I Recently turned 70 and decided it was time to start giving away some things. After all, when am I ever going to wear all those saris and shawls that are now hardly ever taken out in these Covid times? Also, it makes one happy to see others enjoy what you have gifted them from your precious hoard. However noble this may sound, I realised as I started sorting them out that I just could not bear to let go of the memories that are associated with each one. Some are gifts from beloved people long gone and even though many are in no condition to be worn, they carry such strong memories of the occasions when they were gifted that parting with them is like saying an irrevocable goodbye to those loving souls.
Ironically, I used to make so much fun of an earlier generation who were hoarders par excellence. From pins to jewellery, they could not bear to let go of anything. Yet while I could understand the attachment to gold and diamonds, it was their hoarding of useless stuff — old plastic bottles, broken clocks, jammed mixies, old X-rays — I didn’t consider treasures. Alarmed at our determined cleaning sprees, my mum-in-law started stashing her treasures in her Godrej cupboard and kept the keys firmly attached to her waist as long as she lived. It was only months after her death that we opened her personal Fort Knox and what did we find? Old letters, scraps of drawings made by some child, torn saris, old spectacle cases… the list was hilarious. We laughed then but today, as I sit in front of my own cupboard and face the dilemma of letting go, I see people like her differently.
Theirs was a generation that grew up during the great World Wars, when everything was rationed. It was natural for them to hoard and guard whatever they were able to get. Added to this was the thrift and austerity then considered public virtues. So, anything that could be retrieved and re-used was never thrown away. Torn clothes were neatly darned or recycled to extract whatever value they still had and every machine was repaired for as long as it could be made to work. I am certain you all have memories of old refrigerators that made deathly rattles as they wheezed and lasted many years, or old cars that were regularly serviced and served at least two generations of a family. As for old schoolbooks and second-hand novels, where would we all be without the joy they provided to middle class children whose parents could never find the funds to indulge their army of voracious readers?
As the third child in my family, I don’t think I ever went to school in a uniform that had not been worn by my two older sisters or read from books that had not been decorated with comments and doodles by some cousin. At the end of the year, we carefully tore out the unused pages of our notebooks to be used as rough books or for my writer mother to write her short stories and novels on. Old envelopes were similarly re-used by turning them inside out to make lists later. Often, we wished we could throw away something but permission to do so was granted only after the object was declared unfit for further use by a family committee of wise aunts, uncles or grandparents.
I also realise now that this is how memories were carried from one generation to another and pity those children who are growing up today without the stern overseeing that our generation grew up under. The huge amount of waste that modern societies generate has drawn the attention of the world today, yet how few are willing to wear old clothes as hand-me-downs or repair machines before tossing them aside as junk. I pray that future generations will learn from the mistakes we have all made in turning our backs to doing with less.
And now for some preening about ourselves. Although I am no cricket buff and have little knowledge of the game, yet I am immensely proud of the victory of the Indian team in Australia for several reasons. First of all, for their exemplary behaviour on the field, despite the racial and bodily abuse the Aussies threw at them. Our boys not only refused to rise to the bait, but gave the arrogant Australian cricket players and fans the answer they deserved. The world applauded Indian grit and determination and the historic victory at Brisbane’s Gabba stadium, a venue where the home team had not been defeated in three decades. And look at the social composition of Team India! They were picked from villages and small clubs, had grown up playing gully matches, used tennis balls in the absence of leather ones, went to no posh schools and academies but when they played for their country, they played like the kings and princes who have played Indian cricket in the past.
This is the new India, a generation that does not get overawed by white skin, foreign locations or bad hotels. They made no demands, threw no tantrums and brought back a trophy that made us all cheer. Well done, India!