Is that a weapon? Is that a machine?
When anything in the house gets misplaced, the first place we check is in my handbag. It is irritating – as if my handbag has a Potter wand and says ‘accio’. Also, it implies that I might be responsible for the ‘misplacement’, and as if for some reason, I keep shoving everything into my purse. I mean it has become some kind of a standard reflex answer.
‘I can’t find the nail cutter.’
‘Check in your handbag.’
‘I can’t find the glue stick.’
‘Check in your handbag.’
‘I can’t find the TV remote.’
‘It should be on the dining table. Else, check in your handbag.’
I mean really. There is a limit for accusing me of this behavioural disorder. But I can’t blame The Husband entirely. I’m known to maintain fully loaded handbags; in complete readiness and anticipation of any unforeseen event – good or bad.
I know that things were simple decades and decades ago. The ‘handbag’ was a small 2 inch by 2 inch purse in which some loose change could be wedged between notes rolled up like cigarettes. The purse would then be shoved into the blouse near the shoulder. The handkerchief and house keys would be tucked into the saree at the navel. Thus equipped, with hands free to drag children, women would set out. But for the women who went to ‘office’, and also when occasion demanded (such as weddings), the vanity bag would come out (we all called it vanenty bag). My mom had a sleek, stiff one made of regzine. It had a small inner zip for keeping money. The rest of the space was just enough to keep a neatly folded handkerchief, one thin booklet of Vishnusahasranama and the house keys.
By the time I had to buy a handbag, my needs were different. I had to carry a lot more stuff to get through the day. For one, I used to travel by BTS buses extensively, and exclusively. Living in the outskirts meant that using autos were simply out of question. Travelling in a BTS bus comes with its own challenges. In the morning rush hour, your nose will probably be wedged inside someone’s ears – that’s the average distance between two people in a bus. Such being the situation, you cannot afford to have complicated handbags with too many zips and buttons. You should be able to retrieve the change swiftly and securely to pay for the ticket. At the same time the length of the handbag should be right. If it’s too short, you will not be able to retrieve the change without elbowing someone’s jaw. If it’s too long, it will gauge a seated person’s eyeball.
So you see these practical observations were the basis of my handbag selection. Then of course came the contents. Now, if I were the type with long hair which could be neatly plaited, I would be so happy. But I have short hair. And not the silky sleek type. It is unruly, and any hint of humidity, I look like Bob Marley. Therefore I have to carry a comb at all times. And in the bus, people have used my head as a prop to move ahead towards the door (as I have done to others, it’s a perfectly fair practice); so when I used to get out of the bus at my stop, my hair would look like John Rambo’s. Soon I realized it is impossible to achieve a professional look with just a comb. On some really bad days, I needed hair clips and bands. So those went into the handbag too, just in case.
Now, the bus journey, as you would have guessed, is really a test of physical strength. I learnt different types of war cry, growls, snarls, the art of elbow movement, the art of any movement in a limited space – all in the BTS bus. Quite naturally, once one steps out after such a physical endeavour, one needs to ‘freshen up’. Hence came the additional items to the handbag. The ‘facewash’. The dry tissues. The wet tissues (just in case I did not have time to wash my face). And a little tube of some cream, because the face becomes dry after using soap. And the cream makes the face a bit oily, so a small box of compact powder. And, okay, the eyeliner, which is supposed to be waterproof, but whatever...just in case I have to reapply after washing my face.
Now you’d think that was the end of it. But no. The contents of the handbag grew with every passing year. The handbags would be sleek when I bought them, but in six months, they would bulge like Santa’s sack. When I started carrying my laptop, I thought I could shift the load to the laptop bag, and have a stylish handbag. The result was that both my laptop bag and handbag became like sniper kits.
Once out of frustration, I emptied the hand bag. I was determined to throw out things which I did not need. Like for example, I probably don’t need 10 packs of hair clips. Maybe two will suffice. Okay, five. And do I really need that pack of 50 hair bands in different colours? I look like a dork when I tie my hair. Okay, maybe I will keep five of them for emergencies. Anyway I have that ‘crocodile’ clip too. But I clip that to the strap anyway. Then there is the 600 pg paperback which gives the handbag the shape of a double-door fridge. But I can’t keep it out now; I’m halfway through. Then, there are the usual cosmetics. Let’s see, let’s see. I need the face wash, absolutely. The compact powder, yes. The sunscreen with the moisturiser, yes. Then the bottle with the ‘after sun exposure’ cream – yes, yes. There is the lipstick for the odd dinner-with-friends-directly-after-office. There is the deodorant as large as a fire extinguisher – yes, yes, yes. But there is also the small bottle of perfume, just in case – very much necessary. There is a ‘regular comb’, and the ‘roller comb’ – absolutely vital for survival. Well stocked with wet and dry facial tissues – critical requirement. Eyeliner, eye pencils, lipliners – not very necessary, but they don’t take up too much space. And then, the stationery. One pack of passport size photos – just in case some bank comes up with a cheap loan scheme, I could apply immediately. And that also meant carrying pens, staplers, stapler pins, glue-sticks, paper clips. And then, the medicine chest. One strip of Saridon for all those painful meetings where I used to have near-death hallucinations. Eldopar for loose motions, considering the canteen food. Don’t laugh. Luckily, I’ve never had any problems, but I’ve saved lives with Eldopar. Band-aids because of my tendency to slip, trip and fall. Neosporin ointment in case I scrape skin during such a fall. Dettol soaked cottonwool to disinfect such injuries. Miscellaneous items - Mint, chocolates, safety pins, mobile phone, a small pocket notebook, keys, key chains, receipts which I have preserved and I don’t remember why, and I don’t intending throwing them out till I figure out why they were important. Then, the ‘money purse’ a bulging (what else) clutch which had the credit cards and money. Laminated photos of Sri Ramanujar...just in case I confront mortal danger and I needed to pray. Visiting cards of people I don’t know. My own visiting cards with outdated designations and phone numbers. Another pouch with my prescription specs. Another one with the sunshades.
I sighed as I surveyed the contents. I was carrying the bare essential items in the handbag. I knew what the problem was. I had to buy a bigger one.
I tried living with a small handbag. My life spun out of control. Last year, just before travelling to India, I decided I needed something substantial. The Husband remarked my current handbag looks like a ship. Who cares? It’s loaded and I’m ready to go – be it to India or Andromeda.
Nevertheless, I believe my need to load the handbag has turned into paranoia. I once found a tomato in the handbag, and I don’t know how or why it got there. Maybe I need professional help. But this much I know – in the next James Bond movie, the bad man hides the nuke bomb in my handbag, and it will be Bond's first unsuccessful case.
© Sumana Khan - 2011