Jul 14, 2017

To Hold on to

Sarabjeet D. Natesan

The more we collect, in mind and in matter, the more disorder we create; and more stories and more memories too. Collecting things happens over a lifetime of living but letting go is very tough. Growing old also adds an extra coat of sentimentality to life, routine becomes precious and special becomes a treasure. And we can’t let go. In a life that is leaving us behind very quickly, making us irrelevant, we linger and ask everyone to understand the importance of things that were once important to us. Families coming to terms with the loss of love also must deal with huge amounts of material possessions collected over many years, insensitive to throw and incapable of being held. Precious thoughts and relationships made and nurtured slip away, generations vanish, pictures fade and suddenly nothing remains. This thought poignantly hit me when I cleaned my parents’ house; everything that my mother had collected and cared for now lay in boxes, unused and unwanted. How much could I take with me, and where will I put it? Throwing them out meant tossing a lifetime of remembrances away and I was not brave enough to do so. Yet, I did it and still feel bad for some of the things I threw out that day.

That one act of emotional cathartic purging made me relentless in discarding things in my life. It was as if I was taking no hostages, leaving no identity behind. I made boxes, things were sorted, and things were thrown out or things were given away. I stored nothing. I methodically threw out things that had not been used in the last three months. I became notorious, my family started hiding things, my husband would return home to see the watchman wearing his clothes, my kids found their toys missing, their comics collection given away, their favorite t-shirts turned into dusters. Everybody became wary of me and the worry was what next? If something was genuinely misplaced or at the cleaners, it was assumed that I had given it away!

But life teaches you nothing!

As a part of a quick exit plan, I had come to Mumbai with one suitcase and one small brown cardboard box containing one frying pan, one pan for making tea, one ladle, two plates, two cups, two spoons, two forks, two knives, two stainless steel tumblers (as used in south of India) and one empty jam bottle to stack the cutlery in, two sheets and one pillow. I also carried only salt and pepper and some tea and some sugar. I figured to myself, if I need to leave, there is nothing that will bind me here. I had no plans of buying anything, I was sure of that. I had taken a few trips to Mumbai before and I knew where to get tea and a simple breakfast. However much I love to cook, I had no intention of setting up a kitchen here. I had already told the person who cooked for us in Chennai to pack and freeze small portions of food for me on a day to day basis. I had planned to go home every weekend, take back empty containers and bring back new ones, full of food! But then life sneakily unfolded without taking my permission or without even bothering to inform me.

To help me to settle in, my husband insisted on accompanying me to Mumbai and our one and only trip to the market yielded an induction stove, four cut glasses, foot mats, a sieve, a peeler, a colander, a set of small jars to hold spices, a bottle of cooking oil, a water can, a broomstick, two buckets, a mirror and of course spices to fill the containers. And a six-pack and a bottle of wine. I suspect the last two were to help him more than me. No amount of reasoning, anger, tantrums deterred him. I told him that I plan to leave this place in a few weeks and then all this will go waste. By then he had become friendly with the guard downstairs and told me to leave it all with him and return.

The first week alone in a lake facing apartment was fine, the wine helped. I managed by making tea and maybe an egg and bought lunch and somehow carried it to dinner too. It was hot but leaving the balcony doors open and leaving all the fans on in the apartment helped create a good air flow. My morbid fear of ghosts also meant that I left the lights on in the night too. All of them! I also consciously did not get any more ‘stuff’ and used the cardboard box to fashion a table for my books and a solitary lamp. Very clean, and very minimalistic!

Into my second week, the friendly guard from the apartment building called me at work to inform me that there was a package waiting for me. Since I had not ordered anything, I told him it could not be for me. He insisted, and as I had nothing much to do, I went to check and found a television set, a refrigerator, an air-conditioner, a hairdryer, a clothes iron, yet another induction stove, a rice cooker and an umbrella waiting for me. I was livid as hell and told the delivery man to take it all back, but he dumped it there and drove off. And to add insult to a great deal of injury, my husband refused to answer his phone at this crucial moment, perhaps anticipating my cloud burst like reaction. My stress in the coming week only reached sky high proportions as I refused to unpack and stared at all these things with a very jaundiced eye. But then, the summers became scorching, my lunch to dinner plans started rotting, the lakeside balcony turned horribly hot, I wanted some sound in the apartment beside mine and the rains came and I had to get all gadgets installed one by one and the umbrella proved to be very useful! I was soon informed that all this had to be done as my family consisting of three girls and one husband were planning a holiday to Mumbai. My first piece of instruction to them was to carry plates, cups, glasses, and spoons with them and be ready to take them back with as well. With the summer holidays, my now grown up kids brought tons and tons of young junk and added further to it by going shopping almost every day. They also refused to take back the plates and the other things they had brought with them because there was no place left in their bags with all the shopping they had done. My pristine clean and minimalist apartment resembled a changing room of a mall and a back kitchen of a takeout restaurant and everything that I had controlled in my life, got tossed out!

My kids went back and when it came to cleaning up after them, I became too emotional, things which I would have tossed out earlier without a thought, became memories for me to hold on to. Since then, they have taken many vacations here, many visits, each which leaves its celebrations behind. Each recollection is more precious and more looked after.

My trunk of clutter has grown so has my fondness of keeping useless things; a ball of yarn, buttons, origami, origami paper, art supplies, books, grainy photographs taken at the Gateway of India, fashionable shopping bags, mountains of clothes, tons of shoes, makeup, headphones, pen drives, food delivery menus, half empty shampoo and conditioner bottles, extra pillows, bed sheets, and many other knick knacks. The clutter has been cleaned, sorted and put away, but not thrown out; the regular has become precious and the precious has become prized and my exit plan has been altered. The friendly guard has been replaced and I don’t know if the new person will value my memories!

And life teaches you nothing!

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