With all of us more or less confined to the house and the pandemic showing no signs of abating, it is tough not to have pessimistic and sometimes morbid thoughts about the future, mostly along the lines of “Will we get to see a future at all?”
We decide to be practical about that hazy future and not leave too many loose ends around for others to clear up.
So, first things first, our wills are typed and signed and witnessed and kept in plain sight. We are not big time property owners or investors, and it doesn’t take long for us to enumerate our small savings — but then we look around and we see a houseful of treasures: things that have no real, intrinsic value but are cherished because of the stories that accompany them.
We were blessed to have parents who were adept at holding our attention through all those television-less evenings of our childhood, after the day’s work and play was done and we were in that twilight zone between waking and sleeping. Their stories of adventure and upheaval, excitement and romance, were accompanied by well-wielded props — and so we came to know and love the various mementoes and knick-knacks that adorned our home
Naturally, each of us kids carried a couple of those “props” to our own homes. We took them with us on our postings to various places, we cared for them and added a few choice companions to them, presented by others or bought with a great deal of thought.
Anyone who enters our home will see nothing very special in it: a couple of vases and bowls and the odd statuette, but we know how each came to occupy pride of place — and now, it is time to record those stories.
We start with utility items, basic crockery and cutlery that carry tales that make them much more than mere kitchen utensils or implements. There is our paternal grandmother’s coconut scraper, the only thing she brought from her home in Goa in 1899 or 1901 (the date escaped us young listeners because even then, in the 1960s, it seemed too far back in the past to be quantified); an “ancestral” cake stand from our maternal grandmother that was so precious it came out only on birthdays and anniversaries despite cakes of all shapes and sizes being more or less regular fare; a sparkling crystal salad bowl that travelled the oceans along with friends to grace our parents’ golden anniversary table; and festive baubles that could be a century old, each with a story to be recalled as we strung them up along with streamers and twinkling lights each Christmas.
There are tablecloths, cushions and bedspreads that originated as a long bolt of ordinary blue linen obtained at a discount and then embroidered by Mother and her sisters, each creating works of art that have survived long after all of them have gone. These are now family heirlooms. But instead of spreading them on the table or bed proudly when guests visit, I whip them off and put them away, determined to keep them safe from rough handling so that the next generation can continue to frame stories around them.
Then there is one delicate filigree vase that was the only item of fancy bought by Mother after the Liberation of Goa in 1961: somehow it survived decades of packing and unpacking, being bumped into by us and being caught in the nick of time by her … When I remember all those occasions, right from the time it entered our home, the vase takes on an aura that I know will fade unless the story lives on with it.
So, yes, the stories are there for the asking.
But, without good listeners, where will those stories go?
— Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India