Oink..oink…oink…thud…thud…wooooo…so went my washing machine’s drier as it halted with a loadful of wonderfully smelling, clean and dry laundry. It was last year. I reckoned it was WM’s (washing machine) way of telling me that it is past its prime, and needs to be retired. I went to a shop that week looking for a replacement, zeroed in on one, but stopped short of paying an advance. For an entire year now, WM has been working perfectly, as if the clothes I wore to shop that day, divulged something to her in exchange for a more than feather-gentle rinse.
As children, many of us may recall perceiving shapes and persons on walls, where plaster or whitewash had peeled off – clouds, birds, demons, quadrupeds, and what not. It was our secret world that became more populated as months went by (and sometimes due to our creative interventions), before a new coat presented another clean slate for our imagination. As adults, some of us might have said sorry to a door we bumped against, caressed a utensil we dropped, fervently rubbed Colin on a scratch on the glass table top – why?
At the risk of sounding delusional, I would like to confess that sometimes objects around me do seem to be saying something. That is, if I look at them hard and care to hear. Not like a spooky Night Shyamalan movie, but in a funny, prodding way. The unread newspaper flaps under the slightest of breeze, while the one I already read sits crumpled and silent like a wet towel on the same coffee-table. The money-plant on the window sill extends its largest leaf downward towards my desk, as if in alms-seeking, asking for a change of water. Before our mobile phones sent out programmed beeps, other objects were always speaking their mind to us, it seems. Not far fetched, if you have read anything about the crescograph.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about our relationship with items in our surroundings. He is still talking about them in a ‘dead’ way, as contributing cues for our habits. But not Sir J. C. Bose, who demonstrated life-pulse in metals and talked about ‘boundary lines between the realms of the living and the non-living vanishing and points of contact emerging’. [He delivered this speech in 1917 and in the very city I now live in – Kolkata.]
Even if one does not believe in dead-object-signalling, much less talking, we all do take care to work on our built-environment. Just like we build our social circle, we adorn our surroundings with the objects of our liking, plants that soothe our screen-tired eyes, books that call us to deep-dive, photographs that push us to reminisce, posters that motivate, To-Do lists that prod, lights that build or reflect our mood, and room set ups that harmonize to create a symphony of beauty, belonging, safety and utility. In that way, we have a very real relationship with even the most dead of objects in our surroundings. And, we can put this realization to good use.
In a world convulsing under the load of unabashed consumerism, it will help to renew our relationship with objects – treating them well, spending time in their upkeep, and making them our long-journey partners, instead of dumping them at the sight of a newer version with only a marginally higher utility (like a third camera on the smartphone) and an impermanent brag-value. Reuse-Recycle-Upcycle.
As I write this, the money-plant is sashaying in agreement in the evening breeze. And the mud-stained loafer looks at me jaw-dropped, asking for a soft-dry-cleaning. Had it got a tongue, it’d run me aground with one word – hypocrite!