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January 23, 2020

A Clean Start

Illustration by Rutuja Patil

Your New Year resolution may throw light on your thoughts of the months gone by and your goals ahead, contemplates Madhu Jain, who has resolved to go on a massive decluttering spree – of objects and people – for the coming year

There are few movie lines as resonantly memorable as the last one of Casablanca. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” says Rick Blaine in his inimitable way as he and Captain Louis Renault walk into the foggy night at the airport after seeing off the woman he loves — Ilsa Lund. I can imagine a new film unspooling out of Humphrey Bogart’s parting shot. Some endings hint at promising beginnings. The ever-quotable T. S. Eliot put it succinctly in his poem Little Gidding from the Four Quartets: ‘What we call the beginning is often the end and to/ Make an end is to make a beginning./ The end is where we start from….’

Turning a page, moving into a new home or stepping into a new year with a list of to-do’s and not-to-do’s can be a bit of a wrench. What do you take with you and what do you leave behind? Which friends do you distance yourself from? Which habits do you discard? Wise ones tell you to ruthlessly offload what is strictly not needed. The less-is-more dictum for ensuring smooth beginnings can be challenging. For me, this sort of load shedding has proved to be an insurmountable challenge — my Achilles heel.

Redesigning a lifestyle
When I open my closet, an avalanche of clothes (many of which are well past their sell-by date) inundate the room. Resolutions to give away what is not needed usually come to nought. Parting is really such sweet sorrow for hoarders like me. My resolve is to begin 2020 with a closet stripped down to the bare necessities, not to speak of an uncluttered living room and study. All that ‘stuff’ hidden beneath beds and crammed into spaces seldom used should ideally have to go. Vanish.

Alas, more-is-more has been the reigning principle for too many of us. A friend who is a compulsive collector of contemporary Indian art lives in a rambling mansion with lots of painting-studded walls, in the United States. Her itch to collect and remain a patron saint of artists has been so unrelenting that unframed canvases spill out of closets and are stacked willy-nilly in her cavernous basement; they are even pushed under beds in the sprawling bedrooms of her house.

Apparently, as other interests and causes beckon, she has decided to downsize. Much of her gargantuan collection is gradually finding its way to walls in the homes of others. She is redesigning her lifestyle, downcycling from grandiose to cosy, from overwhelming to charming and from awe-inspiring to welcoming. To put it prosaically: she has pressed the restart button of her life.

As I write this column the year is winding down, inducing all kinds of thoughts and reveries about recasting one’s life. Making New Year resolutions is not my thing — promises to the self are usually broken, often before January is even over. However, this year I am determined to either up-cycle and ‘creatively reuse’ what’s lying around; or, make the cart of the neigbourhood’s raddiwala groan with half-forgotten belongings, including obscure objects of desire and much else — while ruthlessly keeping sentimentality at bay.

And, in the bargain, hopefully make my wallet a tad heavier. Recently, my daughter-in-law, Priyanka, shared a few words of wisdom with me: “Buy one, lose one.” This way, the status quo is maintained. Nor are you overwhelmed by your possessions and clutter. Moreover, finding what you are looking for becomes that much easier. It also prevents you from purchasing what you already own.

Never looking back
The same principle of less-is-more can also apply to friends and relatives. School and college yearbooks (at least during my time in Washington DC and a New England college, many moons ago) were full of faux-intimate endearments and pledges of eternal friendship — all gone with the years. Whittling down lists of Facebook friends and end-of-the-year greeting cards is also an essential part of periodic pruning. And the beginning of the New Year is as good a time as any to do so.

Rudyard Kipling memorably wrote: ‘He travels the fastest who travels alone.’ Or as our great bard Rabindranath Tagore put it (for entirely different reasons): “Ekla Chalo Re….” Still, most difficult to shed as we head towards the fast lanes of life and work, are the no-longer-useful family and friends — and past patrons. Of course, there are pragmatists who believe in never looking back, and in going it alone.

Perhaps they fear that they will trip if they do so, in their rush to reach their goal posts. The sultry, late actress Nadira’s iconic line “Mur mur ke na dekh….” in a nightclub song sequence in Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 says it all. Incidentally, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, was so taken by Nadira that Kapoor gifted him a cigarette holder similar to the one the actress seductively holds in the iconic song in the film.

I am not sure one shouldn’t look back, even at the risk of slipping. If you don’t learn from the past you are bound to trip in the future. So please mur mur ke dekho at the year just gone past, even as you look ahead and rush to embrace the future.


Madhu Jain, editor of IQ, The Indian Quarterly, is an author and a journalist.

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