Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Mystery of the Cupboard

For some weeks past, on an unofficial study leave from internship, preparing for the upcoming unholy trinity of post-graduate entrance exams, life's been trudging along at a rather deliberate pace and things have been as uneventful as they come. Which is a relief after what must have been the most frenetic eight months of my life so far.

So, the only thing of note apart from the relief of being able to tick one exam off that list yesterday was Mum realizing I was finally at home for a whole day and not hiding behind a pile of ponderous tomes.

"So will you clean out your cupboard today if you're not doing anything else?" Mum asked rather drily while I furiously tried to think of something, anything that required doing elsewhere. Somehow I never can rustle up enough enthusiasm to clean my room, particularly my old cupboard that has some stuff that is positively ancient, although Mum regularly reminds me how it's overstuffed and creaking under the weight of unnecessary things that were either too old or consisted of something I could have always done without but had simply stored up on a whim.

Now while mindless hoarding came way more naturally to me than performing a triage, deciding what to throw away or pass on or use up seemed an extremely unappealing task to get down to on a lovely Bombay quasi-winter morning when there was no studying to be done right off.

However, as was not-so-subtly reinforced over breakfast was that it had to be done some time and if I didn't get around to it myself, she would. Well, that last bit worked like a charm every time! Mum is a little too well-versed with my discomfort at letting other people arrange my things. And what looks like randomly thrown-together junk to most looks to me like a just-right pattern amidst the chaos.

Well, there was no avoiding it. I threw open the cupboard doors and quickly caught in my arms the small mound of old T-shirts that fell out. I held onto them and their comfy reassuring old-tee softness as I stood there staring at the six shelves for what must have been more than a couple of minutes.

The small mound was then transferred to the bed while I started with the top-shelf and decided to progress downward in reverse-chronological order of accumulated stuff.

It was amazing that I found not mere knick-knacks and odd objects but memories and remarkably, a couple of forgotten hobbies.

There was the cowboy hat from Munnar that immediately brought to mind the sunny day near the dam and the steaming Maggie, extra-extra spicy washed down with sweet milk and a home-made chocolate bar. A cowboy hat that was bought for a laugh because it was cheap and kitschy but now was too dear to abandon.

Then there was a seashell studded purse acquired on the college group-trip to Goa, much-admired because it was so pretty but never used because it was too fragile to withstand the crush of Bombay buses.

And a green woolly jacket from Manali obviously impossible to wear in the middle of these laughably non-wintry winters.

A bunch of photographs clicked on a shikara on Dal lake, of Mishti and I dressed up in Kashmiri-garb for tourists that stayed on with velcro straps. Those kept me entertained for a few minutes.

An old bathing suit from junior college days that was a particularly horrid shade of purple so was never worn to the beach or the swimming pool.

Aajoba's harmonica from the seventies, rusty but tuneful, he'd play "Zindagi ek safar hai suhana" on it. Wonder how it ended up with my stuff.

Dada's old Archies comics, stowed away in my cupboard when he began to think they were too corny/girly for his.

A strangely furry pink doggy-shaped duffel bag filled with lego blocks and superhero magnets from a bygone era.

And a green candle from Piyu's candle-making experiment days gifted to me with the boast that it was scented with green apple fragrance but it rather inexplicably smelt of vanilla. It doesn't smell of anything but old-newspaper smell now after being wrapped up for seven years.

There were greeting-cards sent on Diwali and Christmas from dad's old students in Belgium and UK. I still can't figure how they managed to source Diwali cards in Belgium!

Stolen blue tokens from the Metro stuck to the inside of the drawer. A rosary from Mount Mary's purchased for the pretty blue beads and the dramatic silver crucifix.

A brown wooden ring bought for five bucks in the second class of a Borivali local because it made me feel medieval and ethnic at the same time.

Cheap red rimmed goggles bought from Bandstand or Colaba Causeway and broken because Pushky sat on them one afternoon.

Things got more interesting the further back in time they went. Obviously, they were more important because they were kept the longest.

An old embroidered handkerchief with Dad's initials stitched on, remarkably, by me, inspired by a class in school. That I had once attempted to learn to embroider felt rather incredible now.

Then there were a couple of battered old books. An old diary with Hindi film song lyrics like "Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam. Tum rahe na tum, hum rahe na hum." That made me smile because it was a diary from 2000, the year I saw Kaagaz Ke Phool at our school film club screening and had to hold Kallu's hand because she was upset over her Geography marks.

A book titled "Learn German in 30 days: For Beginners" that had helpful devanagari renditions of words like 'ahbent' and 'allgemeine'. Similarly, a pocket book titled "Oscar Wilde's Aphorisms". Those went into the keep-for-posterity pile.

A tin-can half-filled with old ten paise and twenty paise coins that Dada had slyly passed on to me before I realized they were obsolete currency.

A scrapbook dedicated to childhood heroes, mine and Dada's with a delicate old newspaper cutting of Zinedine Zidane after a world cup win in 1998. Back when he had a head of rather lustrous hair.

A box of glass beads that Aaji would make string necklaces out of, for my work experience class.

A broken kaleidoscope from a fair at Mahabaleshwar. And a colorful mechanical pencil from primary school days.

All this lay inside a box beside the bed after lunch and Mum said it was junk that would have to go. And I realized letting it all go would be tougher than earlier suspected. I reasoned with myself that I was attached to silly ephemeral things but then you know, these things, these inanimate objects that lie around your house and build up in your room, in your loft, in your cupboard because they are seldom used or because they are old sentimental things that hoarders like me cannot bring themselves to discard.

But there's more to them, I think. Unknown to us, they become receptacles of the past. They're not necessarily family heirlooms or showy keepsakes or even minor mementos but they store up inside them tiny little pieces of our selves. Our selves, the way we were when we first kept them, stored them away with a little thought or thoughtlessly.

They keep pieces of who we used to be, who we hoped we would become, who we were almost sure we had become. And of course, who we really are.

There's a wonderful coda at the end of Never Let Me Go where Kathy imagines a place where all lost things from her childhood washed up. I gave up the box filled with the stuff from the cupboard and I had a mental image of being at a Viking funeral. It felt like I was sending it all away to the same place that my old storybooks and toys and favourite audio cassettes wound up. So that they never really went away from the world. And nothing could ever really be lost. Even if it is only old stuff from a cupboard that needed cleaning out.


Isha said...

This post is so beautiful because somewhere, it strikes a chord. :)

T. said...

Reminds me of what an interesting childhood we used to have...isnt it odd that we are in our early twenties n getting all nostalgic?

Sakshi said...

This is WHY I can't open my drawer or my study cupboard and sort things out. Each little thing reminds me of why it is there!
Because, if there was not a memory attached to it, then, it would not have been there!

Amazing how memories become tangible with things that we associate them with... :)

Jester said...

"And what looks like randomly thrown-together junk to most looks to me like a just-right pattern amidst the chaos." ...completely relate to that! and most else that the cupboard spewed!!

Meher said...

This post is beautiful, reminds of the hidden treasures of childhood, that not only bring back memories, but also people.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Isha, thank you! For the comment and the 'award'. :)

T., it's not odd at all, considering I used to be nostalgic about primary school when in secondary school. And as I recall, so were you. :D

Sakshi, 'tangible memories'. What a truly beautiful thought that is! :) Thank you!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Jester, I KNOW! My Mum refuses to believe me when I say I know exactly where everything is, that I shall successfully find it when need arises, and there's a reason behind that apparently disorderly randomness. :D

Meher, I know. It was incredible that my cupboard contained so many things that never even belonged to me. I wonder how many of my things ended up in others' cupboards, though. ;)

IceMaiden said...

I was smiling the whole time I was reading this post! :) :) :)

And yes, count me also in among the club of people who cant clean away their cupboards for this very reason! :D

Tangled up in blue... said...

IceMaiden, thank you! :) And I am delighted to find I'm not the only one. I must show my Mum! :D

Unknown said...

(Sigh!) ....like a wormhole that transports us to past memories...

"...but they store up inside them tiny little pieces of our selves."

Infinite 'tiny little gems' that make an infinitely wise woman, whose spirit has the verve of a 16-year old lass and thoughts have the profundity of an 80-year old lady. Incredible! :)

Strange that I'm dying to clean my cupboard right away. But well, only three days ago did I empty my good old backpack and guess what, my fist was full with bus/railway tickets from as many as 4 states... :)

Take care, my friend...

Tangled up in blue... said...

Rohith, what a lovely comment! :) Thank you, my friend! :) And four states? You really have been a wanderer of late, haven't you? I wish I could take to travelling soon, too. But I have no idea when and if an opportunity will present itself. I really, really would like to go to Hampi this year.

DocPriya said...

excellently written.. Reminds me of my childhood.. very well articulated into words.. Small Things can be so precious specially childhood memories.. Just not easy to throw away those little Things which mean so much to us.. Loved the way you have written so beautifully!

Tangled up in blue... said...

DocPriya, thanks for another of your lovely comments. :)

Anonymous said...

wow. whatta list! I have a shelf in my cupboard reserved just for memories...my mum tries to clean it out every once in a while, but she knows that she can get away with donating an old/torn but comfortable T-shirt, but will have hell to pay if I find anything from my memory shelf (http://mrigankwarrier.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/my-memory-shelf/) missing.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Aww! A memory shelf! :) That's sooo cute. I once had this yellow tee called "Too cute to eat" painted on it in red fabric paint by my best friend Piyu but it was so old and decrepit that my mum insisted on throwing it away. So I cut out the part Piyu had painted on and gave the rest to my mum, much to her chagrin, I'm sure. Yes, I'm a rather irrepressible hoarder. :D