I’ve got skeletons in my closet

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on October 30, 2020

Open sesame: Be it a steel almirah or self-assembled IKEA cabinet in pristine white, the skeleton in it is hardly the object that draws the chuckles

Memories — mostly embarrassing — take residence in the sole cupboard of life

“There’s a skeleton in the cupboard.”

I stopped in my tracks for a second. Did I hear that right?

“Take out the skeleton and bring it here,” Mrs Phillip pointed to the wooden table as she said this.

I did as I was told. I loosened the bag of bones (with exceptionally ugly teeth) from a hook and ferried it across the biology lab to the teacher’s desk. My role ended there. Mrs Phillip, very thoughtfully, chose some other girl in class to hang the skeleton back in its dark corner.

This was in 1994, a year before I passed out of the convent that had clearly tired of me. And since then, I have been taking skeletons out of the cupboard. Not to suit Mrs Phillip though. The natural progression of life, replete with countless moments of stupidity and lack of discretion, has turned me into a keeper of skeletons. These skeletons, minus bones and cartilage, are entirely my creations. I have carved them out of poor and inexplicable life choices over the decades.

Be it a steel almirah or self-assembled IKEA cabinet in pristine white, the skeleton in it is hardly the object that draws the chuckles. It flashes its teeth without compunction; it peeps from behind piles of unused curtains; even worse, it tumbles out in a heap as I press ‘delete contact’ and ‘delete messages’ on my smartphone.

And once it’s out of the closet, the skeleton resists a hasty retreat.

It may not quiz you on the difference between femur and fibula, but it’s sure to tease you with memories of the kind you want to banish to a black hole. Pushing it back with force — like professional passenger pushers in Chinese cities — has quite the opposite effect. The skeleton charges back with twice the strength and determination.

It then settles in the tiny nooks and crannies of my life, often marching across my memoryscape with the haughty confidence of a victorious bloodthirsty warlord. The trail of destruction — or painful self-realisation — it leaves behind makes me envy invertebrates. They really don’t make any bones about anything in life.

Practice has taught me that a skeleton likes to choose its moment of departure. So I let it float around the house, trying to ‘unsee’ or ‘unfeel’ its presence as I go about my life. I ignore the bony finger that pokes me in the eye. I walk past the ankle that sticks out with the sole intention of making me trip. I try every stepmother-like trick in my book of survival to make the skeleton feel unwelcome.

But I can’t ascribe the success to my pretence of nonchalance alone. Displacement has a meaty role to play in this skeletal script.

The creation of skeletons is a continuous process. This is one department where I am prolific. This leads to acute space crunch, because life has given me but one cupboard. The moment a new skeleton is ready, the older ones — lazing around the house like decadent sloths — scramble back to where they came from.

The new ones — like freshers everywhere in life — are careful to not upset the old guard. They settle at the feet of the veterans, find a spot to dig their heels in, and then — like the young tendril that holds out against the strong sun or wind — they register their presence.

This space adjustment often leads to some rattling in the cupboard. The elbow is put to good use in the process. I stop and listen when the infighting crosses a certain decibel level. I even pause production. And then, when everything seems noise-free again, I proceed with my share of the work.

Out of respect or perhaps concern for their social life, I have, at times, tried to add a ghost or two to the drudge of moody skeletons. But ghosts, in my world, come in the shape of human beings. And keeping a human inside a cupboard could land me in jail.

Ghosts, too, have visitation rights over my life. The last time I saw one, in the strange light of a street lamp outside my office building, was a foggy winter night. He eyed me from a distance. I clenched my teeth and fists as I inched closer. And then, within a millisecond, I’d walked past the spectre.

This ghost is now truly in the past. I’ll carry the skeletons into tomorrow.

Published on October 30, 2020

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