By Devraj Singh Kalsi
Thirty years ago, she boiled an egg in it for her husband who died a week later. There is no link between his untimely demise and the egg boiler, but it was special because the last egg her husband ate was boiled in that egg-boiler. It was respected as an important kitchen appliance and showcased in the cabinet like a trophy. Every year it was taken out for a customary wash, but no egg was boiled in it. She wiped it clean with a soft cloth and plugged it in just once to check whether it blinked red or not. She was happy that the egg boiler was still alive and blinking.
I was not fond of having boiled eggs, so I never used it. But sometimes I wonder how she would have reacted in case I had tried to boil an egg in it. Maybe, get hysterical and call it sacrilegious. Maybe, dub it inauspicious to use anything belonging to the deceased. This seemed unlikely because I have defied many superstitious practices and still managed to escape her outburst. Isn’t there hypocrisy in the fact that the possessions of the deceased are classified as valuables and disposables? Ever seen a gold ring belonging to the deceased getting dumped in a trashcan by the roadside or tossed into the bowl of a beggar on the streets? Mighty inheritors of family wealth relinquishing their right to inheritance.
Several items belonging to my late father have fascinated me for various reasons. I have used them with the proud feeling of inheritance, without traces of guilt. I did not fear his ghost would stake an ownership claim or force me to surrender those items – as brigands do at gunpoint. Monkeying around wearing his monkey cap during winter for the past twenty years has been a regular indulgence. I have walked down desolate streets in the dark without feeling the spooky chills. Encountered stray dogs and feline creatures but they did not lose composure in front of my covered face. My jovial spirits did not let them sense any paranormal activity around me.
The camera was one of his prized possessions that conveyed his immortal passion for images, so I did not let it go. More than a tribute to the artist, the camera helped me learn the ropes of photography. On a bright sunny day, I took it out from the snug corner of his almirah where it was kept wrapped in a bath towel with naphthalene balls for company. A historic day that marked my tryst with photography. I did not find any attention-seeking ghost in the viewfinder when I focused on beautiful women walking down the street. No phantom chiding me for ogling at them with my father’s camera. Deep within, I felt my father would be blessing me with flashes of creativity to click models of international repute someday.
There were many neckties in my father’s wardrobe. I kept the silk ones with me and gave the rest to the gardener who found an easy way to become a Sahib in his locality. I wanted to wear a necktie during job interviews, hoping to derive confidence from his symbolic presence, to help me sail through smoothly. When I got rejected in interviews despite wearing my father’s necktie, I realised his necktie was not a source of blessings anymore. Perhaps I should attend wild parties wearing his necktie and seek the attention of lissome beauties instead. The casually dressed guys were devilishly cooler to flirt with while those in formals were looked at with cold prejudice – as salesmen selling water-purifiers and chimneys.
Another irresistible item belonging to my father was the fancy denim jacket he was gifted by his sister from Canada. Since it was in mint condition, I kept it aside while my mother donated all his clothes to the elderly guard with six grown-up sons. When it was discovered in my almirah, she did not recognise it or maybe she pretended not to recognise it. Her strategy to overlook where she did not wish to interfere explained her response.
She had lost the ground to criticise me for being attached to my father’s worldly possessions. She used his leather suitcase for long-distance travel even after his death. She could claim it was hers because it was also used when both of them travelled together. Probably the shared memories related to the suitcase made her feel safe during long journeys – as both of them carried their clothes in that suitcase. When she opened it for packing her items, I saw her using half the space while the other half was left vacant. She was still following the rule of giving equal space to her partner even though he was not around.
Dumped in her dark, unlit storeroom was an aluminum trunk full of letters and sepia photographs of the dead. I had seen many of them during my childhood days and had faint memories. She kept those photographs and letters away from my reach. She followed a balanced classification of good and painful memories. Many times, I wanted to see the stuff, but she refused to grant me access. She kept it locked as if the simple act of privacy would keep the past locked as well.
She believed the son follows the father and so she kept his beer mugs and wine glasses in the cabinet. She was surprised when I turned out to be the first teetotaller in the family. After I confirmed I was not going to try it ever in my life even if I was spurned in matters of love, she was relieved and merrily gifted the entire set to the cook.
Twenty years of attachment is quite a long period and I can say it is largely over for me. During a recent clean-up drive, I tried discarding the egg-boiler but was strongly opposed by her. I told her I do not eat boiled eggs so there was no point in retaining the egg boiler as a relic from the past. She tried to make me understand by emphasizing that I have to buy a new one in case I changed my mind later. This was certainly an example that established her attachment was still far from over.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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