I had always marveled at the way my friends lived in hostels while I lived at home. The independence they had would make me go green with envy. I longed to be one of them. I wanted the freedom to be able to stay up late nights and watch movies with friends (and snore the next day in class). I wanted to have a life where I could get back to my room, kick off my shoes, discard my jacket, and settle with a novel while no one would bother me about the mess in my room. I could wear what I pleased, I could eat what I liked, and have all the freedom I did not have currently.
And then I came here. Thousands of miles away from home, there was absolutely no one to monitor what I did, when I got back, who I hanged out with, what I wore or what I ate. And I thought that was cool. So I kept coming back home and kicking off my shoes, not even bothering to keep them in their place. The towel after the bath would always be hanging from the door knob. And the study table was always strewn with papers. I loved the anarchy. I loved the disorderliness. And I loved the fact that there was no one to boss around.
Come Thursday night and I got a call from G. She is the lady who hosted me when I initially landed here. She told me that we’d be visiting the social security office the following morning and I need to get my documents ready. I hung up knowing that things were already in place. But then, I remembered an incident a few days back when I needed a signature on a form for the SSN from the students office and I was so impressed when they had promptly done it, quite unlike the way it happens in the offices back in
where you are asked to come again and again. What more, they had given me the form in a sealed manila folder, something I found was very cool. I remember telling G about it and then I had shoved the envelope somewhere. And the following day, I needed it. India
So while I was planning to spend another of those lonely evenings reading a book, I started to search for the envelope with the little signed paper inside. Where could it be? Where indeed? I was usually not into losing things, but having said that, there have been instances when I have had trouble remembering where I put things. And ever since my departmental orientation started, I have had just too many sheets and papers shoved in my hands, papers that detailed out the departmental research or the class schedules or the lab hours. Papers that advertised for apartments and papers that informed us about weekend activities. Everyday I came home, I would promise myself to go through them and sort them into separate files. But I never really did that.
Today, I needed to look into every paper I had because I was unable to find that single white sheet that I needed the next day. And you wouldn’t believe how many things I ended up doing in that single search. Initially I started looking for it among the pile of papers that had accumulated over the table last week. And that included unnecessary receipts that found their way to the trash can. That included my degrees and certificates that I had let be just like that. I assorted them chronologically and put them in a file. And then I came across the printouts of some poems I had written years back, which were stacked into the drawer. There were letters from friends. There were manuals of my cell phone and my camera. There were scribbling of poems that were never really written. There were grocery lists and lists of things I needed to do the following weekend. There were phone numbers scribbled hastily (and I had no idea whose numbers were those). The evening moved on, and it is amazing how many papers I actually found while looking for that single paper.
I found all the visiting cards strewn here and there. The unnecessary ones again went to the trash can and the necessary ones into drawers. Then there were so many other paper clippings, snaps tucked carelessly away inside text books, phone numbers written here and there. I patiently pinned them on the cork board bulletin in my room.
Half an hour later, my immunization documents were in place, and so were my degrees and the official letters. The text books and the novels no more had papers and snaps tucked inside them. The pen stands were cleaned of pencil shavings. The hair fasteners had found their way to the right place. And so had the face creams and the makeup things. The chocolate wrappers had found their way to the trash can. My study table was actually looking more hospitable and a little less intimidating than what it had the last few days. But the paper was no where to be found.
Next the floors were cleaned of the clutter. The plates had to go to the sink. The chargers and the other devices were off the switch boards now, with their wires neatly fastened. The soaps and the shampoos were neatly placed back in their racks. I had to find out that paper. So next I neatly arranged the books I had carelessly looked into and put them on the table. The copies followed them. If I wasn’t so nervous, I might have actually started to notice that the place looked cleaner. The clothes were taken off the floor and put into hangers. The socks were put for washing. The shoes went back to their racks. And I actually found my chappals from under the bed and finally put them on.
Next my rain jacket, fleece jacket, and denim jackets (all of the three had their sleeves entwined together) were separated from the amorous embrace and folded neatly to be put in the closet. The suitcases had been looked into. I was tired. I was frustrated. I knew I deserved to spend the evening doing better things than hunting for the paper.
The room looked much cleaner now. But that wasn’t god enough. The only remaining area was the bed. So the pillows were soon put neatly, the blankets folded. I even took off the bed spread and dusted it. The papers and books on the bed had gone back to their right places. And there was at last some place for me to sleep. My clothes were rescued from the hinterlands of the mattress. The tee shirt was still no where to be found. My nerves were frayed from the search. Where could one single paper vanish? It had been more than an hour and a half now. Initially I was famished, but I had lost my appetite. I had wasted far more time and energy than was necessary for the search. And I could just not give up. What if I never found it?
Suddenly, like a ray of hope, a thought struck me. Well, I didn’t hope much, but I had nothing to lose. I bent down supine on the carpet, but saw nothing. I had no flash light with me, so with my phone, I tried to see whatever little I could. I bent and squinted and was soon on my belly, stretching out my limbs as much as I could in a strange yogic posture when I touched something. God, let it better be what I was looking for. I was sure I have had enough for the day.
And there amid the dust and a few strands of shed hair came out the envelope I had been looking for all evening. Had this been
, I might have found a few cobwebs and cockroach eggs as well. India
And it is after this mad search for more than an hour and a half that I realized a few things. I realized that it’s high time I got into the habit of putting my papers in proper files rather than deferring them till I actually lost some of them. And most importantly, I realized that it was not that fun to have all the freedom and not appreciate it. With independence came responsibilities, and people who did not realize their responsibilities had no right to enjoy their freedom.
Henceforth, I try to keep my things in place. I try not to clutter my room too much. I try to keep some free space in my bed to sit. And I just don’t go about strewing my clothes and stuff here and there. For it might be fine to wake up one fine morning and realize that the toothbrush is missing, and eventually go to the department without brushing. But the SSN office wouldn’t spare me the next time my credentials go missing.