Celebrating the old, and the new

Jan 7, 2020 | At home

An inbox in the cloud can serve as a storage space. But it takes dusty boxes of memorabilia to unlock the key to the past.  

I look forward to each new year with enthusiasm, ready with my list of resolutions, goals and plans. But this year, I found myself looking back, laden with nostalgia under a mountain of wistful reminders of the past.

I mucked around the storage area of my previous home in India, an apartment bought with the assumption that it would be my permanent home. It had been a big step then, financially and emotionally, coming on the heels of a brief period of homelessness followed by five years in a rented space. 

The first time I passed the big board with the list of owners that occupied a prominent place  in the lobby, and saw my name printed in capital letters on it, I felt a thrill of pride, of possessing a space that was carved out as my own, a place from which I could not be evicted. Little did I know that I would voluntarily  leave this bright apartment in three years for a new life in Singapore. 

When I called the tenants who have lived in my house for the last five years to seek permission to visit, the lady of the house graciously agreed. We exchanged the usual pleasantries on a cloudy morning. She then left me alone to poke around the dinghy storage room. Among the dust and cobwebs, in fraying cardboard boxes and sturdy plastic ones, I found treasure. Photographs and letters, knick-knacks and mementoes of a long-gone life from a different era. 

We may scroll through our smartphones and screens today, upload files on the cloud for eternity, but these digital diversions are no substitute for the tactile pleasure of handling objects that once gave you joy and now have the power to transport you to another time.

The joy of reading a handwritten letter from a loved one who is no more, the longing to once again interact with your child at an age where you both adored each other, the desire to inhabit a simpler time in your own life, all of this came flooding in as I unearthed pieces of my life.

Deciding what to keep, what to take, and what to discard was not a simple chore but a heroic undertaking. For every easy decision to discard, there were many more that were colored by ambiguity and ambivalence. Every choice took a toll.  

Going backwards in time feels easier than envisaging the future. But you can tarry in the past only for a while because life, as they say, can only be lived forwards. 

I brought some things back with me, to savor in solitude in Singapore, perhaps on a rainy day, with a cup of tea for company. Memories need time, not just to sift through and heal but to behold and to let go, with respect and reverence. 

Thus I begin another year – looking ahead, with my list of resolutions, goals and plans which now have a new item, a date with the past.

Happy New Year!

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