The plate on the mantelpiece

Placed on the mantelpiece in my parents’ living room is this plate. Unlike other mementos, this one can’t be bought. Like the Cadbury’s Bournville, you have to earn it. In other words, be a sportsperson. And everyone knows I couldn’t catch a ball even if you handed it to me on a silver platter. Clearly, it was not won by me.

It was won by someone who presented it to me in the euphoria of his win. Not with a flourish, neither with a disregard for what it meant. Simply handed to the then love of his life as an offering. A gesture if you will, of what she meant to him.

He wasn’t a jock. The hours others spent tossing a ball were spent strumming a guitar on the college lawns, so this was all the more unexpected and special. He got on the team as a lark and if I close my eyes I can still see the boyish grin, the sweat dripping off his forehead, the sheer exuberance as the team came in from a game jostling each other around, discussing who screwed up and who saved the day. When push comes to shove you’re unlikely to find a boy who doesn’t enjoy throwing a ball around and back thumping with his mates.

There is a special dinner held for the sportspeople at the end of the year and after having spent almost every waking moment with him, I was really upset not to be there with him. He made up for it by rushing back to me the moment it was over with this plate. It should have gone back to his home and adorned his parents’ mantelpiece. One that I am sure is now crowded with many more accolades.  Instead it ended up on my parents’ mantelpiece. Eleven years down, the plate still stands there proud. Guests stop by to admire it. The hands that dust it, do so with care because they’ve been told it is precious. And precious it is.

Because it is a reminder of a time long, long ago. Of sweet nothings whispered. Of words unspoken yet expressed. Of the sheer joy of being in the same room. Of the fact that relationships are never about just the two people in them. They’re about everyone else who ever brushed past that circle of love. Of the parents of the girl who might look at that plate, smile and remember many happy evenings full of music and laughter and good-natured ribbing and a boy they pretty much loved the moment he strummed the first chords of an old favourite song. A reminder to tread with care because you never know how things will go. That nothing is black and white and there is always room for grey and always a welcoming smile should you drop by to say hello.

The plate is safe there, as are the memories. In fact, they belong there. To that time, to the young parents wondering how to deal with their even younger daughter and her love life and to the love that he was… Here’s a song that will take us all back to that living room in a flash.

So now, how many of you are still pals with the ex? And even if you aren’t, what do you still have, other than the memories?

96 thoughts on “The plate on the mantelpiece

  1. WOW!
    How do you write so well!!!
    I wish I could express the mess in my head (it is a permanent state btw) half as well as you do.

  2. I am. And I have everything from letters to pictures to gifts to random objects that are signs of the relationship and the togetherness we shared. And when I say random, it includes everything from mixed tapes to an oversized t-shirt, random elephant curios, mismatched jewelry. Oh and lets not forget an entire folder of emails in an almost abandoned email account.

    • Why am I not surprised?! 🙂 I don’t have emails (God, does that say something about how old I am?!) but I have all sorts of little things that surface at the oddest of times and leave me smiling.

      • Its strange, but despite the ugly painful end to the unhealthy relationship that it was, I cant get myself to be angry or delete/remove these signs and memories from my life. I guess thats what happens with relationships that last long, you wisen up and move on, but you can never really forget 🙂 They become forever entrenched in your archive of memories that make your life what it is today..

        • I think everything looks ugly at the end because it IS the end. If it didn’t get ugly there’d be no other way to end something deep and passionate. Think about it. It’s easy to cut off a person you aren’t too close to, anyway, right?

          I posted about this long ago. Should dig out that post. I don’t understand people who only hate their exes and have rude things to say. What does it say about you if someone you loved so much was so scummy? Most decent people I know, will smile painfully if you bring up the ex but never have a really bad word to say.

          As for burning stuff… its a nice cathartic experience but a waste of time. Memories are what make us what we are, as you rightly said. And I have a lot to thank all the exes for!

  3. I kept letters, cards and emails that I look at once in a while. I gave back or away anything I could look at everyday. And sadly, we’re in touch and know broadly what goes on in each others lives but are not “friends” anymore.

  4. Lovely post. Loved this line: “Of the fact that relationships are never about just the two people in them. They’re about everyone else who ever brushed past that circle of love.”

    I’m surprised that I am not really in touch with any of my exes. My first boyfriend, we swore we’d be friends no matter what. But I wouldn’t have even known he had a baby last year if somoene else hadn’t told me. I felt sad that we are so disconnected. But his wife didn’t like the idea of him being in touch with me and I respect that. Because he was still into me when he met her and went on about me in a way that would make any woman insecure. But I still feel sad that after four years of being a couple and anoter five before that of being really good friends, we’ve come to this disconnect.

    My other ex most people felt was an asshole to me. I didn’t – I got what I bargained for in that relationship. But he said something that pissed me off a couple of years back and I decided enough is enough.

    And I had a couple of flings in between, where we just drifted. Which is ok because there wasn’t much there except a bit of fun to start with.

    I don’t hate any of my exes though. Yeah, the ends were bad in some cases but the good times were good and worth treasuring. And yeah, I still have all the little souvenirs of everything and the letters. Back in my drawer in my parents house.

    • oh my god. Exact same reason for one of my exes not being in touch too often. His wife doesnt like the way he is around me and I dont blame her. Maybe a few years more and they will be secure and we’ll get our old friends back? If not, it was good while it lasted.
      As for the guy that pissed you off… give him another chance. There is this certain period of a couple of years when you’re still trading insults. It’s impossible to not because if you don’t hurt each other at that time you’re still likely to fall back in love. Part of the healing i think.

  5. Oh yes, one of my exes (a childhood sweetheart really – something of a stretch to say boyfriend) is my best friend now. In the beginning, our friends found it strange, but we’ve been friends for over 13 years now, so they are used to it. I’m friendly enough with another ex – still have his cards and letters and gifts, and I still smile when I come across them – but during the painful and very messy process of breaking up, he hacked into my email account, and deleted all his emails, and I of course felt too guilty about breaking up to protest! Another ex, well, I like to pretend he doesn’t exist – that relationship lasted all of 2/3 months, and for good reason.

  6. A silver ring and a poem he wrote me – handwritten on a scroll of handmade paper and came with with a simple silver tassel. Everything else got left behind or thrown away, when I moved. It took me a long time to get over it and most things were done away with, in an attempt to grapple with and handle the sadness. I regret it now – I wish I hadn’t let go of some of the things. Like you said, after the pain is gone, you are still left with the smile!
    Never got the ‘burning is therapeutic’ logic, thankfully.
    Such a beautiful, haunting post.

  7. Oh I am so glad that you did this post MM. People think I am dysfunctional because I am still friends with my ex. And you said it beautifully – somone you loved so much can’t be a jerk.

    • That is their loss. I feel bad for people who didn’t take away something good from every relationship and don’t understand how we do it. How can anything that mattered to you, be wiped clean out?

  8. May I ask how old you were when you were with this guy ?

    I ask this because, in my case, stuff from my first relationship – an intense, high school crush – got dumped into a gutter ( literally ! ) when it ended.. I think it had more to do with being found out than anything else…

    But stuff from a more lasting, mature relationship – early twenties, had just started working – is all still there with me.. birthday gifts, cards, notes, watch strap ( !), pictures … Never fails to bring a smile on my face, whenever I go through it, when I go to my mother’s house..

    And you do write beautifully, this post just made me smile so much thinking about my fond memories…

    • 19? I think. But then I am in touch with the guy before him too. I guess it’s because each time we were friends for a long time before we started dating. You can’t take that away.

  9. The first ever letter of mushy adolescent love, a small, dirty, almost-torn-where-it-has-been-folded piece of paper with his name scrawled across it, smooth and shiny and odd shaped pebbles we collected on a trekking trip, Tuesdays with Morrie, a folder in my laptop with old Lata, Hemanta, Manna Dey songs, a train ticket to a stolen holiday, an umbrella that was never returned, and a very heavy heart 😦 I guess however far you may move on, a certain part of you remains in those memories, and when you recall the moments, all that remains of you is that sole part, atleast in that instant..

    And no, I am not in touch.

  10. What a sweet post. I never had an ex. Was boring enough to get married to the first guy who proposed to me 🙂 But I do remember all the crushes and infatuations (some of them mutual) and they do bring a warm feeling

      • try ” Sachal studios take five official video” on youtube

        Kid.. I know you will love it.. and based on your blog, i think OA will too

        call me if you have any issues … I just do not want you ( my sister also) to miss it

  11. First time commentor on your blog, because this post of yours brought back somethings I had been too scared(of myself) to even write down. Yes, I have kept even the smallest things I had of my ex, from small gifts, gift wrappers, pictures cuttings, everything !! That part of life is behind me but it was a beautiful part of the life.

    • No .. I don’t have every small thing. I think I threw away letters and stuff, but the photographs etc are all over the house. They’re full of others too – my best friend, my brother, everyone.

  12. he he …wouldnt touch mine with a barge pole. the experience made me stronger, wiser, more in touch with want i want in a partner but it was one i rather forget.
    well written!

  13. A beautiful post!
    I have never found peace or joy in keeping old things – whatever the memory attached with it was(except old family pics). There is a reason for it not being in my present – no ill-feelings, no heartaches – just a calm feeling that it is over and was fun while it lasted. Keeping ‘things’ makes it so much a part of the present. Maybe coz visual images linger longer with me – if i see something, it stays.
    also coz somehow I have always been most comfortable keeping my love life very very private and if i did have anything from the past, it would be kept for my visual pleasure only.

  14. Beautiful post!
    But I am jealous for many reasons : 1. Your parents hung out with your boyfriends, 2. They still remember your ex fondly. 3. OA is comfortable with you writing about it. 4. You had an ex! – this one because I had only one boyfriend who I ended up marrying, so I can’t even make him feel jealous. Boo hoo!

    • ROFL!
      1. My parents met and fell in love in college. And their theory is very simple – the more you oppose a match, the more adamant kids are to make a song and a dance and a big love story out of it. So shut up and let it run its course until boy and girl realise that they are unsuitable.
      2. My parents are better musicians and more interesting people than i am. They treat most people as people – not adults or kids. The ex and my dad would play guitar and sing together.
      3. The OA grins when people bring my ex up. I grin when people bring his exes up. It’s okay. We’re with each other today out of choice so there is nothing to suspect or fear. It’s not an arranged marriage or something where we don’t know the past. The OA is actually on backslapping terms with one ex and fairly cordial with the other who he hasn’t got to know. And very cool with all the men I know.
      4. Yes, and it’s a sad thing to have many exes no? So much love lost, so much heartbreak in your youth. When you’re young everything is a crisis.

      • I love your parents and their attitude. I hope I can emulate them one day! Its not sad to have many exes, i think it makes for a very informed choice. Being from conservative Madras and from an even conservative family, I thank God that I am made the right decision with the person I dated. We are college sweet hearts and everythign turned out well. But sometimes I always wonder what IF I had dated other men. The question (I hope) will never be answered.

        • Yes, i think that was one big advantage. with each relationship I was even clearer about what was important to me in a relationship. I love college sweetheart stories. Tells you so much about young love and trusting your gut. As you grow older you grow risk averse and won’t marry a man who isn’t well settled, or will look for someone within your community so that you don’t have to adjust too much. But the kind of love you find in your young years.. it’s so much more instinct and less calculated…

    • Ditto! I love your parents’ attitude. I’m not sure my parents would be comfortable with me doing something similar.

      I agree with you on the memories part – some might be sad, some might be happy, but they are what make you. If someone really loves you, they accept all of you, with the memories.

      • I don’t think my parents were comfortable to begin with, but they are very … flexible people. They never do something BECAUSE IT MUST BE DONE JUST SO. They think it over, and then they don’t give a damn about society, tradition or others. They do it because they think there is nothing wrong. In our case, the option to not getting to know your child’s boy/girlfriend, is living in denial as well as ignorance. So they picked knowledge and figured their way out around the relationship.

  15. I am still in touch with my Ex, our breakup caused a lot of heart ache for both of us, but it was not ugly. We are still good friends. We do email each other once or twice a month. My husband is fine with that.

    • That is great. Most end in an ugly way. All mine did. But I painfully picked up the pieces and joined them back later. How can you let someone walk away? They were great people to begin with. Even now if I meet an ex I have so much in common to chat about, to connect over. And I admire your husband. He sounds like the OA.

  16. I’d so love to be friends with my ex. But his wife doesn’t approve of it so it’s just a couple of phone calls in a whole YEAR and the occasional email. The idiot called her by my name over the first weekend they spent together. I’m going through this phase where I just CRAVE his company/friendship and it breaks my heart that it can’t happen.
    (The rest of my comment is here:

  17. Just loved the way you write..
    “The plate is safe there, as are the memories. In fact, they belong there. To that time, to the young parents wondering how to deal with their even younger daughter and her love life and to the love that he was… ”

    Not in touch with the ex.. well we were on and off a couple of times and when I did end it forever.. did not want to get in touch to avoid the on again mode and out of guilt too.. then few years later when I was at peace with myself and my decisions I wanted to get back in touch, but then he didnt respond.. Its just meant to memories..

    • That’s fine. Both sides have to be comfortable. And for a lot of us it is social conditioning that stops us from reaching out to what was good in that relationship.

  18. Hmm..let me see
    Boy friend 1 – We never really broke up…just drifted apart…so technically i’m still seeing him 😉 We tried to keep in touch but it just didn’t feel right.
    Boy Friend 2 – who? when? where? WHY? After two whole weeks of dating both of us realised what a bad idea it was and ended it pretty unceremoniously on the phone. Hence ended my brief experiment with dating younger men/models/guys I barely know.
    Boy Friend 3 – was not an official boy friend but more like a really really close friend who stepped in at a time when I really didn’t want a committed relationship. After we moved to different parts of the country, he sort of went psycho stalker on me for a bit and I cut off all communication. We met a few times after he’d gotten his act together but it was too painful for him, because in his version I was the “cold heartless she-dog” that broke his heart.
    Boy Friend 4 /5/6 – were all the same guy who I married after 2 years of dating interspersed with two very short (24 hr) break-ups.
    I guess what really makes a difference is friendship that comes before the romantic involvement…the only ex I even spare a thought for is the one that was a dear friend before we started “dating” and ruined it all. I don’t keep anything really except emails…but thats probably because I have a strong anti-hoarding gene and have conditioned myself not to become attached to inanimate objects. I admire and envy the friendship you have with your ex and don’t know many people who have it that way.

    • Arre but it didn’t come to my ex and me easy. Forgive me if I make it sound that way. He spent a lot of time hitting out at me and I would get mad but persevere.. or he’d wait a while and apologise. And we did that for years before we reached this easy friendship. Everyone doesnt get the chance and the time and space to do that, you know.

      • Just remembered somebody who was friends with her ex for a very long time, my mum. He was our, my brother’s and my, personal wish-granting genie every summer when we went to grandmum’s for the hols. And though mum lost touch with him after she moved one too many times, he keeps in touch with her mother and has on occasion helped her with particularly arduous chores. My first pair of grown up jeans were hand-me-downs from mum which she swiped off this boyfriend even before he could try them on 🙂

        • 🙂 that is the sweetest thing I have heard. That too from their generation. Most girls then just cut off point blank. Funny you should say, because my dad just spent a couple of days some months ago, tracking down a guy who was mad about ma. We finally found him in Delhi and I have suggested we should call him over for dinner the next time my folks are in town.

  19. I feel like we’ve discussed this before on your blog. I think you wrote about keepin in touch with the ex-s for a competition or something? N I think u may have even won the final prize. I donno for sure..all vague memories!

    Anywez..back to the topic.. Very well-written n border-lining scandalous…if one didn’t know you. Get what I mean?

    One ex..I initiated the break-up with teary eyes. i’m in touch with on n off. Not very often. Don’t stay updated about each other constantly..but yet we catch up mabbe once in 6 months or a year. I try meet him, when we both are down in india at the same time. His reaction to the news about my wedding was “He better treat u like a princess and be a better fit for you that I ever was” 🙂 Have this huge oversized jacket of his in my parent’s home. He gave it to me on a rough day of ours.

    The other ex…well we never started seeing each other officially and so we never broke up officially. You know the unspoken but expressed words that you talk about…that’s full of what we both were. Right from the start we knew we couldn’t marry each other, but we couldn’t keep away from each other either. We stopped doing what more-than-friends do, right around the time when I met my spouse. The relationship as such was too painful and too much fun at the same time. Yet in touch with the person. And we couldn’t be happier for each other. Our spouses know each other. Have emails, beads, cards, gifts…what not! Haven’t thrown away anything.

    • I think I did write about it. I’ve written about many of my exes, very often! Can’t remember. Honestly though, I don’t know about border line scandalous. I don’t see why it would be a scandal at all. As you can see, everyone has exes and friends and memories and keepsakes. If we would all just stop behaving like its a taboo thing there’d be a lot more friendships salvaged out of the mess it inevitably ends in.

  20. This post speaks volumes of the good sense and kindness of your parents!
    I grew up in a different day and age, when a break up meant THE END. I’m also not particularly sentimental about things, so keeping memorabilia doesn’t really appeal to me. But if a romantic relationship gone wrong can end in friendship, it speaks volumes for the people concerned!

    • My mum says the same. It’s a time thing I suppose. She cant understand how its okay for me to catch up with the ex for a cup of coffee and why the OA isnt getting mad. She also can’t understand how I urged the OA and a female friend of mine to drive down to Pondicheri for a weekend when I was pregnant at home. I tried to tell her that the OA had enough self control not to jump every body of bones he encountered. But she thought I was nuts.

      That apart, I can never be thankful enough for the open house we had. It made a huge difference to the way we looked at the opposite gender, were never in a relationship just for the thrill of hiding and never even today, have to lie.

  21. I doubt my husband would care but I am not in touch with anyone. Neither the serious “we may get married” ones, nor the “we know this is doomed” ones. Maybe because I did not pick good people? That’s what stands out for me. Not only did I not pick people that were not right for me, they today are not even the right friends for me. This is worrying. Couple I don’t even like as people, and some others I have completely outgrown. I am so different today than what I was in India. It’s like it was a different me and I’d be forcing myself to relate for the sake of the past. Sad, I must be missing something. I just don’t know what.

    • Achcha nobody is missing a gene or anything between you and Armana. I’m not really the Word of God. Maybe some of us just have happier memories or choose to remember only the best. I don’t know, can’t say. All I know is that even today I’m happy to see them, have plenty to chat about and would not be bitching about them ….

      • No babe, no shortage of good memories. The people who I picked is what I am emphasizing. Also I think where you are matters. So many shared experiences are with the places and people around you. I’m completely out of those shared spaces and connections so I’m only left with the exes, with no context. Make sense?

  22. Lovely post. Seeing the plate stirred a lot of memories.
    As for a reply….
    Of the one ex who really, really impacted my life here is what i did when he became an ex:
    methodically tore out the page with the handwritten inscription in every single book, and there were a lot of books.
    And then there were the letters…even after we were no longer together. When they finally stopped arriving i had a bonfire.
    i do have one keepsake – a christmas present. being silver it was a lot harder to burn or tear so let it be. but even when i look at it never reminds me of times past. It just is.
    Let us not even bother mentioning the others.
    I suppose i am missing a gene somewhere.
    It’s been too long since i saw you. Come to my side of town and i’ll hug you.
    p.s. can’t for the life of me imagine why you bothered with pastels. you look so much better in bright, bold colours. thank god you realised that too.:)

    • I will. I’ve been coming into town but its mostly on a Wed-Thur when I know you are madly busy at work. So I am going to plan a date with you and maybe have lunch with you on a day when you can afford to go into work a little late.

  23. My experience is so similar to the previous comment that it seems superfluous to write it all over again. The most recent ex and I do talk, but it’s still rather painful. For both of us, I’d imagine. I’ve kept most of the letters and knick-knacks, though. Throwing them away won’t erase any of the memories, either good or bad. Those years have had a big part in shaping the person I am and it seems foolish to gloss them over.

    • Time heals they say. And if you keep at it, you will reach a day when you can deal with it. IT might be even 10 or 15 years later but if the person is important then I’d keep them on in my life if I could.

  24. I go thorough your blog everyday and very guilty of not posting any comment.
    I couldnt resist this time! You have captured the feelings of the times that are long gone so perfectly .
    I can’t imagine not being in touch with my ex-es..Both of them were my best friends to begin with, so, I couldn’t really stop talking to them.. Over the years, the frequency with which I talk to one has reduced a lot, living halfway across the world only makes it harder. With the other one, we still talk often enough to know what is happening in the other’s lives. But the memories are there tucked away and treasured, and like you said, tread very carefully..

  25. How did I miss such a sweet song .hearing it for the first time.You should do a post on these lovely old songs from your collection 🙂

  26. Totally off tangent – it will make you happy to know that my paternal grandparents i.e dada and dadi were alumni of St Stephens (1920’s). and they met in college and fell in love on the very same campus. I love love stories…I got married to the first guy I fell for but hubster has so many ex’s. I have absolutely no hassles but he has chosen not to keep in touch with them…silly man. Nice post- as usual….

  27. a ring. a cd. and a photograph of his in my closet at my parents’ home. no, we’re not in touch. we tried. we’re not anymore. my decision. and great song btw.

  28. I would have liked to be friends with the ex because I know he’s a really good person. But he’s closed, uncommunicative and secretive. I guess he always was, because i remember feeling like I was always a spectator in his life. There was nothing bad that happened, just, I never liked feeling like I was in a relationship with someone who treated me me with polite indifference. Oh well . Water. Bridge etc etc.

    On a much more cheerful note, what a beautiful song. Makes me want to dive into your music collection and spend hours discovering old forgotten gems.

  29. how well you right! touching the hearts with so classy words, not tearing them up but let us going thru emotions in a dignified way.Classic literature.

    and about ex – I wish i could have a pleasant frndship. But I am not forgiven yet. I walked away one day leaving behind myself. When i collected the courage to go back it was too late and I was banished. Still I wait for that day when things will be once more pleasant. Hope… without which how can we live.

    I am living with my OA 🙂 happily … but memories not even for a second leave me. I am happy it all happened.

    Thanks for doing such a post. It hepls to heal a lot and to know that its not mad/ or bad to have pleasant memories of ex.!

  30. LOVED this post.

    I am a very senti person, and I have preserved each and every little thing from my relationship with the better half. Recently, I was touched to see the little knick-knacks from our relationship that he has preserved in a little box in his cupboard, including the worn-out yellow mangalsutra thread that he tied around my neck on our wedding day. He hadn’t told me about it earlier, and I found the box by mistake. He had a goofy grin on his face by the time he finished showing me all the knick-knacks. He has also kept some beautiful memories of his dad (who is no more) and his granny. I fell more in love with him after that.

    I SHOULD do a post on this. 🙂 I’d love to.

  31. What can i say I am jelous of your parents…so cool.
    Both the guys i knew took the relationship upto marriage within a few weeks of me even getting friendly. When i turned down both turned evil…calling me at unearthly hours, begging to reconcile, crying, threatning to die. Needless to say disturbing my/my family’s peace.

    i broke all contact after that. Not worth it.

      • Well, both extremely pushy & Possessive. Never gave me the breathing space. One used to work with me constanly walking up and down the aisle to check the men/guys i interacted with. That was too much. Yes i did find my peace. I had to travel half way across the world to realize that the man i wanted to marry used to sit right next to me 🙂

  32. great timing on this post! i recently reconnected with the ex (feels strange calling him that) after 6 long years of no contact. I felt amazing and alive once again and then it got painful, after all I’m married to someone else. as you say, maybe one day I’ll have the strength to deal with it. there is a reason it ended, right? sorry for a long, confused comment 🙂

  33. I totallly love the kind of marriage you have *anti-jinx*. Can’t think of too many men who’d be OK with their wife talking fondly about an ex. Hell, some even make cruel jokes about exes and the poor wife is left squirming. I am Facebook friends with my exes (whatever that means!) and while I can’t imagine being buddies with them anytime soon, I don’t see why we still can’t be in each other’s lives.

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