We are the custodians

Amal Chatterjee
7 min readJun 4, 2018


Synopsis: We accumulate things all our lives and do not know what to do with them when we die yet we are reluctant to part with the material things due to sentimental reasons. We must realize that we really do not own anything in life and are only custodians for the next generation.

Source : Google photo

I loved the very clever advertisement of the Blancpain watches. It said that you never really own a Blancpain but are its custodian for the generations to come. How true!

It got me to thinking seriously what it all meant and how it applies to all we claim to own or dream of owning someday. Some people collect cars while others collect 1500 pairs of shoes. Some brag about their latest 60 inch OLED curved TV and several houses while others show off their collection of watches that may include Blancpain. Some fill their house with trinkets and toys while others claim that they have the largest collection of Beetles or Elvis paraphernalia.

Rarely I come to read about someone collecting a million books for his massive library although I am sure there are people who have spent their fortunes on such a collection that can be passed on to the next generation.

I know that some people line up their book shelves with leather bound volumes of Louis Lamour or Law books that they never really get to read but they look good on shelves to impress people. Do people collect things really to impress others or do they do it for self-satisfaction? May be it is a bit of both.

One woman said that her grandfather collected cars in large numbers that are rusting under the sky and covered with weeds and bat shit so people were very surprised when they found out that all the cars rusting away were classic cars that were new when bought and had never run. The keys were still in the ignition but the field rats and other animals had nested under the plush leather seats making Swiss cheese out of it and the white wall tires were all flat.

The granddaughter thought that they were all junks and should have been sold for scraps but was very surprised when the news spread and people showed up to buy these cars that were rare collector’s items and paid huge amount of money for them. In Many countries, such cars are restored to their original glory and driven with great pride. Imagine what price the original Mercedes Benz of Hitler would fetch today?

One fellow half buried many brand new Cadillacs in sand somewhere in the United States that people stop to look at and wonder if the fellow was a madman. Perhaps he was or had no next of kin to give the cars to or he was plain dumb and did not know what to do with his money. So people do all sorts of crazy things with their accumulated things when they know that they are about to croak.

The habit of accumulating all sorts of things is a very ancient practice. The Egyptian Pharaohs made sure that they had a fancy tomb decorated with the history of their achievements written on the walls and their body was preserved for eternity and kept in massive stone sarcophagi. The living relatives and the court people then filled the burial chamber with priceless artifacts of gold, silver, copper, ivory, alabaster, ebony etc. The tomb of Tutan Khamen contained so much treasure that it took many months to properly catalog them all and are now exhibited in museums. But the Pharaohs did not mean it to be found because it was meant for their afterlife but the thieves got to them first and looted many such tombs.

A Chinese King buried thousands of terracotta soldiers, horses and chariots to protect him in his afterlife but it was accidentally found and is now open to public to look at. His tomb has never been opened so no one knows what treasures are buried there.

They were very rich people who did whatever they wanted but we the ordinary people who are not rich also have this penchant for accumulation of all manner of things that may or may not have any value. There are very sick people who accumulate garbage in their house that stinks up their place but can’t get rid of them.

Source : Google photo of what some people accumulate

I wrote a blog called What is minimalism in which I extolled the virtue of minimalism practiced by the Japanese. They find beauty in clean and very spartan rooms with minimum decorations and furniture. It was also practiced by the Shakers in the United States and the Amish people also believe in their basic simplicity because they do not think that collecting all sorts of junks is what improves the quality of their life.

We do not take anything with us when we croak although the Pharaohs believed otherwise. Had they known about the thieves, they perhaps would have changed their mind.

There was a time in Europe when the common people did not believe in banks and buried their coins in secret places that have remained hidden centuries later although once in a rare while someone with a metal detector finds a jackpot of such treasure trove in the fields. Some were so paranoid that their wealth will be taken away from them if the King knew who by the way was always short of money that they buried and died without telling anyone about it.

Some became senile and forgot where they kept their money. There was an old widow in Benares who hid her money in her mattresses, behind the photo frames and many such places and forgot about them but her servant was a very resourceful person who could smell money from a mile so eventually he benefited from the forgotten hidden wealth of the old woman.

I know some animals are just like that old woman who bury the bones or acorns in the forest and promptly forget about them so hiding or burying precious things is after all an animal instinct in some people who become very paranoid because they are afraid to lose what they have and do not want to share it with anyone. They are also blessed with poor memory so if you manage to get job as a servant in their house, you may hit the jackpot someday.

This matter of accumulating junks all our lives is a subject that made me do some serious thinking so one day I decided to give away all my slides on rice insect pests, their control and many scientific books, theses and even my slide projector to an agricultural university where the students may benefit from it. It was just sitting here and collecting dust so at least I was able to give it away to those who may use them.

The contagion of giving things away took hold of my lovely wife who started giving away tons of books to school libraries and even to the kids in the neighborhood so now we do not have to breathe the dust while dusting them.

There is a story I must mention here.

There was a king called Harsha Vardhana who lived in the 6th or 7th century in India. He made Kannauj his capital in the present state of Uttar Pradesh and he was known as the most generous king who gave away all his treasure during the Maha Kumbha Mela in Allahabad that is still held there every 12th year since antiquity.

The King came to Allahabad with all his treasure and gave it away to the poor pilgrims but people still came so he gave away his ornaments one by one and lastly he gave away his clothes and he stood naked so his queen put a shawl around him and they went home happily. The miracle was that in 12 years he was back again with more treasures to give away.

Now you do not have to be a king to give away what you have. You can give away the material things you have accumulated so that others may make use of them but you can also give your time, your knowledge, your care and concern to those who need it most. It is more valuable than the material things.

I revere teachers who dedicate their lives to teaching and make you more knowledgeable.

I revere saintly people who teach you meditation so that you achieve inner peace.

I respect people who give you a part time job so that you can earn your tuition to pay for your education.

I respect my parents for teaching me the value of honesty and discipline that has served me so well all my life.

I respect the artist who teaches you how to paint or dance or sing or play violin.

Such gifts money cannot buy but are more appreciated. Behind every gift stands a generous person who has a big heart and is compassionate.

If you feel that you have made a few people happy with your gift that has in some way made them better persons then your gift has served its purpose. We after all is said and done do not own anything, not even a Blancpain.

We are just the custodians for the next generation.

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