I cannot remember the exact moment, but I suspect it might have started out when I was six and had received four books as gift. I’m referring to the long-running feud with Mother over space for my ‘accumulations’. At that time, I demanded a shelf to start my ‘library’, a request that was vetoed by Mother. She insisted there was enough space on my school shelf to house the ‘four books’.
“What about my other story books?” I cried.
“What other books? You only have a dozen!” she insisted.
Mother was like that, a little short-sighted. She didn’t notice when the dozen multiplied into fifty, and then crept into hundreds when I discovered the second hand book haunts near College. It was only when she found her recipe books tucked under a tower of tomes that war broke out. She went shrieking around the house, throwing open the doors of every cupboard to find unmistakable signs of encroachment. And it wasn’t only books – there were newspaper clippings, MAD comics, greeting cards, paints, college notes, card paper, souvenirs, stationery and more, in serious quantities.
Father was called in, an unwilling arbitrator. He did what any man does in such a situation – he hid behind the newspaper. But he also secretly called a carpenter, and got a bookcase made. The war was now absolute.
A temporary truce was declared when it was announced that I was moving to Dubai. The ‘empty nest’ was actually something to look forward to, in Mother’s view. There was only a partial emptying out though, and on each subsequent trip home, I’ve been encouraged to ‘take a look at the stuff in X cupboard and on Y shelf’.
Yesterday, in one fell swoop, I got rid of a huge stack of yellowed cuttings from the travel pages of newspapers, magazines from 1994, and greeting cards from 1979. I noticed my mother humming in the kitchen.
I was dusting my hands, congratulating myself on my Buddha-like detachment, when Mother came into the room.
“Are you throwing away that file? It looks quite new.”
“This card is from when you were ten years old…. I’m keeping it.”
“That box only needs to be dusted. Let me take that.”
Some maladies run in families…