Amazingly, I forgot to mention the two most remarkable events of last week. The first is that we cleared up a room that has been in a state of chaos for eight years and the other was that my friend Sunita Paul became a grandmother for the first time, on Friday the 18th.
How odd it is that a date which towers over one when it is still in the future slips under and behind one like a gentle ripple as it enters the past ...
The clearing up of the living room was such a momentous activity, I can't quite take it in. Pause to rewind the facts: we moved into this house (actually the ground floor of a two-storey apartment -- in the US it would be called the "first floor" -- with us downstairs and our friends from whom we rent the house, on the first floor above us) in February 1998 -- if I'm not mistaken, it was on the 28th, the last day of the month. The circumstance of our moving was fraught with many tensions -- too many for me to even begin to describe in a blog -- but the most relevant of these is that three people were moving from a much larger apartment to a significantly smaller one, and also that the much larger apartment had been occupied continuously for about 20 years, and was therefore home to a vast collection of possessions, including about 3000 books. Packing the huge mass of all these myriad items, labelling cartons, cleaning up the spaces we were leaving behind, managing the move while the upper floor of the current house was still under construction -- all of this had taken several months -- and the move itself was like watching a building implode slowly upon itself, except in this case it wasn't the external building but its interior, its decor, its space, its lifestyle.
Since the house we are in currently couldn't contain us in the same manner as the old place, we had packed our stuff into cartons. Once we were here, the urgencies of setting up our lives here overtook us at once -- again, there are too many stories here for me to be able to encapsulate them -- so that we had just enough time to arrange the cartons -- around 400 all told, each one roughly 18"x12"x12" in size -- wherever we could park them, then fit the furniture in too, then squeeze ourselves in and tell ourselves how lucky we were to have a pleasant roof over our heads, and a small garden in front and a steady water-supply. It's a nice colony to live in, being unusually quiet by Delhi standards, with great security, because it's small and gated. There's a pocket-sized park across from our front gate and medium-tall trees everywhere.
But ... we were cramped when we moved and we've remained cramped ever since. The most obvious physical sign of this crampedness is that every room in the house -- two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and a smaller space which may have originally been planned as a TV room but for us became the only available living room, plus two bathrooms and a wash-room -- has had to double as a storage room. Aside from the kitchen and bathrooms, those cartons have remained firmly in place, having become a geological feature, part of the bedrock of the house. Even so, there wasn't place for all the cartons AND normal living spaces, so the biggest of the rooms, the original living room, was given over to being a storage space right from the start and has remained that ever since.
Whatever didn't fit anywhere else found its final resting place in the living room. From the very outset, the room resembled a warehouse, filled from floor to ceiling with all manner of merchandise, in cartons, plus the bits and pieces of surplus furniture. It was orderly at the outset but gradually began to deteriorate into a general dump-site. It was of course impossible to clean and so ... it wasn't. Delhi being an area of continuous dust-fall, that room became a type of interior desert, where the fine black dust, distilled out of our diesel-fume-enriched atmosphere, built up in weird dunes on the walls; it became a wild-life preserve for generations of spiders, a sanctuary for dust-mice and every other manner of neglect-related life-form. There were empty printer-cartons, filled printer-cartons, shoe-boxes, an old tyre, stacks of ply-wood, old shoes, dying towels, dead cloth rags, dusty prayer-flags, porcupine quills, used brownpaper envelopes, a set of darts, several suitcases ... you get the idea. Junk supreme, junk-to-the-power-ten, junk invincible.
E kept his hardware tools in well-built and well-ordered closets and the cartons ensured that whatever was inside them was dry and dust-free (because we'd lined them with plastic and sealed them with tape) but accessing anything became an ordeal that rarely seemed worth the effort.
SO! Given this background, the fact that we actually cleared up this area of unspeakable unusability last week -- for the very first time since we moved in here is ... well, it feels like sun breaking from the clouds after eight years of continuous storm. Of course, when I say "cleared up" I certainly do NOT mean that it would win any IKEA prizes, not even in the "warehouse" category, coz it's still full of cartons and it includes as part of its essential decor a foot-operated pump, motorcycle spare-parts, the indomitable porcupine quills, bits of lumber and The Tyre. But it's actually a recognizable room now: it has a bed, a framed picture on one of its walls, we can walk into the space and look around it and even breathe now and then. Light comes in through the glass doors along its front wall, crosses the room and enters the rest of the house. This has not happened since we moved in. It's like a benediction. I've re-discovered things that I'd forgotten I owned -- bamboo-handled paintbrushes, six bottles of black ink, a roll of pristine tracing paper. I've thrown away stacks of cassettes that had succumbed to age. I've thrown away old clothes, and stowed away new ones, reminded myself that I have a large number of old shoes and smiled fondly at my hoard of antique bow-pens.
In short, life and renewal have overtaken a tiny sector of the Universe.
This statement brings me to Sunita's grand-child. I have never been a baby-friendly person, and no-one who knows me expects me to be involved in child-rearing activities, but still, I was very glad for my friend, and for her daughter Sonal. The child is a boy -- Neel -- and two days ago, I visited Sunita at her press, where, over coffee, she gave me a beautifully precise description of what the newborn is like: his dignity, his miniature expressions, his good behavior, his already-appreciable habits and personality. Some time next week, I will pay a visit, fortified with advance knowledge of what it will be like, already knowing that I will enjoy meeting up with Sonal again, glad that she is recovering well. There are a number of babies in my life just now -- I get daily up-dates from Madras, when I call my mother in the evenings, about my niece's daughter, Maitreyi. And a Tiger Haven Society member is currently very happy on account of her grandson's presence in her house, his first visit.
It amazes me that newborns have personalities so absolutely, from the very first breath they draw -- and no doubt, for their mothers, even before birth: I know my niece was constantly aware of her unborn's needs, impatience, restlessness and perhaps a lot else that can't really be articulated. I am extremely grateful that I never had children. I could never have managed the extreme demands that would have been made on my very meagre emotional resources. Even at a distance, watching young parents with their children, I feel a kind of terror overwhelm me, at the enormity of it all. A whole new life ... eek.
It takes a lot of courage, huh? Thank god I don't have any.