On hoarding memories

I have a confession to make. I’m a hoarder. If you look under my bed, and gently push my snoozing cat aside, you would find a number of dusty, tattered shoe boxes, every one of them, overflowing and bursting at the top.

You see, I hoard memories. Discontent with my somewhat defective memory, I cling onto fragments of my childhood and nostalgic memorabilia. So if it’s something worth preserving, I amass tangible things in an attempt to hang onto experiences and recollections long-gone.

As a result, in those shoeboxes, I have an insane amount of the most arbitrary items which would otherwise, be mistaken for ‘junk’. The zoo ticket, backstage pass, doughnut bill and wedding cake box you would find if you rummaged in one of the boxes might be tossed off as mere scraps of paper and random items. But these seemingly mundane items possess the capacity to trigger a mass of memories.

The zoo ticket for instance immediately conjures the warm, trusting clasp of a little child as she trotted beside me, sticky (too much of candyfloss) and wide eyed during an outing for a group of school children from the North a few years ago.

Hair neatly oiled and plaited, the child I was accompanying was young enough to elicit a delighted squeal upon seeing the zebras, but, at the same time, old enough to be concerned if the tired-looking bear had enough water to drink in his pit. She didn’t speak my language, and I was not fluent in hers. And for most of our journey, we conversed in smiles, halting words, broken sentences and gestures.

The backstage pass triggers a series of stills – Late night rehearsals, prank calls, midnight confessions, junk food, more prank calls, nerves, laughing at each other’s medieval costumes, those horribly tight girdles every male portraying female was forced into, an extremely patient director, a much coveted trophy and more importantly, the friends made during the entire process. Isn’t it amazing the amount of recollections a faded piece of paper can set off?

The wedding cake box from a friend’s wedding was a bittersweet rite of passage. The first wedding among our batch as soon as we had left school, it marked an epoch in our lives, reminding us that we weren’t sheltered in school and cocooned from ‘The World’ anymore. A gentle reminder for those of us, who kicked our heels and crossed our arms, doggedly refusing to accept the trappings of adulthood, that it was time to move on.

And of course, the array of photographs. Who could possibly forget the photographs? First yellowing photographs – One of a scrawny, long legged child, determinedly grinning during a school concert (in fact she was so absorbed in smiling at the camera that she forgot to sing) and another of a bespectacled kid with knee-high socks and puff sleeved dress, scowling (this was the phase where the camera was your mortal enemy, you see) for a class picture. And then perhaps more recent ones – a laugh frozen on film, posing bond style with finger guns, family trips, birthday parties etc.

As you can see, I’m a hoarder, of the worst kind. But instead of money, savings, secrets or provisions, my cache consists solely of memories – vestiges of experiences and reminiscences which would otherwise be forgotten amidst the chaos and bustle that life brings, encapsulated into mundane objects and stuffed into shoeboxes.

Published in the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka. January 2010.

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