The table I am writing on is a solid Burma teak, plain, unadorned but just right to hold a cup of tea, a jar of pens, a jug of water, two paperweights, a desk calendar, a laptop, a tiny silver Ganesha urging me to soldier on, a mountain of books balanced near the edge, postcards of Melk monastery, my son’s old school photos and a Glasgow coat of arms with the bird that never flew and the tree that never grew. Outside the shadows are growing, the parakeets are screaming to one another to hurry up please it’s time, the squirrels clamorously clamber down my slatted windows and make a bed for the night and the hundred year old West End Watch Company (Bombay Calcutta) ticks ponderously on.
If I had to follow Marie Kondo’s advice I should have kept nothing of all this. The table and chair are my grandfather’s, purchased from another old zamindar in the nineteen forties who was selling off for money, in the quiet desperation of his understanding that nothing would ever be the same again in his world. The clock on the wall was rescued from a room filled with lumber, cement and other building debris in an abandoned office. The Ganesha is a gift from someone who fell to cancer. And my son is poised on the brink of flight, perhaps a year more, before my nest is empty.
Oh that empty nest! Memories crowd in thick and fast — the C Otto Berlin cottage piano which once rang out with John Thompson’s Whirlybird, the brass pussycat my seventy year-old grandfather had brazenly bought to present to his beloved till prudence prevailed and he gave it to me instead, the brass head my husband and I had wandered off into the lanes of Jama Masjid in Delhi to buy, before we lost ourselves in a tiny Mughal world of attar- and- hijab -wearing women where I was the only one in trousers. I stare at the million year -old -fossil presented to my parents in Paradip when I was five by the miners and look entranced, as I did thirty three years ago, at the faint traces of wispy something. A plant, embedded in stone from when time began!
And the books! The rows and rows of spines, a good many of which I have seen from the beginning of my time, totem and taboo, Omar Khayyam, police at the funeral, the fly leaves with spidery handwriting of owners long gone, their messages of cherished love and regard now forgotten, the recipients also turned to dust with nothing to show that they existed except the dates — Railway Station Nagpur 1975, Calcutta 1962 — oh what a world of joy and sorrow, boredom and excitement as each reader read, preserved, passed down or gave away! I have books belonging to my grandmothers as children, and their fathers before, faded ink, yellowed pages, four generations in one pile.
Each object has a story and all the stories are a count of a life that has lived, created, bought, stored, dusted and polished before cruel oblivion. I remember both my sets of grandparents but for my son they are nothing. When my bell is rung, no doubt my immediate family and friends will remember but soon they too will pass. And soon with the passage of time we will all be nothing, or less than nothing but dreams.
So why should we give up on our memories and the objects that shape our memories? Memories, said Daphne du Maurier, are precious things and whether good or ill are never sad. We must weave these memories into our lives and caress them while we can. All my books, book knives, brass bric-a-brac are not clutter but a source of great sustenance, as are the frayed doily and the faded coverlet.
Come to my house, Marie Kondo, and be content.