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My Keepsake Box

My friend's elderly aunt had, what she called, a Keepsake Box filled with vague, unrelated things. Only she knew the significance of things treasured in there. When questioned about any pieces in it , she used to gently take that thing out of my hands, put it tenderly back in the box and give a mysterious smile.’ Just something a friend gave me”she would murmur. We all thought her a bit crazy but I was in love with that box. It stored such exquisite junk . I still remember the faint smell of old 'Attar' which wafted out every time she opened it.

I have seen a lot of ‘Keepsake Boxes ‘since then, filled with of truly fascinating and weird stuff.

Old letters, notebooks of poems, diaries, photographs yellowed with age, dried roses, handkerchiefs, are easy enough. But I really get curious about a bit of pencil, a button, a bit of ribbon (wrapped around a present I suppose), a sea shell, shiny wrappers of chocolates, only ONE earring, truly useless stuff- precious only for the memories attached to them. But the owners of these treasures can spend Hours going through the box and reliving each moment.

I find it difficult to relate with this passion to relive your past through keepsakes. I am a person who merrily throws away old letters, presents, greeting cards, travel mementos to the acute dismay of my more sentimental friends. As soon as the moment is gone, keepsakes become junk. I am generally known to have the sentimentality of a block of granite. In fact, friends have even stopped giving me any presents, even on my birthday.

Of late I have discovered words. I am still very new to this game. What fascinates me is the stories that are inside my head. Now that I have the eyes to see thing, like the boy in the movie Sixth Sense- ‘I can See Stories’!!! People, situations, events which I have witnessed long ago, people whom I have met and forgotten completely have started emerging through these stories. Whenever I write, I like to figure out WHO the person is. Then a shadowy face or a name comes out from my memory.

Recently I wrote about a Character called Tito. Every one liked that story and wanted to know who Tito was. I didn’t know where he had come from. But soon realized that Tito was a cousin, who was something of a Don Quixote with me playing his willing / unwilling sidekick. Then there was Suman, and Father Lobo and Boris.

It’s almost like sitting with my keep sake box. Names, faces, event, incidents, I am learning to mix and match them and create a character. The stories about neighbors, friends, stories I heard from my grandparents, suddenly I realized that I have been surrounded by story tellers all my life.

In the twilight hours with grand mother, pressing and massaging her tired feet and listening to her stories was a daily ritual. I can still hear her soft whispy voice telling me story after story. The family lore was passed on to me this way. Some day I would love to write about the time when dacoits attacked my great grandfather’s haveli, and how he saved the day thru sheer ingenuity.

Or the time when, to teach my gold crazy great grandma a lesson he had a large stone covered in gold and hung on a sturdy chain, and called it Bombay style necklace. She wore the heavy stone around her neck uncomplainingly till her chest started aching. My great grandpa was one smart man with a wicked sense of humour.

And the old parsee man we met on the way to Bordi who gave us a slice of bread each, because it was good to feed dumb animals. An old man with a twinkle in his eyes, he was exquisite. I will always remember him.

…..So many people, so many faces, waiting to have their stories told. I never feel alone with them around.

Now, time and again, I sit with MY keepsake box, remembering, smiling that mysterious smile, or at times feeling a lump in my throat and eyes going misty. Not all stories can be written down.

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