Sometimes, some of the most mundane and the most seemingly inconsequential of activities can leave you thoroughly spooked by the end of it. Is it that you put too much thought where you shouldn’t and try to find a meaning when there really isn’t?
I was home for the festive weekend. The place needed serious clean-up, and there was no better place to start than my drawers, the now defunct study table and storage cabinets.
I was a little shocked at the diverse array of things that had accumulated in those drawers over the years. Things that I saved because I thought they were cool at that time, or were treasured for their sentimental value. Things I never really paid any attention to; usually dismissed as garbage that the ever accommodating wooden cabinets always welcomed with gracious hospitality. The same cabinets had also taken a liking to a group of spiders who were interior decorators by profession, and had embellished every single corner with tastefully designed webs to appease any connoisseur’s sensibilities.
Sifting through heaps and heaps of yellowing paper, unbelievably kitschy trinkets and forgotten, discarded memorabilia, I felt overcome with this strange mixture of emotions; a mixture as varied as the miscellany that lay in front of me.
A major chunk of the supposed ‘waste’ was proudly occupied by the remnants of Engineering: tons of books, Xeroxed notes, sheets and sheets of formulae dangling loosely from rusted staples, incomplete assignments, bills of books I never read, a thick sheaf of lewd doodles, lyrics and caricatures created to survive boring lectures, posters of hot chicks secretly stashed away in some of those books, silly football trivia, statistics and team formations that formed the bulk of all my practicals, ‘rough’ books that I used to practice Math problems, formulae, figures and also keep track of Manchester United’s projected points tally, a stack of youth magazines that I used to read during the lectures, and the ultimate reflection of all of these activities – the grand crowning glory – my less-than-flattering marksheets.
Obviously, letting go of all these things did make me cringe. After all, it was not trash – it was four years spent with some of the most wonderful people I’ll ever meet; memories so deeply anchored within that they always found their way back to me. As I started arranging the books and sheets in a tidy stack, all these lost, buried memories came alive. Sinha, for instance, used to write ‘Jai Saraswati Mata’ on all his notes. In one place, he had written it so close to the question that it looked as if it were a part of the answer! I also found GJ’s habit of trying to fit all his answers in one page really funny. It was almost as if he were saying to the examiner, “Ek page mein itna hi aayega. Chal check kar abhi!” Then there was this presentation that my project partner AK had lifted off some obscure site. I still remember the expression on the poor teacher’s face as AK rattled on about some vague technology that wasn’t even remotely related to the presentation topic. Post presentation, he duped the thoroughly confused teacher in giving as an A for our “original research”. And she did!
A little over four years of such silly memories stood in two neat stacks, each around 3 feet tall. Both the stacks gave a wobbling salute to the glory days of last minute studies and hurried presentations. I saluted them too – they were the real martyrs who made me who I am today – an IT professional with as much interest in IT as the local raddiwalla who they would be sold to eventually. (The raddiwalla later estimated that 4 years of education are worth 75 rupees, at 6.5 rupees per kilo.)
The stuff that remained buried underneath all of this, however, was the most unsettling. A collection of items I never thought I would see again, but there they were – suddenly jumping out and yelling “surprise!” from around the unknown corner.
The thing that disoriented me about these objects was the unordered order of randomness in which they resurfaced – a strange concoction of the past staring at you in the eye after so many years: Nearly decayed petals of a flower offered to God before a crucial examination, a few notes and coins given to me as “blessing” by some relatives, “prasad” that I was supposed to keep with my writing materials. A greeting card from a sister I haven’t spoken to in the last 5 years, a greeting card from another sister who was just learning to draw, a greeting card from a friend just before he left the city. A bunch of friendship bands that covered my wrists during Friendship day celebrations in college. One of them had a heart symbol next to my name. I had never noticed that before. Did that mean she liked me back then? 8 years too late to find the answer, I’m afraid.
There were a couple of “ghost masks” that I had won at some competition. Over half of those cardboard masks were devoured by termites and moths that made them look even more grotesque. Issues of a MBA magazine gathered dust in a far corner, just like my aspirations have, over time. A tattered paper with a silly motivational poem written on it – the only remaining relic from the days of optimism. A poster of Kurt Cobain – probably a sign of the changing times. An incredibly depressing letter that I had written to 2 people some time ago. I think I had written it because I didn’t have the guts to speak out the words. One of them read only half of it before handing it back to me. A toy gun I used to shoot birds with. I had used the gun to deliberately hurt a person on more than one occasion. It made me feel terribly guilty, and I had to get rid of it. There were a few hazy pictures of an old birthday party – the birthday boy, flanked by his parents, had a wide grin on his face. He was wearing his favourite Godzilla T-shirt, which was the coolest thing back then. The onslaught never stopped. A Winnie the Pooh comb given to me by the kid next door, a deflated football, pieces of paper with something scribbled on them. Finally, a couple of watches that I had stopped wearing a long time ago. The hands had permanently frozen at one point of time, perhaps indicating that it was time to move on.
Hours had gone by, and I was still rummaging through the remainder of the pile. I could have never imagined that cleaning out old cabinets would imply walking through the murky by-lanes of my mind and bumping into vaguely familiar strangers. Fortunately, I was nearly out.
I sorted the items into 3 large plastic bags. It’s astonishing to think that you can stuff almost a decade-worth of your life into just 3 large bags. The bags felt awfully heavy as I carried them out and left them outside the door. Something still felt heavy as I closed the door on them. Were they knocking at my door, pleading to let them in again?
It is funny how times change you as a person.
It is amusing how you don’t remember any of the several people you were over the years. People who prayed to God everyday, people who wore stupid colour-changing wrist watches, people who sucked at flirting, people who were expected to do well in future. People whose life can be neatly squeezed into 3 large bags.
It is tragic how the guy who collects garbage will come in the morning, pick up all those people and dump them along with the rest of the city’s trash.
It is terrifying that after all these years, the only thing that you really know about yourself is a “?”.
Come to think of it, a lot of people meet the fate of the trash bags in due course. Lost, unknown, faceless, the summation of an entire lifetime neatly packed in a bag and tossed into a common dump outside the city. The identity that took so many years to create would be so indistinguishable from the rest of the heap that no one would even notice something has gone missing. No one would even know that a person existed.
I had an interesting dream a couple of days later. In the dream, I was walking home from school. A little boy was walking alongside me. He asked me to race him. I agreed and we started running. Halfway through the race, I realized that I had forgotten the way home. The little boy was running away into the distance, but there was no way to catch up. I ran around frantically, but there were no roads in sight. Not once did the boy turn to look if I was following or not. So I just stood there, watching him run and disappear behind a large tree.
A blink of the eye and the dream was over.