Bowing Out

The day my father retired, he began to clear the decks for his death. In his mind the next step after retiring from work was death.

It never occurred to him that after forty seven years of working in a dull government office, he would be master of his own life at last and would not need to do anyone’s bidding. He could wake up whenever he pleased, eat a leisurely breakfast, go out and explore the city where he had lived for nearly fifty years or even go to the market to pleasurably haggle over the price of vegetables.

Instead he set out to clear the accumulation of half a century as he saw it. He looked around at the rooms which had only bare necessities to furnish them, at the few cupboards that were half empty and contained very little by way of books and clothes. He decided much of it had to go.

There was a traditional swing in the verandah on which I had spent most of my teenage years. He took down the swing and sold the iron chains by weight. My mother refused to part with the wooden swing itself as it had been gifted by her father. So a carpenter was asked to fashion a divan out of it which made a useful bed in the other room.

My father decided the teak sofa set had no more place in his house. A cousin who had been eyeing it for years was only too happy to get hold of it very cheaply, considering its pristine condition.

My mother was instructed to get rid of various pots and pans in the kitchen and make do with whatever was left. She grumbled but obeyed.

On one of my visits back home I found the house to be nearly empty. If Mary Kondo had visited she would have asked them to fill it up rather than declutter.

We – my children and I – asked him to buy a washing machine and a fridge because they make life easier and my mother could stop asking the Nairs at the back to store our milk in their fridge. But my father refused, trotting out various reasons such as electricity bills shooting up and frequent power failures that would either cause equipment to malfunction or render them useless. But the real reason was his belief that his life was over and it made no sense to him to spend on what seemed to him to be luxuries.

He retired at fifty-eight. His expectations were not met. The house was emptied of possessions but my widowed brother moved back in with a toddler and some of his own possessions including a television and a fridge. He was not one to acquire any kind of stuff, and was happy enough to live a pared-down life.

My father lived to be eighty-seven.

When I see the same tendency in others to clear out the house and not acquire anything that might actually be useful, or we might enjoy having, I wonder. The reasoning that valuable things will have to be literally thrown away after our deaths has to be faced and accepted. Their real value lies in our having used them and enjoyed them during our lifetimes. Beyond that it is better not to worry.

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