It all started on a rainy Sunday afternoon when I stealthily went into the lumber room and my parents were in the middle of their siesta. The small room smelled moist and dusty. My eyes fell on a big wooden box nestled between the iron cradle many generations of my family had used and an alien exercise machine. I tried with all my might to move the exercise machine away and finally moved it just enough to lift the lid of the box halfway. Two disturbed cockroaches came out. I screamed. The lid of the box dropped shut with a big bang. My father rushed in to see what had happened.
He gave me an exasperated look and pushed me aside with an air of defeat. I had always been curious about the contents of that particular box. I thought it was a secret chest which contained some map which would lead me to a treasure trove. He lifted the ancient cradle and placed it on the old sewing machine. He asked me to get a broom while he continued clearing the place around the box. By the time I came back, the box stood triumphantly, free from its former load. My father ran the broom over the box, sweeping away years of abandonment. Fumes of dust rose up and the entire room was filled with it. I ran out of the room while my father coughed monstrously. A few crawly creatures darted out of the room while I screeched and jumped.
After the dust settled down and all the crawlies hid into dark corners, I went into the room to do the honours. Unfortunately, my father had already opened the box and taken out half of its contents. I took a closer look at the articles lying on the floor. There were some oddly shaped brass vessels, copper water pots, some tall brass ‘lotas’, funnily shaped tiffin boxes, an UFO-shaped item and some other articles which I couldn’t recognise. Inside the box, there were some more pots and plates. One particular object caught my eyes. It was a ‘chombu’ shaped in the form of an opening lotus. Another object which fascinated me was a bowl held up by three scorpions.
My father, nostalgic after seeing the articles his mother and grandmother had once used told me what each article was. He told me that the UFO-shaped article was actually a humble steamer in which his mother made idly and kollakatte. He also showed me the implements used to make murukku and thenkullal. The three level tiffin box was apparently used by his three sisters to take lunch to college!
The next day, the old lady who came to help my mother in the kitchen washed all the vessels with soaked tamarind. She was so excited to see the objects of her youth that she tried to bring them to life by scrubbing them all day long and placing them in the sun. When I came back from school that day she beamed at me and showed me the shining objects now standing in their former glory. I thought that this treasure was far better than what I had expected to find the wooden box. This is how my fascination for old objects began.
I placed my newly found treasures all around the house. My grandmother’s ‘chombu’ was now my pen-stand and my grandfather’s scorpion ash tray was a candle stand. The brass ‘bindiges’ were placed strategically on staircase landings while the wooden box was the centre piece of my room. The cast iron ‘orulu’ stood daintily on the side-table. My mother’s brother who learnt of my new fascination told me that even he had such articles piled up in the attic. The next week he brought home all the old articles he could find in his attic. He gave me a copper basin which was used for bathing when my mother was small. He even gave me a large ‘hande’ which was used by his mother to cook rice for their entire family of about 30 members!
Most people consider such items as rubbish and pile them up carelessly in attics and lumber rooms. So when I politely ask them to give me the old things in their house which they don’t want, they easily oblige. Hence, my collection grows at a steady rate. I have two brass lamps from my father’s sister’s sister-in-law’s mother; cow bells from an aunt, pooja vessels from my grandmother’s sister’s mother-in-law and many such objects which make their way to me from all kinds of acquaintances. I even have my grandfather’s bulky spectacles, his driving license and watch, my grand uncle’s cigarette holder, my mother’s lunch box, my chikkamma’s iron suitcase, my great grandmother’s brass ‘Annapoorna’ idol and another ancestors tattered painting of Rama Pattabisheka.
Collecting old things somehow takes me closer to my grandparents who couldn’t spend much time with me. It also makes me appreciate the rich legacy all of us inherit in the form of such articles. I don’t know what the fate of my collection will be. I am already running out of space! But I won’t stop collecting.