Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Picture postcards from my life

Recently, I visited my cousin after many years. As we sat at her kitchen table, I looked over at her refrigerator on which she and her husband have posted picture postcards from holidays here and there. As one or the other caught my eye, she would reminisce. If I had been there, I would add my memories. And slowly we caught up on memorable parts of each other's lives.

I've been a picture postcard buyer and hoarder since I was seven, and in our home in Bombay, would often use cards to decorate my cupboard doors, etc. In my dorm room in Syracuse, I used postcards to spell out my name for new dorm-mates. I bought cards liberally until about five or six years ago, I think. And then I forgot all about them.

Like other parts of my life.

I did not buy new cards; it seemed like a waste in my NGO-founder life. I did not look at my cards; I miss people and places from my past but I have no time for reminiscence. I did not display my cards. I cannot recall where I stored them. It's like you can switch off your own life at will.

In recent months, as burn-out and physical exhaustion first felled me and as I have recovered, one of the things that is clear to me is that I live without moorings. My work has consumed me to the point that I have been alienated from myself, from my own history. I have felt friendless in this life. I have felt the absence of people in my life who remember other parts of me. Recovery has thus come partly to be defined as recovery of all those parts of myself.

Starting with those postcards.

The other day I took down a box that I did remember. It turned out to hold not just blank cards I had purchased but a new year greeting on a postcard from my aunt to my great-grandmother. It held a card my maternal uncle sent me, describing New York right after he moved there. It held cards from my oldest cousin, sent dutifully from here and there, not thinking it beneath his dignity to write to his much younger sister. I found a card my father bought at the Cologne cathedral in the early 1960s that was very similar to one I bought this summer. I can see faint traces of belonging in these slightly stained, cellotape-damaged wonders.

I cannot wait to locate all my other picture postcards. I cannot wait to remember who and where I've been.