I have this cardboard box full of junk stored under my bed for the last 5 years. Each time I moved house I carried it along with me. I'm one of those collectors of garbage. I hate to even throw away post-its marked "October 2004: have to fix leak in cistern. CALL PLUMBER TODAY."
Well, today I decided enough is enough. I just have to sort out the stuff in that box. The lid was taped shut from the last house change...three years back. As I cut it open the first thing that looked up at me with accusing mismatched eyes was a cream coloured teddy bear gifted to me by my mother on my 21st birthday.
Guiltily, I took it out and looked it over. The stuffing was coming out at places and it badly needed a wash. But the best quality in stuffed animals that humans sadly lack is their inability to talk back or point accusing fingers at their owners on neglect.
A polythene bag bulging at the seams peaked from under stacks of journalistic note pads. I decided to deal with it later. I riffled through some of the note pads on the top of the stack. Notes on stories I have done, phone numbers of government officials scribbled in haste who have long since been either transferred to some other department or retired having completed their terms.
As usual, I was in two minds about throwing these away...vaguely remembering some official rule about preserving notes for five years after having done a story. I decided to deal with the dilemma later. On to the polythene bag then.
A whole bunch of cassettes. Not DVDs or CDs or such modern riff-raff mind you. Audio cassettes of Bryan Adams, mushy romantic song collection by Archie's, Jagjit Singh, Feroza Begum, Bhoomi...and mixed tapes either gifted by friends or ones that I recorded off the radio.
As I looked them over I suddenly realised that each and every single song has some memory attached to it. Take for example "purani jeans" - a song that was almost an anthem for me during college. One I hummed through sleepless nights in my college hostel and one we sang on our last day there.
Or "Dil hi toh hai" - during days and nights at heartbreak hotel, to be more precise - my house, crying in to the pillow because the neighbour's son didn't fancy me in my Harry Potter glasses, crazy curly cropped hair and baggy jeans.
"18 till i die" - at 18 I was wonderfully convinced that Bryan Adams took the pain to write a song about me. Hours spent in front of the mirror fine tuning my air guitar and head banging. For some reason, I always thought the secret to perfecting rock music is perfecting the head bang.
What do I throw away from these wonderful, wonderful songs that saw me through days of tears, meaningless chirpiness, coy acceptance of imaginary Grammies and sobbing singing-alongs of heart wrenching filmy pop songs? I'll just have to deal with them later, won't I?
What's the blue cloth bag stuffed with papers behind the sketchbook?
Postcards! Cream coloured 25 paise each post cards from parents back in Kolkata waiting for me to return home.
"12th September 2004: Darling, you are always on our mind. Your father and me count each day as we wait for you to come home," mum writes. "Are you having proper food? Delhi isn't a very warm place from what you write. We were thinking that it's time you get one of those mobile phones as it's risky for you to always go out to the street corner payphone to make emergency calls..."
Those days I was a trainee in Statesman newspaper, earning a staggering 5000 bucks a month. I could on most days not afford to take an auto back home after work let alone own a mobile phone. The post cards took me back to days spent running around abusive bosses, evasive officials and eager NGO workers.
My parents knew I would probably never come back to Kolkata but never stopped hoping. Pot card after post card of heartbreaking pleas to eat well, give my laundry to cleaners and not spend precious off days doing all of it by hand to save 10 bucks. Damn. If just reading the neat scrawl of my mother's hand is bringing a funny tingling sensation in my throat, how in hell will I be able to casually toss these in the waste bin?
I know what I'll do. I'll put these aside for the moment and sort out a bunch of old bills tied with a rubber band first. Surely I don't need these any more? I mean, what the hell is this slip...looks like a stub of...oh right. My first trip to a PVR movie hall in Delhi with my ex-boyfriend. Jesus! Did I actually sit through two hours of 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham'!
Yeah, that was a fun day. We shared a plate of over priced chowmein later, happily abusing the film and the cast, promising never to indulge in such frivolities ever again. Yet there's a second stub in the pile. Clearly we never meant to keep that promise.
Restaurant bills, paper bills, bills from the chemists, more restaurant bills, by the looks of it I ate my way through my salary. Some of this can go. Not this one though. Bill for my first Nokia handset. 2023 rupees. A huge sum, transferred to my account by Messrs. Dad who finally got tired of waiting for my weekly calls home.
Yowza! is that my old sketch book? Yes it is. It still has the drawing of India Gate and the ice cream man. Ive improved my pastel technique since but will you just look at this! I've even pompously signed it R.B. Like all artists convinced that their worth will be realised posthumously.
Well this I'm most definitely saving. Looks like I'm through with most of this junk. After a hard hour's work..off to the fridge then. A cold glass of water and a wash later from all the grime from the box. Well, you can't say that I didn't try. But what can you throw away from past?