The L&M and the brats had just left for office and school respectively. There was calm after the storm and I was preparing to close the front door. Just then my neighbour walked in.
“Hi, come in!” I called out cheerfully.
She looked around wondering where the voice was coming from and………screamed. I can see you impatiently asking, ‘why’?
Well, wouldn’t you have screamed too, had you seen a woman walking upside down on the ceiling?
I nimbly walked down to greet her, but by the time I touched the floor, she had disappeared. I sighed, closed the door and began climbing up the wall again.
I don’t know exactly how or when it had happened. Perhaps it was the day I couldn’t find a place to put even one foot on the floor. Ah, yes! Now, I remember.
It had all started the day I threw my kitchen towel on the sofa as I hurried out to get some onions from the bhajiwala on his daily rounds. I didn’t notice that the towel had missed the sofa and fallen beside it on the floor. I returned a little while later, and got busy with my cooking. I used a fresh towel since I couldn’t find the one I had taken out in the morning and which now was lying near the sofa, in case you forgot. I had forgotten. That simple lapse had been my undoing, alas!
Let me try to explain….
So, I had left my kitchen towel lying, forgotten by the sofa, where it had fallen when I had thrown it on my way out….There! I have given you the background. Now to my tale of woe.
By evening, there was a small mound near the sofa — the discarded uniforms of the two brats, the soiled handkerchief and socks of the L&M and and sundry other things. I absentmindedly picked them up and tossed them into the washing machine, finding the kitchen towel under the mound. I had thrown it along with the rest of the clothes into the machine, scarcely giving the whole thing a second though. The fool that I was! Little did I know that it was the beginning of the end — of my clean home.
Thereafter the ‘mound’ kept appearing at all odd and unlikely places. One day it was on the sofa, the next day it appeared on the bed; another day it even sat on the dining table. Soon other things joined the contents of the ubiquitous mound. School books, office papers, letters and bills. Almost all appliances in the house held small/big piles of assorted items that teetered precariously on them. Don’t even mention other surfaces.
The television set resembled a badly constructed church steeple, ready to keel over, with all sorts of things piled on it. Sometimes we had to peer at the screen through a dirty T shirt or hand towel that hung over it. What? Why can’t we remove it? Ha, ha. The brats would pretend not to notice anything amiss and the L&M would act as if it was the most natural thing to watch TV through the obstruction. Me? I don’t watch TV. Read the The Idiots and the box to know all about it. The telephone table groaned under the weight of an assortment of magazines and books and one could locate the instrument only by its muffled ring and then one threw the things over it left, right and centre, creating more ‘mounds’!
Coming back to my story, I tried to clear the clutter as it appeared at different places, but soon realised that it was a losing battle. It was a race against sloppiness for me. After sending the messy trio out of the house that looked like a war zone in the morning, I picked up and picked up and picked up some more — of the clutter they had left behind. Arms aching and back breaking with all the bending, I soon started cheating. I only cleared spaces that were absolutely at a premium and let the rest be. I figured that I had no choice but to join them, since I couldn’t beat them.
Dinner times were tense: we had to hold our glasses of water— we would never have been able to find them again had we put them down by mistake. As it was, we had to actively search for the various dishes — the bowl of dal, the roti casserole and the kadai with the subzi among the clutter. We are masters at it of course. Tempers would be frayed understandably as we couldn’t move an inch. You see, we would all be sitting on an assortment of sharp/blunt objects on the chairs and adjusted our rumps to fit their angles and shapes. The slightest movement could disturb the delicate arrangement and give us the most painful poke.
There was no point clearing the table after breakfast/lunch/dinner. The dishes were washed of course, but no more than was necessary for the next meal. Ditto for the beds. The trio argued that it was a waste of time to make the beds when they had to be slept in again, anyway. So they devised the ingenious method of making beds — dump everything on the floor at night and throw things back on the bed during the day. Simple, see? Who needed to fold clothes? There was a spare bed specifically for the washed clothes. Everyone rummaged through the pile and pulled out their stuff. A simple rule for washing was followed: when the pile on the washed-clothes-bed had shrunk to insignificant proportions, it was wash day!
The space on my kitchen platform began shrinking at an alarming pace too but I learnt to cook in the tiny space that was still available. The sitting area became just that — sitting area. One had to sit ramrod stiff on the sofa for the back rest held loads of discarded clothes and one could stretch one’s foot only if one was prepared for it to land in a half-eaten plate of some gooey stuff or knock over a glass of water/ cup of half-drunk tea.
When we had someone visiting, an alert went up: ‘Guests!’ The L&M or I kept them in the living room, speaking in voices slightly tinged with hysteria while the brats went to work furiously in the other rooms! They had got it down to an art. The older one got the clutter cleared by pushing them out of sight and the younger one did a ‘cover-up’ job.
And who cleaned the living room? You see, we lived two flights up and by the time the guests reached the door, we would have it in apple pie order. When the guests were finally released by the hysterical hosts, they found a home right out of Good Housekeeping–not that they went wandering into the rooms!
Even if they did, all we had to remember was not to seat the guests on the neat looking bed for fear of some sharp object poking them from under the bright spread; and not even DREAM of opening any cupboard lest all the contents stuffed into them came tumbling out.
For all my trying to become one of the clutter bugs, living with three of them was a nerve wracking experience. Perhaps I lacked the ‘clutter-gene’. My yelling only made matters worse. The three began getting even more slovenly if that were possible. Then they began ignoring me altogether. My arm ached from all that picking up and my feet were tired from searching for clear space on the floor to put them down. In desperation, I took to even walking with a broom like the Jain munis, trying to clear a path for myself amidst the clutter. I had to give it up after I broke two brooms — the clutter had become so deep and heavy.
Then one day, I threw up my arms in despair and looked up at the heavens. And I saw light. It was no less a light than what Buddha had seen under the Bodhi tree. For before my eyes lay a vast expanse of clear, white space — the ceiling! It was so inviting that I climbed the wall. And I have stayed there ever since. Oh bliss! The only thing I have to worry about now is to keep the trio from coming up here.
(Firs published in The Times of India on Nov 2, 1996)