Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bag it!

When I was in fourth grade, my grandparents visited Shirdi, the temple town of SaiBaba, which wasn't as popular then as it is now. (Their prayer room used to have a life size framed art of the spiritual guru in a mystical, monochromatic look.) When they came back, they bought me and my cousins little gifts. My brother got a wooden bullock cart toy and my little sister got wooden utensils for her kitchen role play and my older sister and I got Bags - brightly striped ones, made with canvas like cotton material in red and yellow! It was then that the 'seed' of my fascination for bags came into being. In that bag, I used to carry my books to school. Often times I used to wonder how the stripes were quilted together, also introducing me to the awe of color and pattern. I did, ever since, continue my very committed fling with bags. During my school days, when I used to visit my grandparents in their town, I used to sit in the front porch of their busy street looking longingly at cotton handbags that hung in the windows of the hand loom store that was bang opposite my grandparents' house. "Haryana Handlooms" the hoarding read. Knowing the place from my geography lessons the shop sold me dreams of owing a colorful, thick and luscious bag made of the softest natural fibers in a distant land up north that had fancy salwar suits and light skinned ladies with long, healthy braids. As I grew older, into a teenager and moved out of town to attend high school, my mom bought me an oversized purse like book bag in  a stiff PVC material. I loved it then, only to realize a back pack would have been more age appropriate. I still love it though! :) Then the annual visit to the industrial exhibition in Hyderabad used to up my hopes for acquiring handbags in the same enthusiasm as an art connoisseur would acquire antiques. I remember falling flat for a fur (hopefully faux) bag in one of those stalls and bargaining for it till I crossed the sensitive limits of bargaining and got told off by the shop keeper. I remember muttering an apology and flashing the meager contents of my purse in an attempt to tell him that my bargaining skills weren't meant to disgrace his business acumen. It was not until I landed my prized job before I turned eighteen that I could fund my pretty petty love for bags - even then, sparingly. Mid nineties weren't today definitely, where a hundred rupee not still carried a lot of value. Having a steady income as a central government employee did do wonders to my confidence and love for bags and thus, bags were acquired in periodic intervals. I remember buying a beautifully embroidered velvet bag with resin trim that created a little tempest in the ticket booking office of the railway station in that little town - Lady colleagues swooning over the design, men colleagues inquiring about the shop I bought it at. I did end up giving it away to a cousin that fell for it. I seemed to like off beat bags, shapeless sacks, often over sized ones that overpowered my then lanky frame. I was told by numerous young men that my bags attempt at making me look a) old, b) odd, c) fashion challenged d) all of the above! But I guess I'd been the off beat minimalist all my life that liked organic looking stuff. I used to craft envelope like bags out of burlap, sew formless sacks out of soft cotton fabric (thanks to the sewing skills I picked up in my mom's craft school) and then tote them around like a model with attitude on a sizzling ramp - except that my choice of bags made people notice me for the wrong reasons. Like any other young and available woman might do, I did attract my share of prospective suitors that used to make calls on my office phone to try their luck at putting me down by making funny remarks about my then dull, jaded and distressed looking bag made of the muddiest possible earth toned suede patches. I took tremendous pride in that bag. It carried my sketch pad, a magazine, a book and other paraphernalia, mostly chewing gum, lip balm and a little coin purse. It was supposed to be a cross body bag. Since I didn't really like wearing it like a messenger bag, I remember making a knot at the top of the handle to shorten it's length. I think, that alteration didn't really help with the general look of it anyway ;-)

In the meanwhile, I did yearn and long for a genuine leather hand bag. Once during my visit to the city, I went around the bustling busy streets looking for a genuine leather handbag. On that fateful trip, I learnt all I could about PVC, the vinyl that was sold in most places as genuine leather. I learned how it smelled, like artificial something as opposed to the rich, intense smell of leather (Did anyone check out the new Fendi fragrance? wasn't it supposed to have a leather note? - don't quote me on that though :-P) And finally, when I found the perfect shade of the perfect leather bag in a perfect little store, I walked out sans the bag as it was only four times the price of what I intended or afforded to spend on it. Not until my hubby bought me my first little flap bag by Nine west did I own something in leather. 

My migrating to the USA put a whole new life into my handbag fetish - thankfully, I never really looked
 at an LV or even a  Hermes Berkin, ( except the beautiful black one carried by Hina rabbari Khar, Pakistan's looker of a minister) as something drool worthy. I have some branded bags, mostly the ones I'd strategically purchased during sales and in outlets but as I grow older, I realize that a brand is just a hype around a name. I would still get attracted to the burlap sacs that bring in my rice from the grocery store. Once in a while, I save the bags in a hope to transform them into a handbag  adorned with some abstract cross stitching in bright yarn. I pick up the bargain deals in handmade bags embellished with mirrors and shells on the busy streets of Mumbai and wear them proudly on my trips to the mall, grocery store and the school pick up and drop off. A bag has come to mean a lot to me - a lot of symbolism, like the baggage I choose to carry. It makes me feel prepared to face the world, to feel self equipped. It symbolizes to me the very different take I have on accessories in particular and fashion sense in general. I might one day, very soon, renounce leather - one of my favorite materials along with silk only as a vegetarian that doesn't want to kill life for vanity. I might do it one day, I might not! But my burlap fascination will last me a long time to come. I know, I know - it might not make a particularly great statement about my style - but it does, hopefully make a unique one.  

Monday, January 16, 2012


Here's a little piece of a characterization that dawned upon me in one of those Eureka moments;-) This is going to be an utterly cr@PPy first draft - so please bare with any mistakes:)


     She looks through the window of the passing train that comes to a gradual halt on the platform. The tinted windows of the compartment lends its jaded color to the scene outside. Licensed porters running and boarding the train, chai wallahs, newspaper vendors - the whole world seems to be concise into that narrow and long strip of concrete. She gets up absentmindedly, lifting her handbag and small suitcase. Her young face shows signs of fatigue from the long journey. A beautifully dull red dress drapes her like a silk valance on a sunny window. She grabs her book by one hand. "Anna Karenina" the title reads. One could say she is a forlorn soul from the inside though her bright face with acne scars that replace a blusher begs to differ. Her intense gaze looks like it is protected by a pair of thick, pronounced eye brows. Her hair is pulled back into a neat braid without even a wisp falling on to her face. She is effortlessly pretty - perhaps beautiful!
      She carefully places a foot on the platform, walking briskly and disappearing into the crowd. The place doesn't seem to have changed in the past couple of years. She was eighteen when she left this place, now she is all grown up pushing on 21. She walks out of the station, looking past a sea of faces - she doesn't seem to notice any of those. An auto wallah comes to offer his services. She gets into the auto and gives him some precise directions. The auto lumbers forward with a few jerks and merges into the bedlam of the cosmopolitan traffic that seems to embrace two wheelers, expensive auto mobiles and generously sprinkled pedestrians with dirty, noisy and open arms. A constant and loud sounding of random horns from random vehicles interrupt her thoughts. She looks out peacefully, and stuffs the book into her over sized quilted cotton handbag. 

        Her face freezes when she sees him driving past her on a scooter.
"Had he seen me?" She ponders in her mind. He didn't seem to have changed much - the same hair style, cleanly shaven face and a under-confident look that is plastered onto his face like a permanent fixture. "Kalidas" his name flashes in her mind. She resists the urge to bend forward and look back not wanting to call for his attention. It seems pointless now. A young man of 20 may be he was? Layers of the past unfold in her heart. The same under confident, diffident lad that used to borderline stalk her. Walk behind her till she reached her class room. It took some time for her constantly pre-occupied mind to actually acknowledge the face that followed her like a shadow day in and day out. May be it helped that he used to study in the same campus - May be he just came to see her instead of doing what ever he was supposed to do. The fact that irked her more than his stalking was his tagging along with a friend while he was on his "silent admirer form a distance" stalking period. Besides she knew that the outward appearance of hers is only half as alluring as her mind. She took great pride in her thoughts, her views on life. She thrived more in the fact that her eighteen year old mind fathomed deep, thoughtful ponders. She would thus, generally disapprove any attraction that seemingly came from the way she looked. She wanted a man to talk to her, to be charmed by her gentle ways - her simplicity of thought and no nonsense approach towards everything.

      One day while she walked to the college, he stalked her the usual way with the usual clean shaven, under confident look on his face. She fought her urge to look back when she heard brisk steps past her shoulder. She increased her already march-past like gait. He jumped right in front of her holding a letter in his hands. her intense gaze pierced through his scared face - her eyebrows knotting in disapproval. She resisted the urge to open her mouth and reprimand him. But then he didn't budge. Against her own will she had to open her mouth and manage to say something clear and loud - she tries to recollect what she said to him and then lets it go. But he - the already, hopelessly infatuated lad had a new fond attraction towards her. Her voice - that sounded like a soothing waterfall - he perhaps had a glimpse into what she would have wanted him to fall for - her personality, her character and strength. She walked past him and hurried into a run to safely escape to the comfort of her classroom. She didn't look back to see the clean shaved, under confident face colored with an awe like never before. "You kill me" He exclaims under his breath and goes his way only to come back yet again with renewed love for the maiden!

     "Kalidas" - his name resonates in her mind that is  reminiscent of the past...."Wait a minute" Her mind questions her - "What's his real name?" "What is the name of the most sincerest, albeit irking admirer you had?" She lets out a little gasp..she had not known his name at all! "Kalidas" he was christened by her because he sends a book with the friend that he used to tag along to one of her friends. A book that was filled with juvenile, broken sentences in random languages that professed his sincere, undying love for her. She skims through it, letting out a little chuckle, a muffled laughter but not one bit of what he aims to get out of her - LOVE - she couldn't buy into any of those sentiments.

      The day she had to go talk to him, she had to ask another friend to come along - she didn't choose to talk to him - his friend came and begged her to come and say what she wanted to say directly to him. His anticipating eyes, slightly misty, were fixed on her gorgeous face - her full lips mouthed some seemingly distant and cold words "Leave me alone" "Why do you stalk me?" And then, an urge - a folding of hands before him to let her be in peace. She turned back without letting him react - suppressing a want to look back and watch for his reactions. She never saw him again - up until now. "What could his name be?" she wondered - What did his face tell his name was? Then she considered her own name - "Shanti" - she thought it was ironical of her uncle to have chosen that name for her -the restless soul that jumped from a ponder to another.  Her thoughts reflect back on her reactions to Kalidas - did she ridicule him since he was all over her? How else could she have dealt with a love that she could never return? More nicely? More softly? She couldn't find an answer to her questions.

     May be it shall take her some loving and some heart break to address some silly queries her mind pops up once in a while.