesthetic – hadn’t been much of a consideration even in my early 30s as I was then, living in London with my husband. I kept the tray in the bathroom to hold loo rolls.
When I got divorced some years later, my husband wanted to take everything and I gave him nearly all of it without a fight. I wanted a clean slate. I bought the tiniest one bedroom flat in Highbury and the wooden tray came with me. My admiration for and appreciation of it extended to finding other one-off hand-carved items, all from India (though purchased at heart-stopping UK prices). I sourced a large mirror frame, hand painted bedside tables, and vintage glass-fronted cabinets.
I learnt that wood in Chinese five-element philosophy signifies growth and blooming. After feeling stagnant for so long, I was definitely striving for reinvention. I decorated the flat like a bijou jewel, unearthing some buried sense of feminine extravagance; it was all draping silks and chandeliers, with tactile textures and deep colours that felt sublime, moody and real. The wood tray held my makeup and perfume, both now daily adornments.
For the next ten years I was more mobile than stable, my old pattern. At some point I decided to leave London to stay with my mother in Dhaka for a spell. I put my things in storage only to realise, six months later, that I wasn’t returning to the UK any time soon and so went back to clear out the stored items, distributing my belongings to friends and charities. I brought back only three items with me – one of them was, yes, the wooden tray.
When I moved to Bombay in 2016, and then subsequently moved apartments twice more, the tray survived my zealous streamlining each time. It just seemed to always fit my life, despite evolving taste, lifestyle and needs. I loved how its rustic feel and round shape added warmth and grounding to my now minimalist all-white space. Over the years, it held candles, Bangladeshi folk clay figurines, crystals, fairy lights, succulents in terracotta pots or whatever were my favoured items of the time.
In the last few years, I tried to find more of these trays. I shopped, I searched, I asked everybody. I discovered this was not actually a tray but a traditional chapati plate. It somehow made me admire it even more. Despite living in India, I couldn’t find another one anywhere; the closest was a listing on Etsy from the Netherlands, where the seller was charging a small fortune for these “unfinished natural wood chapati tray bowl plates from India”.
Now it’s late summer 2020. I’m preparing to move countries again. Between switching careers and pandemic uncertainty, I’m gearing up for another seismic shift. What I take with me is all I’ll have for the next stage in my life. As I begin to pack, I see many treasures are not going to fit in my luggage. I remove one item after another to make room for practical essentials – clothes, toiletries, art supplies.
For me, trays and other containers are highly significant. While I personally refuse to be confined (by country, for one), I like my belongings to be minimal, visible and very much contained. I have utilised this tray in all the rooms of my home(s) at one time or another, reflecting my priorities at the time. The tray has been both decorative in its own right as well as useful in the way it has held my favourite things.
It’s the very last thing I remove from my bag. It is sadly not to be; it won’t fit. After carrying me, so to speak, for 16 years from country to country, home to home, I am no longer able to carry it. A strong believer of memories and feelings being more valuable than physical objects, I don’t feel tragic about it. Donating it to the Material Museum for posterity takes the sting out of it too, perhaps. I release it with love.
Nupu Press // Production Manager, India // The Bourne Supremacy
Director. Paul Greengrass
Production Designer. Dominic Watkins
Art Director, India. Aradhana Seth