‘The toy seller had… a most mysterious and fascinating bag, one in which no one but the toy seller was allowed to look’, Somi and Rusty, friends in small places, Ruskin Bond.
There’s nothing truly fabulous about this specific sentence by Mr Bond, as compared to other fabulous things he has written. Except that it struck a chord within me. I immediately paused my reading, took out my green Camlin 3B pencil and scribbled a pair of brackets to enclose this statement. It’s a habit despised by most (including myself, only 3 years ago) but explaining why I grew into this habit would take two whole pages.
My family and I had lived in many houses, but we had our own house when my sister arrived in this world and that’s the house we grew up in – all four of us – for 12 solid years. I remember all t he reformations the house had gone through over the years, but the one thing that never changed was our mother’s cupboard.
My parent’s shared everything, except their cupboard. It encompassed of an entire wall in their bedroom and was equally divided into three vertical compartments – one for papa and two for m umma. This 2:1 ratio automatically gave mumma some sort of advantage and a foreboding air. The only person allowed to open the cupboard and rummage through it was mumma. She was the only one with keys to access it (not even papa) and I only ever sneaked a peek – that too with one door shut and one partially open.
The keys that hung from the cupboard’s key hole weren’t just meant for opening locks. The number of keys on one humongous key ring was so remarkable that if we lived in England in the middle ages, my mother could’ve been named ‘Master (or Mistress) of Keys and Cupboards of the Castle’. The real purpose that the innumerable keys held was to warn everyone – even Mrs Kapoor on the third floor (we lived on the sixth) – that the cupboard was being opened. As a result, I didn’t dare sneak into her room and open the cupboard while she was napping or in another room out of fear that the jangling keys would give me away. So the door remained closed, I remained out of it and mumma the only one with access to it.
When I grew old enough to watch the Chronicles of Narnia, I compared my mother’s cupboard to the one in ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ – a doorway to something magical. Turns out, it was exactly that. Anyone from an Indian middle class family would assume that the gold was to blame. All Indian women have gold that they keep hidden or locked away, but not in our case. All the valuable things were at the bank, but that did not mean the cupboard was devoid of treasures – the very opposite to be very true. That cupboard was a treasure trove, as I learned once I grew up and was deemed old enough to hold my tongue and temptations.
It held the following list of items:
1) Chocolates – Toblerones, Kisses, Ferrero Rochers, Mars, Snickers, Lindt, Milky Way, Kinder joy, Milka bars, and so on and so forth.
2) Gifts- received on birthdays and repacked to give others
3) Spare stationary, utensils and buttons
4) New clothes
5) Boxes of cookies that actually stored needles and threads
6) Fancy wrapping paper and used folded wrapping paper
7) Fancy paper bags
8) Old broken jewellery
9) Photo albums and spare passport size photographs
10) Safety pins
So you see, while there were the most ordinary things in there (or the most extraordinary, depending on how you see it), the cupboard was mysterious only because ‘no one but the toy seller was allowed to look’.
By Vedanti Shinde,
Published in Know Your Town Volume 1 Issue 6