Outdated dates: Why we tend to hang on to all sorts of things till they become useless

Having sprained my foot walking, I found a tube of anti-inflammatory cream in the recesses of a medicine container in which we keep first-aid items.

I applied the cream, as directed for a couple of days, but when the painful swelling refused to subside, I took a look at the medication’s expiry date and discovered that it had passed a good three years ago. The incident got me thinking about how we tend to hang on to all sorts of things which have long ceased to be of any real use or value.

Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of most Indian households there’s a raddiwala’s treasure trove of old newspapers, empty bottles, discarded lengths of rope and wire. We keep all these things buried away in the corners of our homes, and our minds, perhaps in the unstated hope that in some unspecified future they may serve some unguessed purpose or the other. 

Some of this reluctance to part with odds and ends of no practical application, be they out-of-date medication or anything else, arises out of the country’s chronic economy of shortages of all kinds. Over the years, experience has taught us that we can never be quite sure when something – a preferred brand of toothpaste, a particular label of jeans – will go out of stock, or in shopkeepers’ parlance, ‘Backside se supply bandh ho gaya.’ 

Because of this fear of shortages lurking in our subconsciousness we become loth to get rid of all manner of things even when they are well past their expiry dates. Our instilled response not to discard things which no longer have any utility goes beyond tangible objects.

A case in point are political promises of all kinds, made by netas of all persuasion, and which are way past their best-by date, like the ‘Garibi hatao’ mantra first voiced by Indira Gandhi, and subsequently paraphrased by successive regimes. Decades after its expiry date, that slogan itself has yet to expire, as has garibi itself.

Which goes to show that what we cling on to most tenaciously, past all expiry dates, is that intangible and imperishable commodity called hope.



This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.



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