“People leave traces of themselves where they feel most comfortable, most worthwhile.”
— Haruki Murakami
The act of being through possession has been delved into deeply in philosophy. In Being and Nothingness (1943), Jean-Paul Sartre observes that we expand our sense of self through wanting and as a consequence, having. Our being, our wanting, our having — evolve, express, and fuse into strands of our identities. The material significance in our life narratives is created by our own collecting and modes of archiving. Through personal objects having autobiographical connotations, we become the curators of our intimate, inner life museums. The self, then, does not solely reside in the body and the mind; it moves and meanders into fragments of our material world, it synthesises itself with the objects we choose to hold close.
In the complex relationship between the object and the subject, Judith Attfield notes that the sense-making of physical objects has been explored in various fields of study. The psychoanalytic theory looks at identity formation through ‘object-relations’, while anthropology and sociology examine objects through the lens of physical manifestations of culture and social relations. While academic theory has been an astute medium for exponentially grasping our material lives, perhaps the most ardent and sincere viewing of the object as an extension of the self lays in the physical things around us. ‘Things’ in this way become intricate parts of our constructions of time and space, both of which are modes for people to enter into relationships with their possessions. This, in turn, fuses into our identities — often signifying the plurality of our expressions, culture, community, and invariably of love.
Possessions bought, thrifted, generationally travelled, entail a peculiar form of memory-making within them. Both identity-objects and relation-objects are a part of the larger narratives of our lives. Our attachments to them intensify through heightened proximity and the passage of time. We continue to utilise them to piece together the fabric of our self, ever-changing, and ever-linked to the lives of others. It is natural then, that the documentation of our belongings, choosing to hold on to them, or to let them go, leaves an imprint on us, with powerful hues of warmth, a sense of catharsis, and sometimes unforgettable pain. For example, the global collection at The Museum of Broken Relationships is perhaps a minute insight into our universal affinities to materially shaping and re-shaping our lives.
Throughout our submissions here, we were reminded of the symbolic meanings of objects, replete with the tonalities of an ancestral language, the wisdom of a parent, the comfortable nostalgia for a past self and the unforgiving residence born of love. A reminder to try finding ourselves sitting on a floor, pieces of our lives arranged in front of us — a melancholic ease of knowing and having — entering and leaving through us.
i want to trace the origin of this feeling inside my mind that is settling, making space for itself, slowly tearing me down. it is manifesting through the heaviness of my teeth, the quivering of my right heel, the metallic centres of my temples, or perhaps, through my being.
i search for straight lines to confine it. but all i see are uneven curves- some that I cannot reach, some that are not strong enough to hold the weight of it.
is this me, or is it merely dust between the lines of a crooked relic?
i try to mimic the symmetry; I try to tilt in straight lines. i can’t find the beginning, or an end of this feeling, just hollows and dips. i find my dust, settling in the crevices of this strange object.
i find not this feeling, but its unrecognisable semblance; staring right back at me.
A box. For a perfectionist like me, it resembles freedom and it resembles rest. I often have tiny things that I need daily but cannot find a place for. If kept haphazardly on my desk, they taunt me. If kept in a cupboard, they tire me. Things, like a small cloth to clean my specs, my mask, a nail cutter, some buttons, scissors, rubber bands, etc. Each of these items ends up in my box. My mother gave me that box. She must have been to an exhibition or a shop and it may have caught her eye. Her only reason for giving it to me was that it looked aesthetic. But I found a much better use for it on my desk. It looks good and it makes my desk look good.
The more that I think about this living and delve into the becoming and unbecoming of my anxieties during the pandemic — ultimately resulting in mypropagating a plant; its name-family-morphology-microscopy still unknown to me. In a way parallelising the uncertainty and obscurity about the future possibilities which seemed and still seem like a major whirling blur.
To be succinct and concise, I severed a plant and propagated it in a thrift glass bottle emptied of white wine in clearwater. This might seem like a first world problem and to be very honest it is in a multitude of manners. One – to have the privilege of having a room of one’s own as Virginia Woolf would describe; Two – to have access to clean-clearwater; Three – to be able to get away with severing a plant without being prosecuted or endangering my life; among others which are not available to safeguard the autonomy and safety of a chunk of the general population in this nation. But, on deeper observation the threads of anxieties, uncertainty, fear of death is what ties us; in different frequencies and gradients — owing to the privileged positionalities that we hold.
So in my uneven privileged cocoon burdened with an anxious brain my act of resistance, resilience, self-love was by propagation. Finding representation and symbiotic mirroring in the growth and birth of a new leaf-the death of a stalk- the yellowing and decaying of another leaf. This act of resistance — in fact so intrinsically cyclical and paired with my circadian of anxieties; it evolved unconsciously into an act of remembrance, acknowledgement and practise of radical self-love. The simple act of watering-adjusting the water-cleaning the spilt water-gauging the alkalinity of the water acting as a reminder to cleanse, evolve, breathe and regurgitate my thoughts. Making me learn this art of detachment and self-sustenance — peering the sunlight, feeling the warmth in the cold of the pandemic, making a home within a home for myself.
Thus, In my small act of selfish-kindness; of this propagation has made me remind consistently — of my existence and the worthfulness of my being.
If there is one thing, I’m good at and proudly guilty of is claiming public spaces in the city. I pick it up, hold it and pat it on the back. It slithers like a cat that is disgusted by fingerprints. It growls loudly and unwelcomes my kindness.
And so when I said goodbye I left some footprints and carried with me my mother’s Bata chappal. It is adorned with her piercing eyes that notices everything I do. It embalms the sweat that she allowed to drip. It drove her sole mad while caressing her toes. The colours are mild when it cushions her feet all day long.
I declared that my feet fit in perfectly as she sat and denied that we have similar nail shapes. “If you want a pair, get one from Mysore because that’s where mine came from” she hissed. Added that it’s quite firm for rainy floors.
As I went to borrow some essentials from commercial street on my last day, I exchanged my orange sandals with a pair of Bata. Now we twin eight hundred miles apart.
All I want to do at this very moment is parcel mine, hers and every other pair and bury it underground so I can call it vintage and loaf around in Paragon. I’m unable to stretch this to four hundred words as my heart slowly withers at the thought of it.
My grandfather used to write on the typewriter. All I have known of him is the legacy of words, books and literature he has left behind with my father and grandmother. In south Indian households, we do not talk about feelings. Affection is through actions, giggles, food and casual caresses. In my house, love isn’t overt, love is little acts of kindness.
Under my poorly-lit table, I sit to type on my laptop and wonder what my grandfather would have said if he read my poetry. Would he like it? Would he approve of it, smile and gently run his hand over my head? I often wonder, what it is like to be caught in the device of your choosing.
My grandfather deciphered and wrote in dead Indian languages. He left his love language in his unfinished manuscripts. Over the past few months, I have come to seek him more. I put myself in front of this typewriter and try to feel his presence around me. They say, if he were alive, he wouldn’t have been able to fathom how similar I am to him. Amma often says that she feels his spirit in the house, protecting me. I hope I have carried his spirit in my words and in my art.
Self-isolation has brought out a lot in me, but most of all it has brought out yearning and solace. Although generations have passed and now, I find myself typing on my laptop, I want to believe that the blood running through my fingers and my words have been successful in encapsulating the essence of my grandfather.
Due to lockdown, I am stuck at home like many of you. My home has a backdrop which is very closely connected to nature. We have a bountiful of betel nut tree in our backyard, and they shed their leaves every now and then. They are traditionally used to pack things or as a base to dry pickles and other sun-drying activities. I had been noticing it for a while, so I wanted to make use of the material and thought of creating a mask out of it.
The inspiration behind it was our very own Majuli Mask making culture, where they weave bamboo splits to make the base or the skeleton of those face masks, traditionally worn during the Rasa festival and Bhaonas (a famous art form of Assam).
Though bamboo as a material would be very thick for the purpose, these betel nut leaves blends perfectly to work in wonder in terms of flexibility when compared.
I spent the last 3 years of my life stealing discarded pencils from my college benches, picking up fallen leaves- sometimes ones that looked like my hand traced inside out, and pink flowers, and bottle caps, and crying in an autorickshaw, hugging a loved one on a park bench, licking my ice-cream sticky fingers in a lowkey yet fulfilling ice cream shop, and processing heartache while unknowingly turning the same woollen bracelet on my right hand. Sometimes I think it’s funny how so much of what I feel and who I become in a specific moment comes from the things and places I’m able to fall back on to help me ground myself. You know, just in case an overwhelming rush of emotions threaten to catch me off-guard.
The last 8 months, however, have mostly been me trying to attach myself and identify how I’m feeling with respect to the things in my room- my safe space. So some days, I find myself realizing how I’ve slowly become habituated with the expensive Bath and Body night-time eucalyptus lotion that I keep on my bedside table; in between breakdowns and bad episodes I’ve found calm and clarity in its smell on my body- a reminder that I’m here, and so are my feelings. I’ve shamelessly clung to my blankets- in the absence of cuddles and hugs, they now help my skin remember itself without the affirmation of a loved one’s touch. A few days ago, I found a heap of journals- old and new, and they now rest on my table, on top of one another- giving me a sense of order, rhythm, routine, and discipline.
In the last few months, my room and I have found ways to grow together. Sometimes, when I feel lonely, I imagine my big, blue room wrapping me in a hug. I fold myself into a tinier person in the brighter corners of my room writing or painting or reading for hours together. The world outside feels scary and intimidating and nasty and too hasty. Most days, I’m prepared to fight and dissent and be who I need to be. But on my less courageous days, when I can’t be anybody but merely myself, I now find entire worlds and lives and feelings and stories in the things around me- vulnerable, gentle, loving, and alive- eucalyptus, journals, blankets, and all.
The first time I tried to recollect about an object that has been a constant in my life, my mind betrayed me and became a blank canvas. It’s only the next morning when I sat down to do my daily ritual of journaling that I discovered my low-key yet forever constant – my books with white pages.
This pandemic made me face some of the darkest patches of my life without sparing a moment of rest or a break and leaving me no chance to escape. Escape – this is something I do really well. Whether it is wandering in the city or drowning myself in sleep, I manage to escape very well. For a long time, I thought that my writing was an escape for me. But it’s only in the pandemic that I realized that it was a constant and my white pages felt like a home to me – something that doesn’t judge me for who I am and always have enough space to accommodate me.
I chose books without lines on purpose, I feel like I don’t have to fit into any mould, I don’t have to exist in-between the lines. It makes me feel uninhibited like I can go in whichever direction I want. I had been collecting these books for a very long time, as if a part of me was preparing for the pandemic, for the prolonged social distancing. Now when the wait seems unending and the world feels hopeless, my sole purpose to wake up every morning is to meet these blank pages, who just let me be, who make me feel that I am thriving in those few moments when I pour my mind and not just survive.