(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 24 July, 2009)
“I have a hundred and thirty books.”
The statement would have warmed the hearts of most parents. But where my mother is concerned, I might as well have said, “I’m pregnant.”
Which is exactly what I said after her unearthly shriek – “Would you rather I said I was pregnant?”
“Well, at least then, we can do something about it! What do we do with your hundred and thirty books??!!! In less than two years?!”
“The thing is, I’m running out of…”
“Don’t EVEN think about it! I have five rooms full of your books here! You marry that bookshop uncle of yours and you can both keep buying and selling books!”
“He’s married,” I said, not without a touch of regret.
The’ bookshop uncle’ in Connaught Place had once had my close friend, and regular partner in my meanderings, wondering whether it was completely wrong for a heterosexual male to have a crush on a slightly overweight man in his late fifties.
“With that slightly overweight man in his late fifties, it’s not,” I’d assured him.
While I wandered off into a daydream about the overweight man in his late fifties, and his fifteen-foot high, thirty-foot deep and fifteen-foot wide haven, a corner of my consciousness was vaguely aware of my mother’s tirade against me, the bookshop uncles who had built my personal library and my packrat friends, from among whom I should choose a husband and build a house for all the rubbish we had collected over the years.
It’s not just printed books I collect. I have a couple of cupboards full of clothes and shoes dating back from when I was a few months old. I have three trunks of newspaper articles covering sporting events of personal significance to me. I have five cartons of schoolbooks, with neem leaves and mothballs scattered over them liberally to keep them insect free. The comforting fact, though, is that I’m not the most obsessive packrat I know.
A friend of mine has a collection including bills, which he staples to his diary. The practice has come in useful exactly twice, when he decided to exchange a broken CD, and when he realised he had bought a book a second time by accident. But from the day he started making money, about ten years ago, he has collected every bill, from hotel tabs to store receipts.
Then there’s the dude who collects movie tickets. His then-girlfriend was moved when they first started out, thinking it was a romantic gesture that he would scribble down her name and his on the back of their movie tickets, and put them away in a visiting card holder. Six years, one child and eight visiting card holders later, she has started crumpling up the movie tickets as soon as the show is over.
Perhaps he should have married this other friend of mine instead. She collects table napkins from the restaurants we visit. And she makes everyone at the table autograph them, writes the date and folds it into her bag. She is rumoured to have had an unpleasant experience at a five-star hotel, where the table napkins were made of cloth.
Another used to write down all the texts she received or sent, along with the sender’s or recipient’s name and the exact time at which the text was sent. Though technologically challenged, she bought a Blackberry recently just so could transfer data directly.
I think we packrats usually flock together to strengthen our conviction that there are stranger compulsions out there.