<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 147 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 27, 2004

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Neeman A Sobhan

....And everything in its place. Indeed! I mean, if you want me to believe that assigning a set space for each object will ensure that it will be there every time you look for it you are either naive or one of those ridiculous people who put their sunglasses, spectacles, cell phones, handbags, lighters, scissors, false teeth or lashes or whatever, in the SAME place everyday, who hang their clothes in the SAME order of graded hues in their wardrobes and who actually store sugar, tea, coffee and cookies (okay, toast biscuits) in caddies marked SUGAR, TEA, COOKIES.....you get my drift?

What do you mean where else would you keep tea bags? Aw! Come on! If you're trying to imply that I am the only person in the whole world who keeps sugar in the old DANO tin and the tea bags in the ceramic container cheerfully lettered COFFEE, I will not believe you. Hey, my everyday instant coffee comes in the Nesquik jar and my special espresso blend comes in the Lavazza tin, and the actual container saying TEA broke on the first day, so I thought why waste a perfectly good, and perfectly useless COFFEE caddy? (By the way, the ceramic set also came with a smaller container saying (eye-roll!) SALT, in which, naturally, I store my match boxes, I mean hadn't the manufacturers ever heard of table salt that came in its own container?).

And even as we get out of my cheerful kitchen, and regardless of the fact that my jar saying Cumin contains Oregano and the one titled Turmeric contains....er...what the hell is this powder... sniff, lick, oh, chat masala, let me assure you that since I and my illiterate maid are the only people who use the kitchen, we have NO problem finding everything, thank you, even if everything is NOT in its quote unquote PROPER place. Fume!

Actually, why am I fuming? It isn't as if I never tried to be one of the above mentioned crazy, okay, punctiliously organized people, if you insist. Half my life has been a battle to establish some sort of method to the madness of dealing with material things. I have tried every known system to beat the chaos that seems inherent in the objects surrounding our lives.

Take my pet peeve, clothing. I adhere to the belief that Man was created naked for a reason, and was meant to stay in his birthday suit. Clothing was the blight of human invention and in creating this monster mankind created not only social inequality and the tyrannical concept of the perfect figure, but also that everyday hell-hole called the wardrobe complete with its own instruments of torture. I mean, the phrase 'hung, strung and quartered' for me, refers not to medieval public hangings but to the business of folding and hanging up clothes within a limited space, every darn day of our lives.

I have yet to find a system which will stop pile ups in clothes closets or which will dissuade my lingerie and stockings from eloping with members of the opposite secks, I mean socks, in the HIS side of the chest of drawer. It's not as if I cannot impose martial law or brute party-in-power type law on my wayward wardrobe. In fact, the day I finish organising my home to military precision, I gaze at my exquisite handiwork with tears in my eyes.

Everything is in its place. Shoes march to the tune of functional use and occasion (those meant for walking, grocery-shopping, casual lunches, formal dinners, weddings, coronations, milads and throwing at cockroaches, or those that are pretty-but-painful, dumpy-but-dance-friendly, the might-use-this-when-the-corn-drops-off and the in-case-I-acquire-a-matching-jungle print-outfit etc.); glass bangles glint in rainbow spectrum; ball point pens stand cap side up saluting 'eyes right' while cups and mugs salute 'ears left.' Knives and forks are pulled out of promiscuous relationships; tool kits and sewing kits are rehabilitated from various refugee camps ---the hammer coming home from distant wars to be rejoined to his clan of nails, and my envelope of rusted needles are finally thrown out and a new packet given charge of the freshly untangled tribe of coloured threads, and placed in neighbouring compartments to the family of safety pins; Photos and albums are arranged in order of subject and years, while National Geographics in order of years and centuries (I have no compunction in confessing that I have read not a single issue since 2000 and every effort on my part to unsubscribe has been shot down by the rest of the family who neither read it nor dust it but feel that its arrival in the post distinguishes us as a family of wide geographic interests, fume! Yes, it's a sore point); and spices are alphabetised. Oh! I am enchanted with my neatened, categorised existence.

For the first few days I don't allow anyone to touch the things, least of all myself. I don't change my clothes for fear of disturbing the order. I tip-toe around my house, opening drawers and closet doors in hushed wonder. Then, husband breaks the spell hollering that he can't find anything. "Where are my navy socks?" My reply is pat: "Second layer of the third column below the grey ones." On second thoughts I run to get it myself, but too late, I almost hear the yank and know that the inevitable muddling has occurred. This has a domino effect on my entire system. That for evening I need my cream silk blouse in a tearing hurry. Damn! It was right there among the pastels. Yank! Rummage! Ah! Found it, but I have lain waste the shelf in the wake of my search. The order starts to topple as the rest of my wardrobe rebels, and quickly the fire of revolution ignites all over the house. Soon, clutter and madness are back in my household, and my home begins to reflect my world.

Mind you, unlike the streets of Dhaka, the mess in my house is mostly out of sight, since I hide things well, shoving them into closets and drawers. Here, on my desk example, which I cleared before sitting down to write, things look under control but I already hear the call of the wild, the winds of dissension and disorganisation blowing. Now, where is the diskette with my article for this week about the state of chaos in the political life of our nation; our lack of civic organisation; our dearth of collective will to address problems, our.....it was a good article. Rummage, rummage...... Sorry, I'll just have to send in this page of domestic ranting and raving instead. Please use it as a metaphor for my growing conviction that chaos is natural and inevitable, but each of us, individually and collectively, must vigilantly struggle against its forces EVERY day of our lives. At a national and personal level, it must be an ongoing battle. The wardrobe today, the world tomorrow.

It sounds like a perfectly acceptable moral. Now if only I could find my laptop under this pile of papers.

(The writer's collection of columns 'An Abiding City: Ruminations from Rome' is available in book stores in Dhaka.)




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