Monday, October 01, 2007

Kitchen Legacies.

A legacy is anything handed down to us from the past. No, I don’t yet have anything substantially materialistic enough handed down by my ancestors, but for extremely large feet for a woman and spectacled eyes. But as I look at my kitchen, I can see all those habits of the women-cestors of the family that were handed down to me as legacies and never really left me. And legacies though they are, they did more harm than good, making sure that they lived with me like bad habits and cluttered my space. But not anymore.

Take for example the advent of the polythene age in India. You go get some vegetables from the market and that would be handed over to you in a polythene bag. Go to a saree shop and you’ll be given stuff in a “plastic packet”. Be it eatables or wear-ables or any and many of those umpteenth number of “ables”, the practice of buying stuff ensures that you soon accumulate mounds of these bags, packets, thongas (not thongs), wrappers, and what not. I have seen my granny neatly fold them very geometrically and store them in all those places of the house where you didn’t even know there were places. It could be lying dormant between the mattress and the frame of the bed, and the more people used the bed, the more the creases got ironed out. It could be in those storerooms, a luxury which was found in houses from the days of yore. It could be stored just about in any place, over the storage space near the kitchen’s ceilings, or hiding in the corner between the kitchen jars. And just when you needed to carry something, gift something, or even throw something, the women-cestors in our house always had the perfect packet to give you, of the right shape, the right size, and sometimes also the color of your choice. Your mom had made you tiffin in school (a luxury I no longer have) and she realized that it was some curry that, if not sealed properly, would soon stamp its presence on the entire contents of school bag. And there like an engineer at work, she will wrap my entire tiffin box, once horizontally and then vertically, once clockwise and then anticlockwise, and secure it with half a dozen rubber bands so that even if you were planning to bring the daal water you feed kids, it would not spill. Isn’t it amazing?

Well, that was the way it worked. If you wanted your share of amusement on a lazy afternoon, you could just skim through the contents of the thonga, which could contain anything from answer scripts to love letters. We were always taught to unwrap birthday gifts carefully, not as a mark of respect but to ensure that the wrapping paper could be reused for another occasion. Just turn the mattress for an occasional cleaning and you could see these valuable neatly packed and poring their heads out- polythene bags, birthday wrappers, and sheets of all sizes.

Then the kitchen underwent a transformation and got its more sophisticated look. The storage spaces got covered with wooden planks, looking more graceful with a sheet of sunmica. The concept of kitchen cabinets started to emerge. You no longer had to keep your pots and pans and spices open to the scrutiny of everyone’s eyes. You could step into any kitchen and just see the cooking oven and a few other electrical gadgets, other things being hidden in tastefully built cabinets. And like every other thing that found its place into the kitchen cabinet, the packets and the thongas did too. One entire drawer allocated to these plastic and polythene bags. If you were a guest who was carrying back something from our home and needed a packet for that, granny would proudly open the hugest drawer for storing these bags, put her hand into the so called accumulated treasures, and dig out one bag that would be just the right size to carry your stuff. 

When I went on a home cleaning spree one fine morning, I discovered to my horror that there were more packets and storage bags than there were things in my house. I tried to reason with myself that perhaps I could use these bags to dispose off the garbage. But hey wait a minute, didn’t I spend a couple of dollars buying two huge boxes of garbage bags from Walmart? I realized that I had even stored the packet they gave me for carrying the box containing the garbage disposing bags, so that I could reuse it. There were paper bags, plastic bags, little used ziplock pouches, and wrapping papers peeping everywhere. I’d cluttered my home with legacies handed down to me. So I stood there for what seemed like eons, having a conversation with myself, till the proverbial glass chamber that contained me shattered into pieces and I extended my hands, breaking free of this legacy. Granny, mom, I am breaking free. I told them that I am getting rid of all the packets and the bags and the stuff that I THINK I will need someday, and then keep thinking of the day when my thoughts would be reality and I will really need to use those. I kept some 5-6 really good, sturdy, or fancy looking packets (old habits die hard, you see), and threw away the rest. You wouldn’t believe, I made some 4-5 rounds to the garbage bin, and by the end of it, my home looked as if half its contents were gone. The voices of my women-cestors kept looming over my head for this blasphemy- that one day you will realize what a mistake you made when your neighbor comes to ask you for a fistful of rice or a couple of potatoes and you will not have a single packet you could use to give it to them. But who cares, my neighbor is rich enough to afford rice and potatoes and I’d rather keep my house uncluttered than make it into a storehouse of those storage things in the hope that someday someone would need the huge plastic bag I had got while buying kitchen napkins from Costco. No. No more. Not anymore.

sunshine.

11 comments:

ken said...

wow !! how much can I associate with this polythene mania in our Indian households and getting the same habit passed on to me :-) ...

Di said...

the post left me smiling :)

M said...

oh sunshine! ur so right! and believe me...I'm carrying that legacy still...have a biiiig polythene bag with smaller bags from Walmart and Target filled with it...and they're oh-so-useful, I tell you! if not anything, I think we ought to carry this carry-bag legacy further:-)

~Nayan~ said...

hahaahhaha
u got the right nerve !!

mythalez said...

oh no!! how could you defy our traditions and throw away the ever useful, always needed, polythene bags - sources of the eternal jarring noise :D

KP said...

this one was hilarious....:) u r disrespecting indian tradition.....:)

maxdavinci said...

well yor post made me measure the height of my pile of walmart bags.

They proudly stand at 2 n a half feet!

Middle-class values say many, but I can't throw them, or maybe i'm just too lazy.....

sunshine said...

ken- :)

di- so did your comment.

m- further? Wait till are children call us ragpickers.

nayan- :)

mythalez- how, I totally forgot about the noise part.

kp :) I think I am.

maxdavinci- 2 1/2 feet? What you must be kidding me.

alpine path said...

Ha ha! Very good :)Reminds me to go and check my kitchen now!

Goli said...

There is a constant fight that I keep having with my mother regarding this, the idea of storing and preserving everything, all the shoe boxes, to plastic bags, to all those jars which have constantly bought jams and bournvita to our house. Hehehe :)

yossarian said...

i absolutely love your blog. sorry to be a bore and say this - but would this be the right place to say can folks stop collecting plastic from the big stores - maybe do the traditional indian thing and carry a cloth bag to the store so we dont need to be accumulating this in our homes :)