Tuesday, January 29, 2008


i got tagged by kiran but since i was preoccupied with a little red clip i kept postponing writing this.

and for all those worried about the pin- it has not emerged making me suspect it has been sitting prettily in its box all the while i was imagining it ploughing through her insides.

and no, the little red clip is not the object that will be the subject of this post.

the tag - an object that holds many memories.

i read about dipali's atlas and dot mom's hair brush and wondered what i held onto. i went over a series of things, the clutter i shamelessly cling to in a small bby house is worth an oprah winfrey episode, no, not the bundles of letters that have grown since i was thirteen, not the stone i picked up in a forest at eighteen, not the NG strip of film i exposed at the institute...yes, they all sit in the house while a toddler learns foraging for harmful objects.

i think the object that fills me with a warm sense of cheer is a large wooden ashtray.

my parents probably bought it on their honeymoon, in kashmir, wherelse did couples honeymoon then. the purchase would have been at my mother's behest. my father studied in srinagar and spent a lot of time on his honeymoon telling my mum about the nasty remarks they passed about the tourists and honeymooning couples that filled the streets and the shikaras. and now he was one of them! buying a touristy ashtray!

but it is a handy ashtray for smokers, not those shallow ones that are of little use, this one is deep and has a brass cover with holes to rest the smoking stick. and no, there were no smokers at home, not my mum not my father. most of their pals were smokers though, and ours was an open house where people dropped in at any time, for tea, for dinner, for a late night coffee... and the ashtray was put to good use.

it travelled from house to house, city to city, and our home always remained an open house. and the ashtray was always gainfully employed.

and i forged my bonds with the world through this large community my parents were a part of. the friend who would drop in from bby and build my collection of russian story books and NBT publications -indira's letters to nehru, his letters from prison. the phd student who would plan trips to the next circus or magic show in town. the one who stitched stuffed toys for me and taught me to make little gifts out of odds and ends. how i could i forget the ones who gifted me abridged versions of the classics- what was wrong with you r uncle, did you never spot the comics that were much cheaper??? the ones who chatted late into the night while i fought sleep and tried hard to make sense of what they were saying. the ones who sang beautifully. the ones who sat and listened to mum read kanupriya out loud. the ones who provoked my mum into arguments and the ones who giggled because my father had yet again fallen asleep in the middle of the living room while the party was on. they all sat gathered around the ashtray.

and then came my friends who were told that it was okay to smoke in front of my parents . the cousins who knew it was okay to smoke but would hide the ashtray out of habit and cause the cushion to burn. i did not smoke. neither did the boyfriend who would become husband. but i took the ashtray with me when we set up our house.

carried it from house to house. banned the smoking when i got pregnant. but the ashtray remained, carried out of the house by the smokers. the house remains a no smoking zone, the ashtray remains ready to be carried to the narrow ledge we call the balcony.

and i hope sanah grows up with the same sense of community, she may not know the warm burnt smell that lingers after a night of chatting, but she will surely be able to get a whiff of the magic.

i also worry that this sense of the community might just melt away very soon... since i am ready for adult company at 9pm but also ready to sleep around 9:15, and the father shuffles through crowded trains and traffic jams to get home, he is asleep the moment warm food enters his tummy never mind that he in the middle of a great conversation.


karmickids said...

That was so beautiful sur, I know just the feeling of waiting on the sidelines of your parents gen chatting and smoking till late night, with a huge ashtray (in my case, my father had one of black stone) bang in the center of the coffee table...it was a privilege to stay up late and be part of the conversation...

dipali said...

What a lovely post, Surabhi.

the mad momma said...

oh... beautiful Sur. And to think you almost quit blogging. I should kill you for even thinking it!

anja said...

sur sur sur, what beautiful posts. i can visualize the community around the wooden ashtray under a low basket lamp..so eloquently written. i am sitting at home in bombay relishing every word of your poetic posts. soon we shall meet..can't wait. i have tried blogging since my arrival but little toofan will not let me sit on the comp now she is sleeping angelically and all i have time for is soaking all my usual blogs in...