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Crazy Box Lady

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By Ratna Manucha

Remember that catchy little ditty from the 60’s?

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a pink one and a green one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they’re all made of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same!

And later, much later, this song made its way on to our TV screens when Maruti decided to use it for advertising their new car, the Maruti Zen.

It was a beautifully choreographed little advertisement and I’m sure it caught everyone’s fancy back then, because in time to come, the Zen became one of the most popular cars in the country. I’d like to think the advertisement had something to do with it.

The song went on thus –

And the people in the houses

All went to university

Where they were put in boxes

And they came out all the same.

That was my cue to zone out. The only word that stood out in all these three stanzas was, and is – boxes. And do you know why?

Bear with me and I’m going to spill the beans and maybe this will resonate with you, too. You know those little boxes which pack in our mobile phones, costume jewellery (real jewellery, too!), watches, biscuits, chocolates ad infinitum … well, here’s my secret. I loooooove them. And I hoard them!

Though I wouldn’t call it hoarding, actually. A nicer way of putting it is that I put them away for a rainy day. Now don’t ask me how these differently shaped boxes are going to come in handy on a rainy day! That’s another story for another day…rainy, sunny or cloudy.

The space in my cupboards, wardrobes and closets is always falling short because of these boxes which are pushed into secret corners and into the deep recesses of the shelves…just in case…or like I said, maybe for a rainy day, or simply because…

In fact, if I had to sing the song today, it would probably go something like this-

Little boxes in my cupboard

Little boxes made of tin and cardboard

Little boxes in my drawers

Little boxes that look not the same.

There’s a blue one and a brown one

Lined with satin and with velvet

And they’re all made of tin and cardboard

Little boxes that are so contrasting.

If you were to take a peek in my drawers and closets, almost each shelf would have one box or bottle or both…and they would be…you guessed right – empty!

And don’t get me started on the latest invention – the paper bag. Often, the paper bag is more eye catching and drool worthy than the contents inside. So, out comes the gift or my shopping and the paper bags are stored safely under the mattresses, under the drawer linings and under the sofa cushions, giving company to the sundry other bags that are already there, waiting to see the light of day.

What use are they, you ask? Well, you know those three little words…no, it’s not what you are thinking … you naughty minds! Those three little words are JLT. Just like that. One never knows, if and when you are visiting, you may need a paper bag and I will very generously produce one from my stash which matches your exact requirement! But let me tell you a little secret. Before I hand over the paper bag, I will have gone through umpteen bags, from under the mattresses, under the drawer linings, under the sofa cushions and put them all back as I obviously can’t bear to part with them…some of them are so beautiful and glossy and colourful … so then I go to my kitchen drawer from where I find a boring, dull as dishwater, ubiquitous brown paper bag which is just perfect and Ta-da! It is so gratifying to see the relieved smile on your face and the holier-than- thou smirk on mine.

Life was so much simpler when everyone was using those similar kinds of innocuous plastic bags. They were a dime a dozen and hence there was no logic in saving those, so one could toss them into the bin without any qualms. Till one fine day all the environmentalists woke up and created a big hullabaloo and before one could blink those plastic bags miraculously disappeared and attractive paper bags took their place. That’s when my obsession started…

The other day while cleaning out my drawers, I came across the box of my first android cell phone. Gosh! I don’t even remember what that phone looked like. I must have changed at least four phones since then. And here is the box, tucked away in the safe confines of my drawer, brand new, with its manual and ear phones still in their packing. Should I throw it out? Naaaah…let me just push it right to the back of the drawer…maybe there it will miraculously take a little less space. What’s that questioning look on your face? You want to know why I’m not tossing it into the bin, especially when I’ve tossed its contents eons ago? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. It’s those three little words. JLT!

Well to be fair to some boxes, they do have their uses like storing keys, medicines, even hankies (those square pieces of cambric edged with lace…ring a bell? Yes, they’re called hankies, short for handkerchiefs!) and I agree they belong to a completely different era…

Oooops! I forgot something else that takes up quite a bit of space in my kitchen cupboards. Glass bottles! Needless to say, I store those too. In fact, I have a drawer full…

Little bottles in my cabinet

Little bottles made of glass

Little bottles in my kitchen shelves

Little bottles that are so different

There’s a tall one and a stubby one

And a round one and a square one

And they’re all made of glass

And they’re all quite empty.

I blame the sellers. Why couldn’t they continue making boring old bottles like they did and are still making for Kissan Jam? They had to go and improvise and make differently shaped bottles (some even with textured surfaces), each prettier than the last. In fact, there is this chain of restaurants that packs its ‘daal makhni’ in these amazingly shaped bottles and the size varies according to the amount of ‘daal’ one orders. Yup, I have the different sizes of bottles in my stash!

Sometimes I’ve actually bought a product just ‘cause the bottle was so attractive and I was finding myself beginning to drool, standing in those aisles. Don’t blame me.

But what took the cake and the entire bakery was when just the other day I gave those teeny tiny jam bottles that one gets in the airplane, to my house help and asked her to return the empty bottles once she had finished the contents! JLT.

HELP! Sometimes I don’t recognise myself!

(Ratna Manucha is an educationist and an award-winning author of fact, fiction and text books for children and young adults).