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A trunk-load of memories

It took almost a year to open all the trunks and find places for the things we had collected in all our years.

Life in cantonments revolves around libraries, military hospitals, the officers’ mess and institute parties, and the TV rooms that all children are bundled into. Any “Army child” would remember changing an average six schools, going to classes in a “Shaktiman” (a three-tonne truck with wooden platforms for seats, a tarpaulin cover and an iron grille at the back so that children don’t fall out) and the Army phone, which let us have never-ending calls with our friends in an age when there were no mobiles or unlimited talk-time plans. However, a friend that remains unmentioned usually is the Army trunk. It is such a part and parcel of our lives that its role just fades into the background.

An Army trunk is almost always a large metal box, painted black, with the officer’s rank, name, and trunk number printed on it in white. It remains a constant companion in our lives. Not just in shifting around our country on postings every two or three years but also in our homes. It carries everything of the house safely to the next posting. But that is not where its job ends. In fact, that is where it begins. How?

Extra storage space required? Trunks. No sofas in the allotted house? Just plonk a nice, colourful dhurri and some cushions on a trunk. No tables? Trunk. No shelves? Trunk. No beds? Trunk. We even had a couple of large wooden trunks that when opened and put together formed a 4x6ft bed. That was my bed for years together. In almost all old photos of my childhood, trunks are present substituting for important bits of furniture.

Trunks are not just memories, they were memorised as numbers. On our postings, we would maintain a diary of the items present in each of the numbered trunks just so it would be easier to open and organise in a new place and home. Some numbers would always have the same items, and thus end up being memorised. Even to this day, box number 9 means crockery and cutlery. And my beloved box number is 16. Being a voracious reader, I was allotted a box just for my books, lovingly packed by series and order so I could arrange my shelf in my way. Loading and unloading this trunk was a pain. Inevitably, in each new place, they would end up asking my mother, “Is it filled with stones?”

And if this was not enough, we had what we called the god box. It was the oldest trunk belonging to my dad’s granduncle who fought in the Second World War. During shifting, it housed all the idols and pictures of gods of our little temple. In a conversation back in school, I mentioned these multipurpose trunks to a civilian friend who loved them so much that she came home to see what they were, and even asked to be given a few at her wedding (in the distant future).

We lived our lives in and out of trunks. Right to the time of my dad’s retirement and settling down in our new home in Gurugram, our trunks travelled with us. It took almost a year to open all the trunks and find places for the things we had collected in all our years in the Army. By this time, I was in Bengaluru and was told that our trunks were getting sold. I still have a picture of my dad standing next to his oldest trunk before it was sold, after accompanying him in all his sojourns over 26 years. And quite unable to forsake them, two trunks stuffed with some knick-knacks still stand outside our front door, proudly labelled with rank, name and number. They remain a legacy of a time gone by.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 11:53:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-trunk-load-of-memories/article31600129.ece

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