By Sonali Kokra Sep. 19, 2019
The great Indian store room has everything — all the things you can think of and millions you can’t even imagine — waiting to be summoned some day. We never need 99.9 per cent of the things. In my house, we still have the galla that my grandfather started his business with more than 50 years ago and a kadhai, the size of a bathtub.
There is much that divides the individual households that make up the fire-breathing beast that is the great Indian middle class. Colgate or Pepsodent. Kissan or Maggi. Gandhi or Modi… just kidding, everyone knows the right answer to that is Canada, for as long as it will keep its doors open to us. Whether chappals are allowed inside the house, must be taken off at the doorstep, or are allowed everywhere except the kitchen. The list of things that divide us is endless. But there’s one belief that unites us, the great Indian middle class, like nothing else can. And it is this: Baad mein zaroorat padh gayi toh?
What if we need it later?
It’s the question we ask ourselves before letting go of anything — from a packet of phooljadis from last Diwali to the box of decorations from that one Christmas party we had 20 years ago. This commitment to future zaroorat is admirable.
The Indian middle class’ love for hoarding is legendary. And at the centre of this habit is the room that lovingly holds all the big and small treasures hidden by generations of family members. The efficiently named store room. It’s a staple — a necessity that will not be denied — in houses that were built to hold many generations of the family under the same roof, together. In homes not large enough to dedicate a whole room to the pursuit of stockpiling bric-a-brac, the store room exists in the form of that black hole on top of the sturdy Godrej almirah or as gargantuan VIP suitcases that swallow everything, without even a burp of discomfort. The middle class Indian is nothing, if not jugadu.
My grandmother spent an inordinate amount of time in the K-family store room, I suspect she even loved it there more than in her bedroom. I recently discovered the reason why. If you’ve never wandered into one in your life before, I highly recommend the experience. I’m convinced that it is what inspired JK Rowling to include a Room of Requirement in Hogwarts, fully equipped with everything any student in the history of the school might ever want. The similarities are uncanny, when you think about it. The books tell us that Harry has seen broken and damaged furniture, piles of books, bottles of congealed potions, hats, jewels, cloaks, fanged frisbees, rusting swords, “corked bottles whose contents still shimmered evilly”, and an assortment of other deliciously bizarre items.
The great Indian store room has everything — all the things you can think of and millions you can’t even imagine — waiting to be summoned some day.
Not too long ago, I found myself in this fabled room in our home, and the scene before me was not entirely dissimilar. For some reason — undoubtedly sentimental and related to people who have long since left the land of the living — we still own the galla that my grandfather started his business with more than 50 years ago. Now I understand the emotional and possibly historic value of holding on to something that represents “here’s where it all started”, but you won’t believe how quickly emotions evaporate when you catch sight of worms wriggling out of a crack in the decaying wood and when you open the box, half a dozen dead cockroaches fall out. Very quickly. Soppy sentimentality is no match for roach powder.
With trepidation, I moved toward a massive metal trunk, that looked a lot like a snot-coloured baby elephant piled high with books. Now, I’ll admit there were no hats, jewels, or cloaks in it, but there were stacks of faded bedsheets. My mum pointed out some she’d brought with her in her wedding trousseau, and some that my grandmother had brought from hers. Basically, we were in possession of tatters from five generations ago. All of them had been used within an inch of their lives, so I bet some one, just before tossing them in the bin, decided that there might be use from them just yet and it would be a good idea to dedicate Mumbai’s real estate to it for decades, waiting for that one golden day when the need for it would arise.
The great Indian store room has everything — all the things you can think of and millions you can’t even imagine — waiting to be summoned some day. I doubt anyone in my family is ever going to go “Accio Kadhai!” while making chholes or will be heartbroken because we no longer have the one that has a very specific iron to steel to aluminium ratio that infuses the chhole with magical abilities (to what, not cause gas?), but who is going to tell my mother that maybe it’s time to let go of the monstrosity the size of a baby’s bathing tub? From my grandmother’s Usha silai machine to the five-kilo box of chamki I bought in class three, our personal room of requirement was chock full of, yes, memories, but also junk we should have never left lying around for so long, collecting dust, occupying room and mind space, keeping us tethered to what are ultimately just things.
We never needed 99.9 per cent of the things that were so carefully stowed away in that room. Chholes were made hundreds of times, but that kadhai was always too much trouble. No one ever felt a burning desire to see their bed covered in the lurid cross-stitched flowers that were in vogue in my grandmother’s time. What we could have used, perhaps, was the room, if it had been free. Maybe Babu Kaka (my grandfather’s personal aide) wouldn’t have had to sleep in the kitchen, and could have had some privacy instead. We’ll never know. The next time you’re tempted to hold on to something utterly useless because “baad mein zaroorat padh gayi toh?”, don’t ignore the voice of reason telling you not to.
Except chamki, because chamki is life. And I say this as I gleefully dab crafts-grade chamki onto the back of my hands. Please don’t ask ridiculous questions like, “Why?”
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.