Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Cleaning Bug

It's the weekend again! Vive Maharashtra and her mid-week elections. And her civic-minded Government, that believes it ought to be a holiday, in order to provide all citizens with the opportunity to vote without shirking work. Vive vive vive!

Safe in the thought that tomorrow is a blessed holiday, I decide to take the time this evening to clean up my workspace. Blasting music and dancing around are therpeutic on their own, and if you're cleaning up something to boot - well, it's a magical world! So anyway, here I am, executing little pirouettes and twirls shredding paper and shoving things in the dustbin.

The office takes on a different aspect after and before hours. The emptier it is, the nicer it is, somehow. You can blast your music, do your own thing, and almost imagine that whatever work you're doing is making a difference to someone's life somewhere. Almost. And of course, you can blast Mission Impossible at work, and pretend to be Tom Cruise.

But coming back to cleaning and its wonders: If you don't enjoy cleaning, then you're clearly not a junk-person, like I am. All I have to do is open one drawer, and out pop a hundred different things, lost and forgotten, full of musty smells and memories, enough to completely derail the cleaning effort while I pore over them and get my fill...

Personal memorabilia... souvenirs carefully preserved over the years, till I no longer know why I preserved them, but am still loathe to throw away, in case they once meant something to me (yes, people, even though I no longer know why I've kept them). For instance, on several rounds of spring cleaning, I've come across a box, among my belongings, which contains programmes from several Nativity evenings in school. Understandable, since, over the course of a long career on the stage, I've played everything from the good sheep (pig, actually) in the field on the Holy Night to the good shepherd who saw them, to the Star in the east. Some memorabilia is definitely called for - I'm just glad I didn't save crumbs from the ceremonial brownies and samosas we used to be given at the end of the evening. But along with these programmes, I've also found some old chocolate wrappers. Cadbury's Crackle, if memory serves me right. For the life of me, I can't remember why I've kept them. Was it the first crackle I ever ate? In which case, why didn't I preserve other firsts? Did someone "special" give it to me? No clue, but on any of the three times I found the wrapper, did I throw it away? Of course not!

Or old photographs... they pop up in the most unexpected places, and instead of cleaning, I end up sipping my coffee and looking through them. I'm convinced that we show each other photographs only so that we have an excuse to look at them again themselves - there is nothing quite so fascinating, so endlessly interesting, as photographs of one's own life and times. Lives summed up by dog-eared pieces of stiff paper, fading and sepia-toned. And the retrospective revelations - this is who I was then, stupid, young, full of idealistic illusions, gullible... and this photograph was taken by so-and-so, at such-and-such place, and oh how lovely it was to gather there every Sunday... Every picture a world in itself, dragging you into orbit around it, leaving spring cleaning forgotten, duster and rag lying in a heap on the floor.

Then there are old letters and cards... carefully preserved, in a large bag, some tied together with ribbons, some hurriedly squashed and held together with a rubber band (now melted)...
Sometimes, even till you've forgotten who these people are whose letters you've preserved, or what incident they're referring to. Old letters always make for some hilarious reading - and some wistful moments too. But this is the happy sort of nostalgia - the kind that makes you smile and cry simultaneously, and think fondly of people misplaced in the mists of your past.

And books... nothing is as wonderful as taking out a cupboard-full of books to air and sun and dust (wait, this is not the wonderful part, this is the manual labour part)... and then putting them back in. Each time you do this, you can rearrange, redesign the grand scheme according to which your books are filed. If earlier, it was by genre (fiction, academia, non-fiction, humour, comics...), this time, you can do it solely by author's name. Firstname or last. Or chronologically - and here again, permutations and combinations - the order in which you read them, or in which they were written, or in which you obtained them (even if you didn't read them then...) The possibilities are endless. Happy afternoons of activity.

For those who know them, there are wonders untold to cleaning. Therapeutic properties (I'm patenting this), the wonder and mystery of old things found, and of course, the constant danger of wild animals appearing from the mess in the corner of your room that you haven't touched for 5 months.

And inevitably, somewhere along the course of the cleaning, you end up just gazing out the window at green-leaf-sunshine forever, without really seeing them, letting your thoughts wander. With a gently steaming cup of coffee at hand, half-forgotten, duster and rags and mop lying in a huddle on the floor, your hands black and grimy from the cleaning...

Which reminds me, the shredder's waiting...

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