Isn’t it strange what promises we call to memory when it suits us? It starts when we are young — and all of us have seen or experienced that embarrassing situation where a child digs in his heels and pouts — or worse — screams: “You promised! You promised!”
I don’t think we had the courage to try those tricks with our parents though there was a whole host of other annoying stuff that we did to drive them crazy. Maybe our commendable behaviour in this aspect was because our parents rarely promised us anything — and at the same time, we rarely had to ask for anything because we had all that mattered to us.
So we were not told that we would be taken for a picnic if we did our homework on time — where was the need to make a promise like that when our entire life was a picnic with all those open spaces around the house where we could disappear safely for hours on end and have our own private picnics with eatables from a well-stocked storeroom where tins of home-made biscuits and toffee were always to be found?
Besides, homework was not a favour we were doing someone else and there was no question of trading completion of something that was beneficial for us for something else for our benefit again. There was no double accounting in those days ...
So, having been accustomed to no promises, it was thrilling to be told early in our married life, when I was gazing longingly into a shop window at all the gorgeous glass and crystal ware there that someday I could splurge to my heart’s content in that householder’s den of temptation.
Straight away, I walked in, and began a list of all the things I would acquire — and in my mind worked out exactly on which table and in which corner I would place them in our home. It was totally immaterial that we had no furniture and we had no home to furnish, but were wandering around with our meagre possessions from place to place, waiting to put in roots somewhere.
It was a promise for the future — and as we went about the business of life in the next couple of years — it was never completely forgotten. From time to time, it was taken out from the data bank of my memory and examined and thought about — then put away again and put off for a later date.
Other events took place — in the form of the pleasures of a pet and the joys of a child — and we shelved the acquisition of what suddenly seemed like mere nick-nacks and bric-a-brac. Both pet and child were given the run of the house and there was no way we could highlight delicate figurines and glass goblets on side tables and sideboards when a sweep of a tail or a pull at a tablecloth could have everything crashing down ...
It was therefore almost two decades before we could finally make our way back to that shop — our pet gone to heavenly pastures and our child flourishing in greener ones. We told ourselves that just the two of us and our now respectable purse could surely afford one gorgeous glass piece to transform the drabness of our empty nest.
And then we stopped short. What had happened to the shop when we were not looking? Gone were the objects d’art and those hundreds of delicate ornaments — and in their place were fast-moving, utilitarian consumer items that ensured a steady flow of customers.
Not what we were in search of — and not what would fulfil that long-ago promise. But the beauty of it is that we no longer care if that promise is kept — because so many others have.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.