I stepped into the living room packed with mourning men and women. The air was potently infused with sandalwood incense jabbed into oiled coconut halves left burning from various corners. In the middle of the room, lay my grandmother covered in white soft cotton – still and lifeless. People from everywhere came to pay their last respects – they shed a tear, shared a memory, whispered a prayer and chanted a mantra for the soul’s peace.
A Godrej almirah is a treasure trove of memories spanning generations. Being near it brings back the strength of its pull, and a trip back home becomes complete only once you’ve rediscovered its call.
The previous night, my father called us in Dubai to break the news of my grandmother’s demise. We caught the red-eye flight to Kozhikode (aka Calicut) and after a bumpy 3-hour road journey, we reached our ancestral home in Kannur, just in time to spend the last few moments with my grandmother before the burial ceremony. As we entered, in the midst of everything and everyone, I see my father stealthily pass the almirah keys to my mother for safekeeping. To the onlooker, my father may have passed just keys, but to us – our family – that meant safeguarding the keys to an enclosure that held our family memories, both tangible and intangible, for over 35 years. Yes, our Godrej almirah, was indeed one of our family’s most invaluable possessions.
Every Indian will relate to the sentiments that are attached with a Godrej almirah. On the outside, it was only a metal cupboard but inside it was where the priciest possessions of the household were kept. It was the one thing that gave and continues giving so many Indians a sense of comfort, security and protection. Every summer when my family visited our grandparent’s place in Kerala, it’s amusing how unknowingly we looked forward to opening the almirah!
My mother was our almirah’s keeper. She held the sole right to arrange the cupboard’s contents and if I was even caught hovering around it, I got a yelling to keep my hands (and curiosity) off! My mother had to be in the right “mood” to open the cupboard. She would sit me down and ask me only to watch her, “bas dekho, don’t touch” she would say as she took each item out – one by one. Out would come brand new shirt materials, baby dresses, perfume bottles, Tiger balm, pens, paper pads, cotton buds, pocket tissues, hair and safety pins and all that list of items that would give every NRI a sense of comfort. It was those things our relatives gleamed upon and we doted.
One of the most important sections of the Godrej almirah was the upper mid section – a safe within the cupboard. This is where every Indian mom stores gold and precious jewelry, money and important documents. My mother would open the safe behind closed doors in case we had guests who nonchalantly wander into our room. She would then open her red jewelry box and show me chains and earrings that were worn by her in her maiden days and ones worn during my infant years. It didn’t matter if my mother flaunted the same things to me year after year accompanied with a short memoir behind it. For me, it was like listening to my favourite song on repeat. Those moments were the highlights of my holiday visits – the comforting nostalgia that came about from all those items in our Godrej almirah.
As I packed my luggage the morning after the burial ceremony, I could feel the lurking presence of the Godrej almirah in the corner of our bedroom. As I glanced at it, something in me wanted to open the cupboard and feel its contents. But, a mature and adult voice in my head said ‘oh c’mon, that was a childhood fantasy! It’s nothing but a metal cupboard with silly things disguised to seem precious’. It certainly couldn’t be that a grown up girl would still yearn to reminisce upon the almirah’s contents but…what if she still did?
As my parents urged me to finish packing since I had a long line of relatives to say bye to, I hurriedly scanned the bedroom for a final check when my gaze fell upon the Godrej almirah. My heart sank. I looked for the keys in the drawer, walked toward the almirah and unlocked it. As I opened the doors, a familiar scent filled my nostrils and like magic, my senses time travelled back to my childhood days. Yes, that Tiger balm, imported perfumes, little trinkets and white Egyptian cotton towels were still there. I took one last look, smiled and locked the cupboard. As I bid farewell to many a teary-eyed relative, I walked away pensive: some things in life are just not worth moving on from, just like our Godrej almirah that makes every visit back home… complete.
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!