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Year-End Special: Don’t ring out the old

As you step into the new year, what if you were able to resist the easy temptation of the new? And, instead, repair, restore and renew what once gave you joy? These were the questions that drove the Lounge year-end special

Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

There was a short story in my school curriculum by Isaac Bashevis Singer, called The Needle, about a woman’s many attempts at shopping for a needle. It was a parable about seeking something but the story’s conceit never made sense to me because wouldn’t you always have a needle at home, in a biscuit tin where your grandmother kept all her sewing supplies?

I needed to sew for a craft project recently, and realized there was no biscuit tin with sewing supplies. There hasn’t been for a while. Until some years ago, hotel rooms had a “sewing kit" which I sometimes brought home for the imaginary scenario when I would sew. But the hotels I stay in now have, in a most pragmatic move, done away with that quaint affectation.

When was the last time you threaded a needle? Or waited for industrial glue to work its magic on a vase you broke? Or took apart the back flap of anything except to replace its batteries (if you still use things that need batteries)? I might be a particularly bad example, but it turns out that between my husband and me, we don’t have a single screwdriver.

You, dear Lounge reader, are already part of a use-and-throw culture. It is no longer a “near future" that warrants essays spelling out doom. Surely, a global firm like Ikea, which epitomizes the “throwaway culture", did its research before it set out for India? The first Ikea store opens in Hyderabad next month.

This issue started with a story pitch on the repairwallas of Mumbai—the kalhaiwalla, the ruiwalla, the rafoogar and others and the growing global movement on the Right to Repair. Environmental benefits aside, the idea is not to bask in the comforting glow of nostalgia but to seek ways to bring out the best of the past in a manner that enriches your life today.

Even as the general mood around this time of the year is to declutter and prune, what this issue suggests is that perhaps it’s not always wise to ring out the old. It may call for more of an effort to repair, polish and breathe new life into objects that once gave us joy. It may require focus and planning to rebuild a newspaper habit or revisit an old geography. It may warrant dipping into great reserves of emotional strength to rebuild a relationship that has lost its lustre. It is easy to order a new lamp online. And easier still to find a date for Saturday night via an app. But what if we were to resist the easy temptation of the new?

Playing archaeologists with our homes and hearts can be difficult. One of our writers didn’t end up sending in a piece about how to mend a romance. Our columnist, Natasha Badhwar, said the prompt made her tear up. “Sometimes, I imagine that if we cut a cross-section of our home, we will see layers of civilizations built on top of each other. The home of the newly weds as bottom layer, and the subsequent arrival of children’s gifts, toys, shoes, blankets and other pink and obsolete things. Books, pens, stationery, toys and knick-knacks from various stages of growing up," she writes, as she tries to make sense of domestic clutter. She is not a hoarder, she insists—she is someone who is perfectly happy to keep things moving. Yet her column is a reminder that the Marie Kondo approach to keeping our lives light might not work for all. It is not always easy to part with things. So you may as well make that old harmonium sing again.

An object from 2017 that rings with the notes in this issue is the Saregama Carvaan. Equipped with Bluetooth and USB capabilities, but modelled like a classic radio transistor, it has more than 5,000 evergreen Hindi songs divided by artists and genres. It gets better: A new update, launched earlier this month, is a Tamil version that features songs by M.S. Viswanathan, IIaiyaraaja and M.S. Subbulakshmi, among others.

One of our contributors, Aparna Piramal Raje, responded to the brief with an essay on bringing back her old self. “Maybe we spend our 20s finding (or losing) ourselves, for me the early 40s have been about reclaiming something that was a bit buried," she told me. That’s what we close this issue with. In the end, it’s always about returning to ourselves.

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