Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Note Book of Ordinary Things 8: The Magical Paperweights

Once upon a time paperweights had a purpose. They by using their weight held the papers firmly on the table. Those people who never used papers on their tables also used to buy and keep paperweights in their homes because as objects of curiosity they had some strange attraction. Children used to consider some of the paperweights as enlarged versions of marbles and they could simply look at it or rather look into it for a long time. There were different kinds of paperweights. These days nobody uses paperweights because except in the government offices papers are not used. Most of the people have shifted their work to computers and the Microsoft word files do not need a paperweight to keep them in place. Maximum you need to press control plus ‘s’ button together which would keep the ‘sheets’ in place, safe, secure and forgotten until dug out.

I do not know the origin story of the paperweights. Nor am I interested to check for it in the Google. Sometimes reminiscing about something is more fascinating than going for factual research. My conjecture regarding the origin of paperweights is about the close relationship of a writer (not a court writer or a chronicler in a court room but an independent creative writer) with an open window and various kinds of breezes. An open window is a must for a good writer. An aspiring writer could check the difference between writing in a closed room and doing the same near an open window. Open windows would allow a lot of breeze, which is the genuine comforting act of the nature, into the room and would waft the writer like the compassionate caressing of the beloved. She comes in unobtrusively and places her palm on your forehead without disturbing the act of writing, gives a small peck on your exposed neck and a pat on your back and retreats. But winds are not always caring as the beloved is. As moody creatures of nature they too would at times refuse to stick to their brief and would ruffle a few sheets that you have written and kept aside. It was then the writer for the first time thought of having a paperweight.

 What could be the first paper weight? It must be anything that has a weight to hold the papers under. Then I have seen writers collecting round pebbles of the size of a little palm and keeping it on their tables. They believe in what Tagore had told once, ‘you may keep the windows open for the winds of various cultures to come in but you should allow yourself to be blown away by that’ (words mine). Paperweights in that case serve the purpose of rootedness of a writer. He/she should not be blown away by the winds. Then when the market came to know that the writers all over the world were fighting against the winds that carried various cultures from different corners of the world, thought of making some weights to hold the sheets of their manuscripts. Then the paperweights of different shapes and colours started appearing. There was time when you went to some elderly person’s home who had the habit of reading and writing (once upon a time most of the literate people indulged in writing down their feelings not for publication. Even today it is true but most of the people write only to be put up there in the facebook wall so that they could get some kind of appreciation from the ‘like’-minded ones) you could see the paperweights and you as a young boy/girl definitely stood admiring those wondrous objects.

 It should be interesting to see how you viewed the innards of a paperweight made of glass. They were not simple masses made of glass. Aesthetically devised and carefully designed these paperweights contained different worlds of colour and surprises. Some of them had a splash of colour inside which made you think about the ways in which the colours have gone into it exactly the way you wondered how a miniature sailing ship had got into a glass bottle. You knew that from the ships the sailors used to throw bottles with messages meant for unknown recipients. But here the ship itself is in a bottle. It must have taken many years for you to know how they got into the bottles. Similarly, the paperweights also had colours sometimes they reflected the aquamarine life, sometimes a monument of your liking, sometimes a scene from the world, rarely a couple of lovers holding each other in a moment of eternity. As a child you could sit with a paperweight for any number of hours without disturbing the peace of the elders who would be discussing the serious world affairs. You see sometimes, a scar or a piece of glass chipped away from the surface of the glass paperweight disfiguring it forever. You could make out that the user of it is a bit impatient and often has the habit of dropping it while playing with inside his palms or in the worst case throwing it at someone in a fit of rage.

Times changed and the windows could have net covers and jallies. You could close it and still you could have the breeze coming in tamed. But by the time you have had your fans fitted in the rooms. Whether winds or no winds you have this fans running in high speed fighting the heat and ruffling the sheets of papers. There too you need a paperweight. With the advent of these fans too the paperweights did not go out of fashion. They evolved in different ways. Most of them preferred it in glass and they were of different shapes and colours. Some of them came in hexagonal shapes and had deep indigo colour which made you wonder how the glass as a lump gained that colour. Then came the transparent greens and whites that strangely resembled sweets. Then came the paperweights that looked like pieces of ice or crystal. Nobody could resist the charm of these paperweights and if you see it on anybody’s table, you would definitely play with it till you are admonished by the elders or the officer or doctor. And mind you, if you were an inquisitive child and you had laid your hands on a paperweight, it was sure that once you dropped it incurring the suppressed wrath of the doctor or officer which would carried over to back to you as a rough injection or a rude remark.

One of the strangest paperweights that I had seen in my childhood was made of cork. This was a paperweight come pin holder. There used to be these small pins that also helped in holding a bunch of paper together and could be called the precursors of stapler pins and guns. These minute little pins actually were mostly used in the government offices and I am sure that the cork paperweights were invented for holding the papers together and also to keep pins on it without falling all over. My mother was a government servant in a busy office where I used to go as a child and watch them working. These offices had large windows as well as grandfather types of fans hanging dangerously from the ceilings. So the flying around of the papers was inevitable and the paperweights became constant companions of these officer workers. In the boring moments these clerks who worked in the offices ran their cheap ballpoint pens on these cork paperweights making marks all over it. Eventually they looked like the walls of some primitive cave with indecipherable pictures all over. I am sure the office clerks were simply reflecting their minds on these paperweights.

Times have changed. Now nobody knows which time of the day is this once they are inside the office. Unless and until they look at the watch or the feeling of the grumbling in the stomachs they wouldn’t come to know about the time of the day because all the office buildings are designed for air conditioning. No day light comes in. Even if it comes in it must be coming to the higher up’s separate rooms with huge glass walls giving an overview of the city, a view always reminding them of their possible fall and the weight of the present job. With the air conditioners in place, no fans work in the officers therefore there is no need for paperweights. Still like the reminder of the good old days, some people still keep paperweights on their tables, simply to play with it. It is a sort of carrying over the past to the new technology as Derrida says in the case of the computers. We use Microsoft word file. But any related to the writing with a computer has the terminologies carried over from the good old handwriting and desk. A word format is in the regular A-4 size, you have clip boards, margins, pins, files and so on there. The age old handwriting habit was initially carried over to type writing and then to computers. There was an interim phase of electronic type writers where you type and the print out would come not in the A-4 size but in a size that suited to the printer. The past refuse to die. There is no future without the learning from the past. Paperweights are the living museum pieces that makes our lives perhaps a museum act.  

(Images sourced from the internet for representational purposes only)

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