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‘If your house was burning what would you take with you?’ a question asked by some, answered by many, pondered by few. To sit in the comfort of your home with a hot cup of coffee its rather difficult to ignore how hypothetical the question is. But in a moment of fear and anxiousness what would people usually take? Things that represent memories or logical things like wallet, passport etc?

Foster Huntingon, freelance photographer and traveller was overwhelmed by this question and decided to start a project called The Burning House (Beck 2014). People post pictures of what they ‘think’ they will carry in such situations. Going through the website I saw a particular pattern – many have included a laptop/phone (the logical choice?) but every single person has included objects with sentimental value. It was relieving to see the precedence of sentimental objects over logical ones. We tend to attach meaning to things, give them a life. As Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) state “Things embody goals, make skills manifest, and shape the identities of their users”.

During our introductory session of Material Culture, in order for us to understand better we were given a small activity. Everybody was asked to empty the contents of their respective bags and lay them out on tables. Then we all took a round and observed each others bags contents. The diversity in our backgrounds and the cruciality of certain objects reflected through our bags contents. For example, many people were carrying food, many others make up. In my bag I had 5 objects: My wallet, one eye liner, two lipsticks and a hair band. Given the close proximity of the Ellen Terry building to my home I try to carry as less as possible in my handbag. Out of all the objects I rank my wallet as the most essential. Not only because of ID+cash+cards but also because this wallet was the very first thing I bought for myself at my previous job. It does hold a certain sentimental value, though I’m not so sure how easily replaceable it is, yet. I don’t consider my make up to be absolutely essential because I know some day (unfortunately) it will dry out or get over. So till the time science does not come up with never-ending-eyeliner I won’t consider it too important. The last object in my bag was a hair band. I have a love-hate relationship with my hair bands. I prefer to have one with me at all times, but for whatever reason all the hair bands I’ve ever owned consider themselves to be a part of The Bermuda Triangle and disappear every now and then. So in an odd way I do consider hair bands replaceable yet essential.

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The second part of the activity was to identify an object that was significant and meaningful to us. For this I have chosen this diary. I did a management training program with the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development and at the end of the program, all the batchmates wrote about each other in diaries like these. What touched me the most was what my mentor and lecturer had written “Behind that sweet smile is a sharp mind, don’t keep that a secret”. These few words meant a lot to me at that time as I was going through a period of self-doubt and hesitancy towards my own intelligence. I guess more than anything it was these words I needed to hear to get back on track. After the program ended I always kept in mind that she believed in me and gave my 100% to my job. Since then I have moved three times and I always keep this diary with me. It constantly reminds me to believe in myself and to not shy away from all the hurdles life throws at you.

References:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M., and Rochberg-Halton, E. (1981) The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self. London: Cambridge

 

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