16/07/2015 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

A Swachh Ghar Abhiyaan Gone Wrong

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On a recent trip to my parents' home, I did something very brave. I offered my services to clean up my father's garage. Not that he had asked me. In fact, quite the contrary - he wanted me nowhere near it. However, I was convinced that he would appreciate my supremely altruistic act in hindsight. What better time, I said to him, than now when the merits of 'Swachh Bharat' were being rubbed in our noses. It was time, I declared, wielding a broom in one hand and a duster in the other, to start the drive in our own homes.

Only, I intended to do this not in my own home but in my parents', because it's far easier to declare their stone-age relics unnecessary clutter than to get rid of mine - the floppy disks sitting in my store cupboard being a case-in-point (I am still hopeful that one day in the not too distant future, the contents of those will reach my DropBox).

Anyway, details apart, the fact is that I was making a swachh start and I thought that my father's garage was the perfect place to begin such a noble crusade. That he looked at it differently is hardly surprising, but I remained undeterred by his mutterings of dissent. Like I said, it was a gallant, if somewhat suicidal, decision.

"[H]e told me that just because something was old didn't mean that it had to be done away with. "

What happened next is anybody's guess. And no, there was no hindsight at all, appreciative or otherwise. I believe that my swachh-ghar movement started to disintegrate around the time I held up a telephone instrument from the eighties and asked him if he still needed it. It was an innocent question, which got no reply. Instead he directed me to put it back in its place, which was somewhere on the ground amid television cables and video recorders that went out with the nineties. Tempted as I was to ask him if he needed those, I toned down my line of questioning. I could see that he was beginning to regret his decision of letting me into his garage, which, if I may add, has never been used for parking a car. I didn't point to that minor fact. Gallantry has its limits.

To cut a long story short, he told me that just because something was old didn't mean that it had to be done away with. Not that I had said this, but it didn't matter what I had said. It was all in my actions - my karma which, in this case, I had taken to be my dharma, was swiftly taking me to a path of self-annihilation. "It's not about old", I told him, "but about relevance. If you have no need for things, then do away with them". He then asked me if I thought that he too was old and irrelevant. I should have seen this one coming. I tried to point out the inaccuracy of his analogy, but he seemed quite content (and pleased) with the emotional parallel that he had drawn to make his point, and get me to exit his garage.

It worked, of course. Parents are masters of mawkish dramas (I am one now and I most unabashedly resort to the same). Once this had been said, I had little option but to admit defeat. So, despite my best intentions, I agreed to return to the house.

A realization dawned upon me as I was making my way out of the garage, trying my best not to trip over the fossilized mementos, like the much-hyped solar cooker which had been bought with great fanfare when I was fifteen, and all but abandoned after three miraculous meals cooked in it (when curious neighbours descended upon us, like we were about to send a rocket to the moon). I realized that there some things that are best left unaddressed. The garage may have been full of broken fragments of the past thirty years of my father's life, but it was his garage and those were his things, no matter how useless they seemed to anyone else.

My swachh-ghar campaign, I knew then, had to be taken somewhere else.

I thought about taking it to my own house, but balked at the idea of clearing my cupboard of extraneous mementos from my own past. I am, after all, my father's daughter. Instead, I gave my unsuspecting daughters a sermon on the merits of cleaning their drawers. So, the next two days were spent clearing their rooms of assorted what-if-I-need-it belongings. In the midst of this drive, they asked me why I was still hoarding my own obsolete possessions, while making them do away with theirs.

To that I had the perfect, if dictatorial, answer (a supreme prerogative of Indian parents). "Because I said so!" I stated nonchalantly, hearing my father in my own voice and feeling quite chuffed at the idea that, as undemocratic as the process may have been, my swachh-ghar movement had finally borne fruit.

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