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Collecting things is a human activity, something which has been going on since the first hunting and gathering groups of humans started collecting nuts and eggs and other edible foodstuffs to eat back in the cave – or wherever. I suppose gathering is another word for it really. Oh, the vagaries of the English language. When my bilingual English/Hindi speaking children speak of what I would have called ‘saving up’ for something, they say ‘collect’. “I will collect money!” says Neil, my fourteen year old son (or whichever child of mine is speaking at the time!) , “and buy a birthday gift for my friend.” Suppose I use some of the milk at home to make an amount of plain yogurt, to eat with my curry. My mother in law might ask me (literal translation from Hindi!) “Did you collect this?”
What she’s really asking is “Is it yours? May I have some too?” (Of course she can!).

Although there are a few creatures (like magpies for example) who collect shiny objects and hide them somewhere, humans seem to be unique in that they are the only living creatures who have the instinct to amass collectons of items, and hoard them together, classified or unclassified as the case may be. As we move from the rainy season into winter here in India, some clearing out is the order of the day. You know how in the eastern systems of living (Chinese Feng Shui, Indian Vaastu) there is a principle of decluttering? If you throw out your rubbish and unwanted items, you are really clearing the way for good luck and good fortune? On Saturday the 17th October this year is the festival of Diwali. Hindus clean out their houses from top to bottom before this day to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. This is really a vaastu principle at work here. The point is, that when one is in decluttering mode, as I am now, one finds it incredible how much stuff accrues in a home, particularly in a home with four children in it. Clothes, toys, books, old school copies, to name but a few items!

I remember how I used to keep my old schoolbooks clean so that they could be sold secondhand the following school year, or passed on to my younger sisters. But there is hardly any point in doing that now. Even within the family. Schoolbook lists nowadays specify that only the newest editions are required. Whether it is a school scam in league with the publishers to make sure optimum copies are sold, I cannot say exactly. But the ostensible reason is the fact that knowledge is increasing at a rapid pace and courses are being updated all the time. So with no takers for the old schoolbooks, I keep them on a special shelf and when there is a little time to spare, I classify them subject by subject. Neil goes to a school which has what I call a “maximum books policy”. We have to buy several books on each subject (latest edition, naturally!). The girls are in a convent school which operates what I call a ‘minimum books policy’. They have the least possible books on every subject. They can benefit a lot from reading Neil’s collection of old schoolbooks. My daughter Mel, who has a razor sharp mind, enjoys reading different writers’ approaches to the same subject. (When she reaches maturity, suppose she might be a good candidate for membership of the Loose Bloggers Consortium, Heaven knows!). Of course if someone is looking for a copy of an old schoolbook and I have it there, I’ll willingly give it away to help someone out. I won’t hold on to something just for the sake of it.

As a young working woman in Ireland, I used to collect magazines, and a large amount of space was taken up with these. I have no such problem now! I simply have recourse to the ‘magazine wala”. He is a newspaper seller. For a small monthly fee, he brings me current issues of magazines and changes them every few days. It’s like a library. There is also the ‘kabariwala” who will take away your old newspapers and magazines and even pay you a small fee for it. He makes paper bags out of them. How environmentally friendly! I don’t like taking money from such poor people and I used to go crazy when I saw how my in-laws used to haggle with the kabariwalas for the best price. However I’m reconciled to it now! When elderly people are sitting at home in the house, they like to still feel that they can be a part of the world and do something for the family. The kabariwala’s visit is like entertainment for them. Besides, he’s not going to pay them more than he can afford to.

Most Indian ladies have their collection of jewellery and good saris. I have some wedding jewellery and a few saris, not many, but enough. But there are two items I collect unofficially. One is books, as I have always been a keen reader and I have collected a lot of books in my life. When I shifted to India to get married, I couldn’t bring many books with me as they tend to weigh down luggage and my luggage allowance was minimal enough. But I bought all my yet unread books with me and there was enough of them. When I visited Yash’s family’s house in 1993, a year before we got married, one of the first things I asked Yash was “where are the books?” I always feel that you can tell a lot about people by the books they read. Well, there was no joy for me here! Yash’s books consisted of a bunch of science journals and which would, I suppose, be fascinating if one was into biochemistry, which I am most certainly not. The rest of the collection was more hopeful, but inaccessible to me. Yash’s mother, when time permits, is a reader of quality Hindi literature, but as I was not aware of that language, I could not understand them.

Another thing I have collected is handbags! I just love them. I’ve been carrying a handbag around with me with my ‘stuff’ in it since I was twelve, and over the years, I’ve notice, I can pass shoe shops and clothes shops and jewellery shops in abundance. But I cannot, cannot, cannot pass a bag shop. If I see a nice handbag, I go mad for it. I like having different kinds of bags to go to different kinds of places. Yash my husband is mystified by this need to carry stuff around in a bag, like a purse, comb, keys, lipstick, pen and a music player. Not to mention the current book, magazine, newspaper I’m reading, etcetera. On the other hand his pockets are stuffed with things. Like a pen, comb, keys, business cards and so on.

With some people, collecting ‘stuff’ is a fully fledged hobby, which gives them hours of pleasure and intellectual stimulation. That staple hobby of schooldays, stamp collecting has a very official sounding label ‘philately’. When I was a kid, I was a keen philatelist. I collected stamps. I tore them off letters and even purchased them off catalogues. Such fun! As a teen, my music collection, records and cassette tapes, was a big deal for me, as it would have been for many others then and now.

I know that there are people who collect the most diverse items. If you know what a persons’ collection is then buying them a gift can be easy. Sometimes. I once knew someone who collected owl figures and pictures of owls and anything at all with an owl symbol on them. Neil, my son, once collected Pokemon figures. “Pokemon” was a very popular Japanese cartoon featuring amazing animals not seen in the real world! I knew another person who collected Buddhas. Big ones, small ones, stone ones, brass ones. A neighbour of mine here in Lucknow has such a collection of Ganeshas. Ganesha is the Hindu God of auspicious beginnings, an extremely pleasant looking deity with the head of an elephant. She was once featured in the local edition of a national newspaper with her Ganeshas all around her. She feels they bring her luck. She’s probably right. You can have collections of anything really as a hobby. Anything from cards to keyrings. They bring some sense of satisfaction.

All in all, gathering collections of items, whether it is on a formal or informal level, seems to be a very human trait. That inclination to arrange and categorize – that sense of pride some people have in their collections! It’s all to do with the baggage we accrue throughout life. But these items so carefully maintained and treasured are often of little use to others after we are gone – with the possible exception of photographs, and antiques, which often have great sentimental and historical value for future generations.

The commodity that everyone should try to collect throughout life, is wisdom. We should learn from our mistakes, and try not to make the same errors over and over again. We should listen to others and learn from their experiences. We should always keep our eyes and ears open and learn as much as we can from the world around us. The Bible tells us, in the Book of Proverbs, a much under-read and under-rated book: “Happy the one who fnds wisdom and gains insight. For she is of more value than silver and more useful than gold.” (Proverbs 3, 13-14). How true that is!

Loose Bloggers Consortium

This is my weekly post as a member of the Loose Bloggers Consortium, an informal group of bloggers who post on a given topic each Friday, each one giving the same topic their own individual treatment. The group consists of (in alphabetical order) Ashok (should studies permit), Conrad, me gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie 11, Maria, Marianna and Rummuser, or Ramanaji, as I call him. This week, we welcome two new members, Judy Harper and
Helen McGinn. Members hail from places as diverse as the UK, the USA, Ireland, India and Canada. So we all have our own unique vantage point. If you have time, please take a look at the posts of the other group members too see our different takes on the same topic!


  1. Great post Gaelikaa. You would like Elly's house, she has a wall of books plus the usual bundles in the bedroom, kitchen and even in the loo!

  2. Sounds like my kind of house, Grannymar!

  3. Next time you come back we will arrange a visit!

  4. Great post as always! I like the part about the magpie collecting. Thanks for your wonderful comment. Looking forward to future posts! I also love to read! I'm a big mystery buff.

  5. What terrific insights, gaelikaa! Wow! You are so rich in perspective. Does this come in part from the cultural blending that is your life?

  6. Great post!You'll do well as a writer,not many can write so well.

    I think you should try and use that talent may make you famous,who knows?

    At least you'll be doing something you like.
    I have lots of books and grandpa gave me all his books before he died,oh,hubby has his technical stuff too.

  7. I was so surprised to read about your handbag collection - it's an unexpected and delightful aspect to your character! I would really like someone to bring me a fresh magazine on a regular basis - now that really is my idea of frivolous bliss!

  8. Happy Diwali to you and all yours.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post... too much to digest in one go I'm afraid.. Do I have permission to copy and paste and print off for my bedtime reading...actually I think that might be an answer to my problem with keeping up with the all the posts.

    We are desperately trying to de-clutter...37 years of teaching develops a lot of "That might be useful" stuff and two very intelligent sons add to it.

    Books....can't get rid of them...except to other bibliophiles!

    Thanks for the inspiration..I am going to become a better de-clutterer...

  9. Thanks for sharing some insight into the Diwali custom of decluttering.

    Seems that collections and decluttering go hand in hand.

    I know you've read Future Shock, so I can't help but think of Toffler's reference (and yours!) to how books, and text books, in particular, are no longer treasured from one year to the next.

  10. I wonder if our own Magpie11 collects shiny objects and if so what! I hope that he reads my comments and responds.

    Great post Gaelikaa. As usual, you have sent me on a nostalgia trip when you talked about keeping school books in good condition. Being the eldest, I had to keep everything in good shape for handing down to my two younger brothers! Books specially so.

    I am glad that you have access to two cultures and write comfortably about both. It is great learning experience for me.

  11. I like the idea of collecting.... but for me I am more of a junk collector. I have collected hundreds of boarding pass and tickets of my journeys... I have collected the train tickets.... old coins...Foreign currencies... negatives of hundreds of film roles...Postage stamps... the list goes on. Everyone in my house try to argue me out of this. But there I am...
    The "learning from previous mistakes" part is priceless. We should also try to learn from others mistakes. As they say “we might not live long enough to commit all those ourselves”.


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