Tuesday, October 24

Recollections of a Stuffaholic 

Our contribution to a month of reminiscences...

Today I reminisce a time in my life when I was a stuffaholic of sorts. I still am one, but I have metamorphosed somewhat, and acquired a curious new form over the years. That came rather mellifluently with age, I think. Although, I’m not sure it’s a pragmatic thing.

Anyhow, when I was a little girl, about seven, or eight, I had an interminable fancy for stuff - stuff like stamps, coins, pressed flowers, leaves, cashews (tucked securely in their shells), and a few other material things I cannot seem to summon up at this moment. The urge was formidable all right, but the resolve was rather weak. I used to go around demanding exotic stamps from well-traveled relatives and family friends, and after a high spell of stacking them in different places I deemed fit at different times (an old plastic pencil-box that looked like a Cadbury’s bar; and the inner pocket of a glossy lamination-sheath in my mother’s recipe diary, are two special niches that come to mind) and flaunting them to dreamy-eyed friends, I would give up and move on to the next novel idea.

I had started to amass a small coin collection, and would often brag to my friends that a part of it had been handed down by my grandma as a legacy - which wasn’t far from the truth, only, it hadn’t been handed down so much as it had been beseeched, hankered after and acquired. (My grandma was an obstinate old woman). Of course, I had some ‘overseas’ coins too, and they were all bundled together in a turquoise-and-fuchsia hued, flower-speckled China silk pouch my grandma had given me, and stowed away in my mother’s almirah, beneath her silks, which always smelled of sandalwood. (Miraculously so, as there was nothing even remotely associated with sandalwood around, at least not visibly).

Then came the flowers, and leaves - not quite an outlandish collection to boast of, but I’m quite positive they all had a sentimental value, however minuscule. Some bougainvillea, and roses from my best friend’s garden, and some citrus, passionfruit and gooseberry leaves from the only garden in the community that also housed a beehive. They would be pressed between the pages of my favorite books, like Masha and the Bear, or one with cheery poems and limericks, called “Happy Thoughts.” (It had come as a surprise gift from an uncle, all the way from the Peter Pauper Press in New York).

And then there was the most exciting activity of all - every summer, there would be an unstated competition for collection of cashews. There were about six cashew trees in the neighborhood, and the biggest of them all stood in my neighbor’s garden. A strapping, grumpy woman, she was known to be rather hostile to children (and adults too, in general), and the right time to sneak in would be the afternoon, when she’d take her post-lunch siesta. I remember sneaking in there with my little plastic bag, clambering up the tree in a trice (I knew all its branches, nodes and safety handles closely), and counting how many were within reach. I would then end up devouring one or more irresistibly juicy cashew apples, and meanwhile, my friends, who were apparently shrewder, would have picked a dozen more cashews. The norm was to hurl the cashew apples recklessly about after the cashews had been pinched off. These cashews were then stowed away in tin boxes in our respective kitchen attics, and on one chosen day, they would all be counted, and the shells roasted, in a small garden fire, under the supervision of an adult who was considered wacky and wild enough to be a part of the squad. The winner would get a fruit picked fresh from the garden, or, on occasion, a pencil or a sharpener. And obviously, losing one too many a time would dissuade me, and I would be ready to make a fresh start elsewhere.

And so on and so forth, there was always something new to enthuse my little mind. Of course I never stuck to any one thing, and relentlessly kept at acquiring several fractionary collections, through the years. I have a few oddments of this and that left somewhere, but nothing substantial or of paramount merit that I might hand down to my little one as a bequest someday. And rather contrastingly, I find today that it’s impossible to lay my hands on a single stamp or a quarter even if I rummaged the entire house, and my flowers and cashews are exclusively store bought. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out to be a collector of stuff, and perhaps I’ve grown into a stuffaholic that likes stuff, and likes to reminisce stuff. The latter, well, at least when I’m expected to.

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