Monday, May 03, 2010

Butter from a drawer

Clearing out a big ol' drawer or cupboard is usually a terrible drag, but it does have its moments. Just a week ago, on a Sunday morning, Mama, my mother, was rummaging through the various storage areas we have in our home, as I watched in a mild stupor (having woken up to a flurry of spring cleaning activities that I joined with a good deal of reluctance). Halfway through our efforts, something interesting happened.

"Nani's handbag..." I heard her say, and I looked vaguely in her direction, struggling to shake off the last bits of sleep that still clung to me. "Nani" is the name by which my sister and I called our late maternal grandmother. She's been gone for over two years now.

Once I focussed completely, I found Mama sitting before an open drawer, the contents of which were mostly out on the floor and roughly sorted into keeps and discards. In her hands rested a beige leather handbag which she had kept while clearing out the last home that Nani lived in. The bag had made its way to Mumbai from Bhuvaneshwar, where Nani breathed her last, right into the drawer that Mama was now clearing out. Seeing the bag instantly brought me a pang of grief... one that I knew was echoed in Mama's heart. I suppose you can make your peace with the departure of a loved one, get on with your life and be truly happy... but there will still be moments when you wish he/she was still around to share your life as tangibly as you experience it.

Wordlessly, Mama started going through the bag and I realised she had probably not done so till today. Nani's handbags had always been capable of storing the most incredible number of things... actually, that's not very different from a lot of women I know, but Nani had just a slight edge over them! While growing up, I don't recall actually seeing the inside of her handbag because she was usually very careful with it, but I do know that it had, on different occasions, provided her with cash, make up, combs and hairbrushes, clips, tweezers, nail-clippers, medicines, tissues, stationery, small religious books, toffees, photographs and LOTS more. As Mama proceeded to go through it, a few things came out that were so in line with Nani's ways that it felt as though she was right there.

First came a bunch of money, Rs. 900, extracted from the bag's most well concealed pouch. Nani always had a secret store of cash for emergencies, having raised a large family that went through some very rough times. She carefully put small amounts of money away, just in case there was an exceptionally rainy day that called for it. We decided to let the money be where it was...

Next came a bunch of keys all tangled up with string and rubber bands. There was no sign of locks in the bag and we knew at once that we'd never be able to figure out what the keys were for. They reminded me of how many little boxes she used to have and how her keys often got jumbled up. Unlocking anything later was such a comical task (as long as you were a third party observer) because everyone involved would be poring over all these little keys, trying them out on different locks, grumbling, griping and laughing all along!

A few odds and ends later came the last item - a little zippered pouch that she usually kept coins in. There were no coins in is this time, just a few scraps of paper and two passport sized photographs of my father, Nani's first and arguably favourite son-in-law. That was the MOST typical finding :) Nani had a habit of keeping something precious to her in places where someone else would never think of looking. None of this was ever anything of commercial value, but it was always something that meant a lot to her. Photographs of her family, a handwritten letter, drawings or paintings made by her grandchildren. Small things like these keep surfacing as we go through her things, each of them a reminder of how much she loved us... or as I think, how much she loves us!

It's odd that today, more than ever, I am aware of Nani's love for me and for our family. It's as if she moved out of her body and spread herself, like butter on toast, all across our lives. Isn't that something to think about?... Butter melts and gets absorbed in the toast - and you really sense its presence when you breathe in the aroma or take a bite of the toast... And in just the same way, great love goes deep inside everything it touches... and every now and then, when you take a moment to go through a "drawer", you find it there :)

Much love! God bless!