On Making Lists

lists, writing

I have always been fond of making lists. As a writer, they’re quite easy to come up with. A list of things in my kitchen, a list of emotions I feel, a list of words strung together to make a sentence, a paragraph, an essay. In my work life, lists are a regular and valuable part of work. This list tells me the sequence I have to go through to review files. That list tells me all the schools in my territory. The other list tells me how much I have to get done before I can go home for the day.

You might, reader, begin to realize, that this entry is quickly becoming a list of lists.

But there is a palpable level of joy in lists! Crossing things off, completing lists, moving to the next item – it gives you a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Chores get done, list by list, and voila – the house is cleaner. Items on the grocery list go into the cart, and then you have food for a week. Places you go to on a trip or vacation are visited, photographed, catalogued and ultimately, the list of places you wanted to go becomes a bright, cheerful list that reminds you of the fun you’ve had.

The great thing, too, about lists, is that you can use them anywhere, for almost anything. A list of things you’ll need to pack for an overnight trip, or a weekend, or a month-long journey. A list of books that you’ve read, compared to a list of books you want to read. A list of ideas for projects, stories, memos – brainstorming often takes the form of a list, jumbled though it can be. Lists are flexible, breathing things that you can add to, delete from, modify, edit, complete or just let sit in the corner, gathering dust.

People often ascribe list-making to obsessive types, people we refer to affectionately as ‘type A.’ Sometimes, we begrudge these people for having their lists. A list tends to give the impression of a well-organized person, someone who represents authority, autonomy. Lists do not always lend themselves well to aesthetics, to beauty, to artistic sensibilities. In fact, lists are usually lumped in with drudgery, spreadsheets, forms, taxes, duties of regular life that we’d just as soon avoid.

What I find most incredible for devotional life, though, are how applicable lists are to it. Listing the different names of Krishna: Shyam, Murali, Mohan, Gopal and on. Discovering the countless mandirs, dhams and ashrams around India, devoted to forms of God that seemingly list without end: Shiva, Durga, Ganesh, Ram, Lakshmi, Hanuman, and beyond. In poojas and havans, the items the priest surrounds himself with to cast into the fire can seem like a hefty list: puffed rice, ghee, saffron, all piled around the altar, the fire, the pictures and idols of gods and goddesses. We find lists in our scriptures, in our languages, our dances and our chantings. Being a Hindu, it seems, is to belong to an order of a great many lists.

For myself and my own devotion, though, I prefer the simpler lists. The different clothes Shree Krishna wears, the jewelry adorning the Radha. The different sounds the Yamuna makes as it rubs against the bank, the many cows that follow the cowherd’s home. The many gwalbals that play with Krishna, and the gopis who scold him lovingly. I like to list the ways in which I love Krishna, finding them and filling them up like makkhan in a pot.

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