Anyone who has an old house (and loves every inch of it) will know, dust and mess do not a home make. Which is why the dear old things have to be cleaned out from roof to ground floor every once in a while. (In our case, once every 50 years). And who is it that performs this expurgation? The daughters of the house, that’s who. In this case, one daughter, the others being responsible and working (yeah, right).
It’s lucky that I like cleaning. Especially when it’s deciding which books to keep and which to donate when the piles start reaching the ceiling. (I can spend hours in our attic-thakurghor, covered in ages-old dust, rooting for that one book I know I’d seen here a year ago.) But also cleaning in general. I love wiping a dirty glass pane with Colin and seeing it sparkle-it’s like modern alchemy. I feel so powerful. And I have also been known to stun my friends by saying, “Hey, want to come over? We’ll clean the old bookcases together!”
But this house is beyond me. I’ll tell you why. Picture an old, old townhouse in Bhowanipur, with paint that peels off no matter how many times you paint over- like an old woman who can’t be bothered to pull up her sari’s pallu when it keeps falling off. Inside, there are four floors and one attic with every inch of space crammed with old and new furniture-juxtaposed together terribly, hundreds of occasional and end tables we occasionally fall over, moth eaten carpets, rugs, cushions, madurs, once-ornamental vases and curios that have long given up trying to look young and pretty, hundreds of clocks that never go, one grandmother clock that ding-dongs whenever it feels like it, and one grandmother, bless her heart, who never throws anything away.
And books. Did I mention books? It’s accepted that old houses have old books, collected over the years. Our books, on the other hand, seem to have been collected since Gutenberg packed a printing press into his vacation gear. Every floor has them teeteringly balanced, on chairs, on the aforementioned occasional and end tables, on the TV, the DVD player, the computers, the almirahs, the beds of course, and on the seat of our exercise bike.(Which no one can use anymore because where do the books go?; so we’re all getting fatter and fatter.) We have Readers’ Digest Condensed books, four fat ones each year, from the 1950s. We have all the mandatory moth-attracting Encyclopaedias, the Historian’s History of the World, the Everyman’s Library, and so many political and spiritual books that Attila The Hun would be reformed if he read them all, leave alone Munnabhai. (Not that you would know it to look at them, they’re all coated with dust and look like rows of black ledgers.) Add to this my personal mountain of books, accumulated over the years, a lifetime’s worth of begging, whining, and coaxing.
And all this, who has to make into a magazine centerfold before New Years’, when the cousin’s Big Fat Bengali Wedding (Ashirbad, really) will happen? I do. And by magazine I mean ‘Good Housekeeping’, not ‘Ancient Ruins of India’.
And I swear, if I do it, on my matrimonial ad goes “Can do anything, including clean the Aegean Stables.”
Sucks to you, Hercules.