The book that I am reading now is Salman Rushdie's very well written and very famous Midnight's children. The story of Saleem Sinai who, by the act of being born at the stroke of India's independence, became intimately intertwined with her destiny. Among the many virtues of the book the one that immediately stands out to me is Rushdie's amazing talent of molding the rich tapestry of Indian life into stories of great muted sadness and comedy. More than anything else the book is a testament to the potential of brilliant stories which resides in the Indian culture, a culture whose logic is entirely its own and which fails to be adequately quantified in typical Western measures. I do not claim any special greatness inherent in the culture. I merely claim its stunning, almost mind-boggling intricacy. When all is said and done the American culture is merely unidimensional, all its facets chiseled by the same inevitable forces of efficiency and selfishness, all its products minor variations of the same essential mold. By comparison the products of the Indian culture, because it offers so little and it places such curious constraints on them, are weird tragicomic specimens both heroic and hapless in the situations they find themselves in. There is hardly ever the go-getter devil may care attitude among them which is perhaps just as well. One can never meet too few of those despicable characters in life.
In the book I came across the word almirah which refers to a sort of metal cabinet used to keep valuables. I am not sure if it is still in fashion but it sure was when I was growing up. In my home it was referred to as an almari, perhaps an indianisation whose roots are now difficult to trace. Like Proust's Madeleine and tea, the word took me sailing into the past, to the touches of that bluishreen almari which was part of our household for as long as I can remember. Like the oval wooden dinner table and the glass center table, like the ornate dressing table and the heavy sofa, that almari came into our home with the marriage of my parents and it still is going relatively strong after 33 years. The sofa has been replaced and the glass table broke at some point, the dinner table was also eventually deemed too wobbly and worn out but the almari remains. It remains with its signature metallic creak and its chipped paint. It survives with its silvery pointy handle whose cold touch I remember with more clarity than I remember many things which happened yesterday. There were other storage spaces in the house but the almari was always used for the most precious things, my mother's expensive sarees, important documents, money, and jewelry. There is a curious way by which images of nostalgia assume a proportion much larger than reality. I now remember that almari being much bigger than it really is. I now ascribe to it the human emotions of pride and grace which accompany a life of tight-lipped service in the line of duty. I now see in its closed doors barriers more insurmountable than suggested by the mere rotation of its handle. There indeed is something very human about its memory. It grew with me and through daily touches and sights, through being a passive spectator during a couple of decades, it has precipitated in my conscious as a living benevolent presence. It, along with certain other objects which survive through the ages, is a dusty, musty reminder of a childhood spent in relative security and happiness. These reminders are not vocal but by being silent they are perhaps more poignant. They also serve a much larger purpose than starting points for personal nostalgia. The fact that that object was preserved through all those years even when means were available to replace it with something better functioning and newer says something about a culture. Beyond the superficial level where reside qualities such as making do with less and a certain modesty, perhaps it point towards deeper traits as well. The traits of not being afraid of permanence and of being more or less satisfied with the present. And I cannot help but be propelled, from the innocuous little memory of the bluishgreen almirah, to make comparisons between the two cultures which have dominated my life so completely.