Some days ago a friend and I were chatting philosophically about our ability to let go. Later, as I pottered about the house, the two catch words flitted in and out of my mind, playing hide and seek as it were, raising questions. What exactly did they mean? Forgoing our claim to who and what we believe is ours? Stop wanting things badly? Freeing our personal spaces of emotions, attachments, habits? Of the way we live? And can we really do that?
This chain of thought actually had its origin in an earlier, prosaic question: what when we grow old? Our physical strength waning, would we still want to or, for that matter, be able to live the way we do now?
Some years ago my husband and I had built a moderately biggish house, and ever since we settled in we have been collecting bits and things, pieces of furniture, curios, paintings, souvenirs from our travels, new pots for the garden and varieties of plants. Walls and spaces change appearance and character, welcoming new additions and new arrangements. And all the while getting stamped with us and our evolving stories.
I look around today and I see all the history and sentiment. That corner table, that brass pot came from my grandmother, that paper-weight used to sit on my father’s table, that stone Vishnu stood with pride in my parents’ house, those copper vessels belonged to my husband’s grandparents, that creeper grew out of a sapling that had first been planted by my mother in her garden, that Diwali lantern had been picked out by our daughter, that delicate glass egret had been her gift to us. We had picked this mosaic frame from our holiday in Jordan, that vase from Beijing, these figurines from Athens, those platters from our year in Sydney. Every single thing has its own story. And I wonder, after us, where will all these witnesses of our lives, our history, our journeys go?
Well, as we know, ancient Indian philosophers defined four stages in a human being’s life. In the first, as a student, he gathers knowledge and skills. In the second, as a householder, he plies his trade and tends to his family. In the third, he prepares to detach himself from all worldly pursuits. Finally, in the fourth, he leaves behind all that he has created and collected, material and abstract, in search of his own creator. And while I believe that I am still in the second, there are times when I think I hear the call of the third. Loud and close.
I remember my mother attending discourses on the Bhagwad Gita and Upanishads, poring over her copy of the Dnyaneshwari much before she was of the age I am now. I remember her parting with some of her sarees, her jewellery, giving this one to this daughter, that to that grandchild. I would look on, noting the changes in my parents’ lives, their hunger for things abating, their own personal collections dwindling, happy with less and less. I recognise and appreciate similar symptoms in my friends and contemporaries. They are handing over charge to their future generation. And I ask myself: am I ready?
There are also times when I have an urge to surrender to practicality, to ease and convenience, to move into a smaller, compact space, one that I can manage simply on my own even with my sulking knees and temperamental back. But something in me resists, tenaciously clinging to this house and all it holds.
So how does one really let go? A favourite teacup chips and breaks and I am morose. A book bought and read long ago is misplaced and I grow restless. An old family recipe is lost and I despair. We invest so much of ourselves in things around us, and they in turn brighten our lives, satisfying some need or other. Parting with them is like parting with old dear friends.
But part we must. Or so they say. We have to let go, of both people and possessions, our family, our friends. Through the relentless cycle of life children are born and the old die. We celebrate, we mourn, we move on.
My daughter holds my hand and learns to step out in the world. I am her mother, teacher and guide. Slowly but surely, she blossoms into a beautiful adult, with a mind of her own, her own opinions, her own tastes, her own view of life. And then she needs me less and less. So I have to school myself to lessen my claims on her time and attention. I have to let go as she has to leave. Her bedroom in our house looks empty and forlorn. Her smiling pictures adorn the niches in the cabinets along the wall and I look at them longingly. Her breakfast cup still catches my eye every morning and I wonder whether she has had her tea. I routinely wash her towels and bed-linen, fluff out the pillows she used to rest her head on, keep her room in readiness. And I cling to the few days she spends with us when she visits, to the sound of her laugh, of her voice humming the latest song, her light step, her loved face.
My parents grow old. I watch them die. I have to let go. I have no choice. But I cling to their memory, the sounds of their voices when they called my name, their furrowed brow reading the newspaper, the pleasure in their eyes when talking with me. I have my father’s old handkerchief, a bottle of the eau de cologne he was partial to, his copies of P.G. Wodehouse, photographs of his bespectacled wise face. My mother’s old sarees, her copies of Kalidas’s oeuvres, her favourite Ikebana vases, the glass she would drink water from and which I still reach for first thing in the morning. My dear sister suddenly leaves her earthly space but her smiling face greets me from my bedside table when I awaken every morning, the echo of her voice still ringing in my ears, as if calling from the faraway land she probably is in now, reaffirming that close bond that was once exclusively ours. All mementoes of them, of their wonderful time on earth, their wonderful stories, their love for me that still endures, magically transcending space and time. Still nurturing me.
People come and go. Relationships form and break. Friendships wax and wane. Life goes on. I treasure every moment, every memory, every association. I treasure all that was then as I do all that is now.
I treasure this house, its walls which have seen us grow as a family, has heard our story, of the turns our lives have taken, of the choices we made. Its rooms where we have loved, laughed, dreamt, wept, argued, fought and reconciled. Its floors where we stood resolute, rooting ourselves in our origins while aspiring for the new. The door that steadfastly shielded us, held us safe from the storms that battered the world outside. My space, where I claim me for myself, for us and ours.
I treasure all my family heirlooms, my family portraits, my father’s wristwatch, my beautiful mother’s beautiful photos, the diary my sister gave me to scribble in, the saree my husband bought me on our first anniversary, the little egret our daughter gifted us, the books and artefacts, pots and pans that relatives and friends have gifted us, the little knick-knacks we have collected. I am in them and they are in me. Leaving them, detaching myself from them is like closing chapters, locking away the memories we made, putting them in boxes never to be opened again, denying that we lived thus. I cannot do that. I do not want to do that.
I cannot and will not let go of all I have gathered, all my people, all my memories, all my experiences of all my yesterdays. I want them with me as I walk into my tomorrows. And, happily, they too choose to stay with me. They don’t let go either.
31 thoughts on “Never Letting Go”
So beautifully expressed, I felt it was me, and I got soaked into it, reading it again and again.
Another beautifully expressed piece of work I’m sure everyone reading it can identify part of themselves. Love reading your works.
Thank you, Louella!
Thank you, Radha!
Just Beautiful! Each and every word, I can relate to. And what a wonderful coincidence, that just Yesterday I was going through my late Mother’s possessions, and came across some of the old letters written by Me and some written to Me. Just couldn’t let it Go. Read and kept again neatly Folded . Very difficult to Let Go The Memories, the things…I am definitely not a Saint!
Thank you, Suchitra!
Thoroughly enjoyed it!
Thank you, Saleel!
Nicely worded as are all your musings. I must be an exception to the rule. I look at all the momentous
people in my life, with fondness, but able to let go of them without much struggle. That is true about friends as well as family. I can’t wait to downsize. I am only held back by my pack rat husband. New horizons beckon and excite me. Is that unusual ? Am I an anamoly?
Anomaly would be a strong word to use. There are overlaps between personalities and behaviours but thankfully we aren’t all replicas of each other.
Your feelings so well expressed that I felt them like my own. Yes they add cheers to your present. You have to walk in the future but you can’t forget good old memories
Rohini you are a master at expressing the innermost emotions … what we usually don’t express you penned so beautifully flowing with your words , seemingly with such ease … yes true we don’t and can’t let go as it is these feelings and emotions that really keep us going ….in spite of being taught and told to let go…
Thank you, Jyotsna!
Lyrical prose .
very nicely written
पढ़ कर दाग दहलवी का एक शेर याद आ गया
लोग हों या लगाव हो, कुछ भी ना हो तो कुछ नहीं
बन के फरिश्ता आदमी बज़्म-ए-जहां में आए क्यों
So beautifully expressed Rohini! As usual your words have touched a chord deep inside somewhere. Most of us have this reluctance to let go of memories both emotional and physical, but I think when we are ready the process of letting go comes naturally. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts, thank you!
Thank you, Sheila!
So beautifully written. Goes straight to the soul . Wonderful!
Thanks so much!
Very beautifully expressed. Can relate so well to every word and every expression! Everybody says….move on….but letting go is the biggest challenge.
Thanks for sharing this journey!
You’re welcome, Sharwari!
And thank you for reading and commenting.
Very well written about something we all face, or maybe about to face.
Easy said than done, Detach! Declutter! But the best way forward is, “ Attached Detachment”.
Your thoughts made us sit up and think, what next?🤔
Wonderful Rohini and so true of all of us. Also very complicated when you have more than one location full of such memories and objects. My grandfather and father’s things collecting dust on shelves in Pune, lying unseen but certainly not unforgotten (and very precious to me). Then my own memories here in London, packed in a mouse-infested shed, which I would rather see eaten by mice and covered in spiderwebs than see in the bin or in a charity shop.
It’s magical, isn’t it? The memory of one exact thing lying on a shelf in a house that we are no longer living in and, voila! The floodgates to so many other related memories and sentiments get opened. And we get transported back to what was then with all its colours and textures and fragrances and sounds, re-visiting emotions that we felt then….all while still living in the now.
रोहिणी, खूप छान लिहिले आहे, माझे मत थोडे वेगळे आहे. आपण कसं नृत्य करता करता पुसत येतो, घेतलेली तान घेता घेता पुसत येते, पण त्या क्षणी खूप आनंद देते, नंतर तर त्याचे अस्तित्वच उरलेलेच नसते. माझे थोडे तसे होते. पण म्हणून त्या क्षणाचे महत्व, आनंद कमी नसतो, पण पुढे नविन क्षण आला की पहिल्याचा हात सहज सुटतो माझा.
Beautiful walk thru the pebble walk of life, were you writing about yourself or me? As days pass little things of life, which I call memories, become something we cling on to and that you have captured so well. You are so good