Having a hard time leaving with things you love

The term “downsize” has surfaced several times in the last few months. This tends to come up in discussions or in every other article that one reads. It lurks behind book stacks, behind paper sheaves, and within cabinets, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. The phrase implies altering one’s daily routines the instant it transcends abstraction and is applied to concrete duties and actions. To put it more simply, it means “Get rid of things.”

Some have had to downsize to a smaller home because they have children living elsewhere, meaning they have less possessions to dust, clean, and take care of. Some people have made money off of unwieldy possessions; yet, the worry that someone may invade their property or force their way into a residence while they’re not home is all too common. For others, particularly the enormous number of daily wage earners and laborers, it’s about filling the void left by losing one’s youthful physical vigor and being unable to undertake strenuous labor. The loss of the joint family, which may have been confining but may also serve as a cushion for the elderly or a cradle for young children, is all too evident. One of the cruelest aspects of being human is the uncertainty that aging may bring.

A woman I know is afraid about what will happen to the ornaments she has painstakingly collected over the years; almost every item has a memory associated with it. All of them are imprisoned within a steel cabinet by her. Another failed to take out the personal items of a deceased spouse, such as the nightgown hanging on the door, the slippers beside the bed, and the toothbrush in the bathroom. All were visible years later. These commonplace items would be cleaned and promptly replaced. It seemed as if they had never gone.

It is much too simple to judge someone else or go into their brain when oneself is not engaged. I still may not have fully come to terms with the fact that my parents’ deaths were final. One never stops reminding themselves that death is a process, just like birth, and neither is an event. However, the heart rejects the advice of the brain. It seems as if years of reading, education, and training go in the blink of an eye or the incomprehensible depth of a teardrop.

As they passed away one after the other, I gave away a lot of their belongings, particularly their clothing, since I was still in shock and mourning. We brought them to a hospital-proximate charity, where anybody who desired something may take it. One hoped that doing this would provide anonymity. It was a location where neither we nor the takers knew each other’s identities. The next two generations also didn’t want this act of passing to be recognized, much less than praised. Naturally, errors were made; after all, it’s not every day that a loved one passes away and your heart is torn from its body. In one section of the project, if it can be called that, things were being removed mindlessly, while in another, things that ought to have been removed were being kept. Now, more than ten years after their passing, going into the shop and opening the trunks containing some of their belongings is almost like a yearly ritual.

One such item is a bound book with my mother’s PhD thesis; she was maybe the first woman to teach in Himachal Pradesh to get a degree. The knitting needles are still on an incomplete glove that was being made for my kid. There is the dinner jacket that my father brought here from New York over fifty years ago, and his achkan that was made before the Partition. In our life, there are a lot of little things that were once really significant. I consider getting rid of or organizing such items. Then the occasion overwhelms you, and you shut the trunks and walk out of the shop, acting as if you’ve been doing this for years.

Now let’s flip the picture: in my little world, “downsizing” would entail selling my books. or a portion of them, anyhow. The books that my parents bought when I was still too young to read, but I could still look at the pictures and eventually start mouthing the words; a scaled-down version of the “Panchatantra,” or the tale of Prithviraj Chauhan’s bravery. The stacks that have steadily grown stronger since I was a child. Others take you back to a period when one joyfully disappeared into a world of goblins and pixies, before moving on to a world of swashbucklers and dashing horsemen, as well as larger-than-life heroes and villains.

These are boxes and shelves stocked with books—”things” that I have acquired that may be personal to me alone. One of the many unfair things in our lives and the world is letting other people clean up the clutter and belongings in our own lives.

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