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Learning to accept that things fall apart

Objects in my home threatening to break down troubles me more than they should


Things fall apart. And it makes me cray-cray.

Not things in the literary sense or even in the political sense. When I conned a carpenter to come over this weekend, it was on the pretext that the glass pane of the crockery cabinet had slid out and was now leaning dangerously against a wall like a rowdy. But once he was there, I asked him to also “just" take a look at the handle of a cupboard, the wonky door of another cabinet and the brass bust that had unscrewed itself from a bookend in the living room. The carpenter had a resigned look, a reflection of the resignation that I was faking.

I am not resigned. The car has stopped working. I am afraid to ask why. I fear the end of things, even things I regularly abandon in favour of an autorickshaw. Not because the things are in themselves beautiful or valuable or irreplaceable but because I wonder whether this is the end (and forgive me for sounding silly) and whether this is the end of me. As I run around writing captions in my head for all kinds of banal moments—Wednesday afternoon, September 2018, this morning in the shower—I know some of these are my pretend posthumous captions. “That day when the pane of the cabinet fell out and the car stopped working, from then on it was all downhill. She just didn’t know it yet."

When I was a child, I saw my parents only during the summers. When vacations would end and I was back in Bengaluru, I would unpack with an understandable excess of moroseness. Over the years I have recalled hundreds of times that one afternoon when I took a bar of Fa soap out of my suitcase and burst into tears. Because like a parody of a Freudian therapy session, the soap was my mother and soon the soap would be over. As I write this, I have reached the stage (thanks to actual therapy) where my crying over a green box of soap is somewhat comical. But none of this can be laid at the feet of my carpenter or dentist, who is the other person making guest appearances in the tension-filled episodes of Things Fall Apart. If they wonder why I am so grateful and tremulous, they keep it to themselves.

Things falling apart, of course, have greater implications than my sentimentality. I recently realized that I was in a late-night pattern of watching shows I don’t quite like while endlessly browsing Chinese fast fashion sites that I don’t quite like. The phone is built for this habit, the shows are made for this habit and the clothes are certainly made for this. Together they let me sail me into a perfect storm of mild but persistent dissatisfaction. In a fit of resolution, I decided to go to the tailor and get clothes made instead. I was ready to like my new tailor a lot but there is a problem. The Chinese buys, which look bad after two wears, fit not so well and disappear into the back of the wardrobe, give me a quick delicious hit. To fix the fit of my new skirt, I have to go back to the tailor and negotiate. I am not quite crying over a soap but I might mope instead of being a grown-up and practising delayed gratification.

Telling myself to feel guilty about consumption has never quite helped me. Consumerism is hard to escape in a universe designed to make you feel like one more handful of chips will hit the spot when it doesn’t quite. A friend scolded me about buying from a popular label that keeps its workers in inhuman conditions. And it isn’t that I didn’t know but I needed her to remind me to break the midnight spell. Another friend who shares my love of clothes but is much more conscientious, once told me it is her great hope that within our lifetime the cost of recycling and disposal will be built into the price of things. Then perhaps we won’t have to live with mountains of waste and kill the oceans and forests. Because then our ache for things will not be so quickly and cheaply soothed.

But what to do about my attachment to things? I continue to be a great admirer of tiny homes packed with tiny things and luxuriate in the feeling of having wandered into a jewel-box or a toy trunk. I notice that in the weeks that contain friends who truly know me or a much-longed-for dance performance or wonderful encounters with strangers (as with a retro chain-mail poetry exchange last week), I sleep without assistance from the Chinese.

Every day, I say “desire is the root of all suffering" to a toddler in my vicinity who has a vicious attachment to objects. He ignores me. But it helps me as I gird my loins and prepare for diplomatic overtures to the tailor. Please tailorji, the centre cannot hold. Nor that hem.

Cheap Thrills is a fortnightly column about millennials, obsessions and secrets. Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger.


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