Some meticulously read the labels on jars. I meticulously remove them after we have used up the contents of the glass jars and then, fall in love with them. Coffee jars, Rajah’s minced ginger paste jars, Doritos jars, Blue Dragon bottles…all of them religiously soak in a tub of hot water until their labels come off and then, they begin their new lives.
I get it from my mother. When she was pregnant with me some forty years ago, she amassed twelve big jars of a malted milk drink called Horlicks. I don’t know whether all that Horlicks was good for me or for her, but these jars survive to this day, each housing a particular Indian pulse or masala. There are fat and voluptuous red Kidney beans in one, tiny curved green mung beans in another, pristine white balls of Tapioca pearls in the third, sun dried fenugreek leaves in the fourth, spotted fox nuts in another and so on. And to think of it, these jars are as ancient as me!
You see, those days recycling wasn’t so much of a fashion statement or a very conscious attempt to save the planet – it was, just a way of life. Everything got recycled. Bits of cloth that came back from the tailor (you had to ask for these to be returned or they simply stayed with the tailor and clothed his children) and were made into grocery bags, or purses that matched dresses or hairbands. These were also saved to make little mattresses for a new born baby, and these were welcomed by mothers because no matter how many cotton mattresses a new mother had, these were never enough to match the baby’s peeing sprees. Even bits of strings from kites that strayed and fell upon your porch were saved, for when you needed some string to tie a parcel, it was right there – courtesy the kite from the courtyard.
And so, much to the disappointment of my husband (How many jars do you need, Prerna?), I don’t throw them away. When I think I have enough to store my assortment of masalas, seeds and other kitchen genies, I use them to hold pens, nail filers, rubber bands and so on and so forth.
I buy new jars too. Because I need a particular size and shape to store some of my kitchen essentials and also for all of them to sit neatly in a line on my shelves like uniformed soldiers readying for march-past. But I have come to realise and accept that I will always have a thing for jars that come into my home, and I will always find ways to give them newer lives. For me, these hold memories. Every meal cooked has a story – my husband and I often cook and experiment together and since we don’t make every sauce we need ourselves, we often take a gamble and come home with a new entrant. Umm, should it be sweet chilli or black bean with this noodle dish or green thyme and sweet Basil? Often, we experiment with rather peculiar results but we get a good laugh and a good lesson at the end of it all.
Besides, I have found ways to actually store memories in my recycled glass jars and a bit of magic too. Once, for a friend’s birthday, I put up a simple sticker on a jar that said ‘I love you because’ and then filled up that jar with twenty or more little chits of paper, each listing a reason. One of these days, I tell my husband, I am going to give you a jar that says, ‘I owe you’ and in it could be little bits of paper, owing you all kinds of things. You would just have to pick one on a weekend and see how it turns a dull afternoon into a magical meal, or some other wondrous thing…Now then, please make peace with my jars for they are wonderful, little beings.
(My latest acquisitions – two big bottles of Nescafe and two jars of Follain Traditional Irish Preserves. The latter have come with beautiful, colourful lids and one of them stores poppy seeds. I also gave away about six plastic jars with red lids to a neighbour – these had formerly housed South Indians snacks like murukku, jackfruit fries, yellow banana crisps, bitter gourd slices – all bought from the local South Indian store in Dublin. )