Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Art of the Object: A mini essay on fetishism, loss and longing

I lose lip balms. Beeswax and rose essence and mint and vanilla. Cocoa butter, sunscreen, raspberry and lime. Those tiny objects of bright colours and wide-eyed shine, those little tubes and tubs of winter cheer and summer solace; I lose them. One by one they nest in the corners of my purse, my backpack, my tote and my clutch. Some I buy because they are pretty, others because my lips are chapped. Slowly, they slip out into the world. All because I change bags I imagine.

My bags. They lie clustered around the house. The big red one from New Jersey. The mirrored maroon cloth bag from Cauvery in Bangalore. The tiny clutch from Bombay. The even tinier one from Poona. They are in my photographs and my people and my memories. X helped buy the big red one. S was around complaining while the tiny clutch was bought. V and I negotiated and held hush hush talks over the naivete of bargaining over the beautiful patchwork bag I bought in Bombay. If they could speak. The red bag has held food and scarves and pens and books and every now and then, the entire contents of my travelling wardrobe. It has most always stayed stuck to my hip and has probably given me an imperceptible limp by now. The tote silently attended conferences and drunken post-conference parties and disapproved of lecherous men and women who are intellectual by day and silly by night . The backpack was frisked and x-rayed and silently allowed to pass through many an airport and mall (yes they frisk bags at malls in India now).

There is always a book in my bag. Sometimes a moleskine, at others a humble loose-leaf pad. The red one (yes, red is wonderful) was a gift from A who now teaches in Thailand. Some loose-leaf pads I have pilfered from conferences and classrooms. My two dog-eared hardbacked notebooks were bought in India when I began fieldwork. They carry long forgotten passwords to accounts that have expired an even longer time ago. And endless phone numbers of never accessed contacts. Also lists, timelines and journal entries. Also changing handwriting samples. The polka dotted spiral bounded notebook is relatively new and far more self-conscious. It reads better than the rest.

Sometimes, my books have a pen tucked in. But only sometimes. Countless burnt orange ones I sneaked away at the health centre. The thick felt-tipped marker I lose all the time. The two pens that my parents' friends gifted me when I was home this summer (Something so incredibly touching when people who knew you as a squealing two year old give you adult gifts; things that recognize who you have become and treasure it). The fat brown artisanal one that K brought me back from Delhi. The many uncapped ones that lie waiting in my black wine glass to be picked up as I rush out in the morning coat tassels flying harum scarum.

My pens make lists, Of things I do in the world. Of errands I need to run. Of bills I need to pay. Of letters I need to write. Of objects I need to obtain.
(a) Shoes
(b) Scarf
(c) Earrings
(d) Bookstand
(e) Coffee table
(f) CDs
(g) Gifts

Sometimes I am given gifts. A watch, a stole, an armlet, a locket, a photograph, peacock feather earrings.

Objects. Attachments. Fetishes.
And yet...