As told by Mrinalini Sebastian to Eeshita Kapadiya

What role do women play as collectors in communities? What do they preserve and who do they pass these collections to?

Mrinalini brings a unique perspective to these questions. She talks about three women in particular, her mother, her cousin, and herself as collectors of tangible objects and intangible memories.

My Mother: Wilhelmina

I haven't really given much thought to what I inherited from women from the previous generation, and what I intend to do with that. In terms of my mother's generation, there hasn't been much interest in bequeathing objects to the next generation. I don't know why there is very little interest in that, but it could be because of the more recent history of Protestant Christianity in India. Everything is new in that sense.

My mother always says that her grandfather left behind all his property when he became a Christian. Now, that may be the reason for my mother not having inherited things from the previous generations, but I think as an individual, my mother doesn't hold onto material objects. That could be another reason why she doesn't consciously attach sentimental value to things that belonged to the previous generation.

When my parents constructed their house, they needed a substantial amount of money for an unanticipated expense. To meet that expense, my mother decided to sell all her jewelry. It was a choice that she had made, but after that she has never shown any interest in owning or wearing jewelry. She almost has this rather frugal Christian notion that you should not be displaying your wealth. However, she made sure that whatever she didn't have, her daughters or even granddaughter had.

(Left: Wilhelmina Ammana reading the paper in her home in Puttur, Karnataka.)

I've heard her say that when she got married, she just had a chain and two bangles. But she always felt that for her daughters there should be a little more than that. So, she has tried to create a kind of lineage. It's very interesting that my mother does it with jewelry, because she doesn't desire anything for herself and yet she still seems to want to give something to her daughters as a form of inheritance. I think it reveals that she is a complex human being.

Even though she never inherited anything from her own parents, interestingly, what she has held on to are tangible objects that have some kind of association with my father. I saw that she still has the suit that he wore at their wedding in a cupboard. She has a wall decoration that was given to him when he retired from service.

She is not that keen on the usual forms of memorializations like preserving or at least visiting his grave site; instead, she seems to be holding on more to these objects that remind her of him and of the significant moments in their life together. I have inherited my father's gold medal, awarded to him when he ranked first in his Bachelors of Library Science at the Karnataka University, Dharwar. It is obviously not real gold, but I have preserved it as an object that reminds me of my father and of his learning.

(Right: Mrinalini’s father’s gold medal.)

“My mother always wore cotton sarees at home, and every evening when she came back from work, she would have a bath and wear a freshly starched cotton saree.

I have fond memories associated with that. I have kept one or two of those cotton sarees, both to remember the time she was here and to just remember her.”