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Rishi looked at the calendar and grimaced. The second Saturday of March-Sheetal’s ‘spring-cleaning’ day had turned up again like a bad penny. He hoped she wouldn’t remember. Not much chance of that, he knew. Sheetal adored the entire exercise. It would be written all over her face, the little-girl grin, that infectious excitement in her voice, the starlight in her huge brown eyes-he wouldn’t take those from her for anything in this world. So he sighed and smiled, and yanked open the refrigerator for some chocolate (they may run out of milk on some odd days, but Sheetal made sure there was always some chocolate stocked up, no matter what). Dairy Milk, as usual. He broke off a piece and headed for the living room.

Spring-cleaning with Sheetal was an idea they had stumbled upon 3 months after their marriage. One Saturday morning he had found her turning out cupboards and emptying out drawers frantically, and had discovered that she had lost her diary- the one she used to write when they had just started seeing each other. She was upset as hell, and he knew she wouldn’t sit down till she found it or established that it was really, truly missing. He had quietly walked up to the music system, put on her favourite assorted tape (knowing it would soothe her frayed nerves) and started searching as well. Things seemed easier for her then, and she’d smiled at his sincere poking into hidden corners of her ‘stow-everything’ cupboard.

They were soon singing along loudly, often stepping out of tune as the pile of little somethings grew and the diary continued to be elusive. Once or twice they would stop to waltz on Kenny G or sneak up to the refrigerator for Coke and chocolate. Their little escapade unearthed crazy little objects from here and there, and they would revisit the tales each told. Rishi found his filthy school sneakers that he had adored and never wanted to part with. Sheetal was very interested in hearing how he had once absent-mindedly taken them off in class and forgotten to put them back on. She had laughed her head off at all the jokes people had made up in his honour after that day. Sheetal found a rag doll she had made in crafts class when she was seven.

It was nothing more than a wooden stick with a cotton-filled head and a silly red dress, and stiff little arms and legs that were threatening to fall off while you looked at them. She had later made a little pocket in the dress to keep all her safety pins in, and there were a few still lying around inside. The growing mountain on the floor had started to look scary, and they had contrived to get hold of cardboard cartons to “get things in order, yaar!” Rishi’s old report cards, with all the Ds in Drawing and later in History that he was awfully proud of went into one box, along with 2 Hot Wheels cars (one with no wheels left, another with broken window panes). They were piled on top of his school magazines (the one for the year in which he was the Editor got special treatment- it was lovingly wrapped in cling film to keep out the dust) and some yellowing, dog-eared Noddy books that had his name written on the first page in scrawling, little-boy handwriting. His school shirt with last-day-of-school graffiti, college yearbooks and his first CK perfume bottle, the letter his mom had written for his 18th birthday and the huge, toy aircraft his dad had bought him when he had watered plants for a month as an 8 year old …were suddenly discovered and mulled over with sheepish grins and zany details. Sheetal had made huge faces at the pics of him and his first girlfriend cozying up together at a friend’s place. He had enjoyed the flashes of possessiveness that had flitted across her face while he’d raved about his high school sweetheart and the mushy letters she had written to him all those years back. He had read out a sorry attempt at a love letter that he had come up with for the girl whose name he barely remembered now and had reveled in watching her trying hard to show she was amused when he knew she was just a teeny bit miffed!! They had both sat down and pored over the photographs of the time he and his gang in college had sneaked out of hostel a week before exams for a trek in Matheran. She had giggled easily at him posing in Jockeys outside the hostel bathroom, and had looked impressed in the next one of him in sexy formals after his campus placements.

Three hours (with a pizza break in between) later, three huge cartons neatly labeled RISHI in big bold marker ink were sitting haughtily in one corner of the room and Rishi had nearly fainted at the stuff that still lay strewn about. “ HOW much have you been accumulating, Sheets?” he had thoughtlessly exclaimed, and had had to spend the next ten minutes explaining that he didn’t mean to say it was a bad idea AT ALL, that he was just a “bit overwhelmed, honey”.

He had realized why Sheetal had misplaced her diary. There was far too much to keep track of. Restaurant bills of her dates with Rishi before their wedding had amused and touched him the most. Each of them had the date and time written on the backside in her typically-Sheetal handwriting, some even had little comments of what had happened that day. They had cuddled up on the floor with their backs against the wall and read each one, argued over some, kissed over others and felt warm and special over each. One entire carton was dedicated to her birthday cards and letters from her best friend in school. At least 6 diaries were found, and Sheetal wouldn’t let him open a single one on grounds of “My space, dodo!!” There were so many cuddly toys that Rishi had given up counting and was content on hearing her chant dutifully the names and histories of each. There were photographs of her mom teaching her how to make “ paneer makhni with loads of butter and onions that had to be chopped really fine”. There were others of her and her best friend, both of them going berserk together-sneaking in beer after her dad had gone to sleep, trying on crazy clothes with ridiculous hairdos, painting each other’s toe nails a bright flaming red, shampooing, bathing her dog that looked thoroughly disgusted at the idea, her school farewell and teary-eyed goodbyes. Sheetal counted 14 recipe books that she hadn’t seen for the last three years and was highly pleased to have found them finally. There were dried flowers and junk jewellery that she would not be caught dead wearing, but wouldn’t give away either. She guarded each gift he had given her with a quiet fervor that betrayed her strong attachment to each memory it bore. He remembered the set of bells he had spotted in Janpath one evening and had stopped over to pick them up for her, knowing that they would send her into frissons of sheer delight. The crossword puzzle he had made for her (they both had a fetish for puzzles) was something he remembered spending hours over. It was difficult telling someone you loved her and wanted to marry her through a set of Up and Down clues, but he had managed, and she had been too numbed to react two whole minutes after she had finished solving. Sheetal had gotten sentimental reading it again, and had clung to him in a tight bear-hug, and he had kissed the top of her head and thanked God for this beautiful woman he had in his life.


The entire day had been spent in a haze of reverie. They were swept away by strong currents in a river of memories that kept flowing gently in their lives. The hours they had spent sifting through years and years of precious moments had brought them closer to knowing what the other valued and perhaps, they had fallen in love with each other all over again. It had been a delicious feeling.

Since then, they had decided to revisit their stuff each year- discover something new and different each time and give it a once-a-year airing.

Sheetal was wearing black cotton shorts and her’ jhalla’ red tee shirt. Her hair was piled high on top of her head in a tumbling mass of heavy silk. She was filling two jugs of lemonade when he entered the kitchen. She turned and flashed that little-girl smile he knew was coming. “You remembered?” she asked. “Yeah, yeah.” He knew he looked forward to it just as much as she did. He just liked being a fuss-pot sometimes. Sheetal poured out the lemonade in two tall glasses and pushed him out of the kitchen. “Lets get started.”



------
Sakshi


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