Recycling fantasies

Diwali cleaning is a salutary experience, so, thank heavens, it comes just once a year. This form of deep cleaning should properly be called Metaphorical Activity For Confrontation With Home Truths.

We all castigate ourselves during this process, finding how much procrastination, laziness and sentimental (or insecure) hoarding we are all capable of. Those of us who enjoy the occasional bout of self-hate extrapolate this behaviour to our entire lives.

This year’s Diwali cleaning forced me to confront that I may be the last person in India who saves wrapping paper.By which, I mean wrapping paper that was once smart, shiny, prissy, wrapped around presents other people gave me. Gingerly folded, bearing, like a human heart, the faintest scars from its relationships with scotch tape, staples and glue, it awaits a second round.

It emerged from drawers and shelves in every room, revealing that it had been saved with no systematic plan, only recycling fantasies. The truth is I hardly ever wrap presents. In fact, I sometimes give presents so late that the recipient and I both become confused if it’s for the birthday/Diwali/Christmas that passed or the one that’s coming.

How to wrap myself around this yawning gap between my fantasy version of myself and the reality? Please, no jokes (but gifts allowed).

I also had to confront that I am certainly among the last remaining people in middle-class India who hold on to every kind of bottle and box that once held something else. Do I imagine that one day it will be the perfect receptacle for some obscure item, thus arranging my life in perfect, customised orderliness — a tiny jar with saffron, a big box full of organic gur?

But, personality analysis apart, I suppose this simply marks me as a child of pre-liberalisation India. Products were few, everything was recycled till it mingled with the dust, and showiness was slightly sniffed at, even if enviously, as evidence of shallowness. After all, if there was so much packaging, it was surely evidence that it hid an internal lack, hmff.

Wrapping paper was an exception to the determined downplaying of desires and indulgence. It was an extra frippery that was part of that somehow acceptable westernised, even excessive middle-class custom — the birthday party. It was a frippery all partook of. In recycling it, one reset life to its careful, frugal register.

In that life, jars and boxes also could not be purchased just like that, except at some cost. Rather, when the mixed-fruit jam was — carefully-finished, you recycled that bottle for dal. If someone got you edible luxuries from abroad, those decorative boxes and jars were saved for something precious — your meager collection of trinkets, your few photos of friends and family.

When I first began living on my own, I was excited to find one shop in Santacruz market selling cheap plastic jars with yellow tops. I bought 10. I felt like my kitchenette was some corner of a fancy foreign land, with its identical jars.

This sounds quaint now. We live in an era of Tupperware titillations and PET possibilities. Packaging is everything, as we know. It can take you far. Without the packaging, you may as well give up, no matter what’s inside.

Well, I bravely threw out the papers. I will start afresh, I thought. This year, my gifts will be on time, wrapped in tinsel and tissue and bows. Here’s to never giving up hope, I guess.

But I confess I couldn’t make myself throw out the jars. What’s a future without a past after all, no?

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at The views expressed in these columns are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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