PEER PRESSURE OF THE HANDBAG KIND

This article was first published in Womens Web.

Let us start with the basics: what is a handbag for? For me, a handbag has always been a practical carrier of my ‘stuff’.

Much as I pride myself on being a multi-tasker as I am expected to be, being a female, I cannot possibly carry multiple assorted items in my invisible multiple hands. That is where a handbag comes in, the one accessory I must carry at all times for possessions that need to be protected, objects of value like my money purse, for bits and pieces that I need through the day, for girlie gear that needs to be under wraps, for kiddie paraphernalia that needs to be lugged around and so on.

As long as a bag has plenty of pockets, inside out, a good quality zip and a sturdy strap, I am sold. That it is attractive, is a bonus, of course.

Thinking along these very logical lines, I have outlived several handbags in my lifetime. I mean, a handbag is an object after all and has a shelf life. Some bags survived longer than others, some were prettier than others. One fell victim to a pickpocket, a few yielded to zip malfunction, others managed to endure several years but eventually succumbed to wear and tear. Some refusing to wither away, were forced into retirement and now lie in the back of my closet.

Then of course, there were the impulsive buys; the ones where practicality took a back seat and I allowed the current trends to sway me into buying the latest offering in handbag fashion. Again, some of these fashionable bags lasted a few days as straps snapped, zips jammed and clasps loosened.

For some inexplicable reason some lasted months if not years. A lot depended on how I used them. If I used them lovingly, only pulling them out for special occasions, they lasted longer. If I used them everyday, lugged them along to work, stuffed groceries, toys, food into them, and plonked them about roughly they did not last long. But then again I had some handbags which defied logic. They could be the most inexpensively priced ones I bought off street stalls, the ones I practically lived in, the ones I never cared much for and yet they carried on and persisted, threatening to outlive me!

That is how it has always been over the years. When a handbag gets worn out or I have used it for too long and I’m tired of it, I go out to buy a new one. That’s it. The overriding thought is that it has to satisfy the criteria of being functionally efficient and it goes without saying that it must be reasonably priced.

Then a few years ago, a strange thing happened to me. I began to feel peer pressure of the handbag kind. Yes, something was happening around me and it was beginning to affect me. It wasn’t just pressure – it was temptation and an inexplicable mysterious curiosity. That a handbag could kindle these feelings in me was a revelation in itself.

In case you cannot fathom what I’m talking about, it is the somewhat recent trend of handbags that one has to be seen with. The glossy fashion magazines that I often browse through to amuse and put me to sleep, tell me that these handbags are a ‘must have’ in my wardrobe. Do I have the ‘It’ bag of the season? No? It is the bag that is photographed in enticingly close up detail, the bag that does not have a price disclosed or a price that is ‘available on request’, which is basically saying that the price runs into several thousand rupees.

I see these bags staring at me from the pages of these magazines, their buckles gleaming alluringly, luxurious looking material beckoning, the polished logo screaming for attention. But then, these very glossy pages also authoritatively tell me that I need to paint my eyelids a bright canary yellow this season. It is easy to brush aside suggestions that would make me look jaundiced this season, but it is not so easy to resist the lure of the ostentatious handbags on display.

It is easy to brush aside suggestions that would make me look jaundiced this season, but it is not so easy to resist the lure of the ostentatious handbags on display.
That is when peer pressure came into my life. Never did I think that in my forties, I would have to fight inwardly against pressure that had to with something as mundane and humdrum as a handbag. Yes, a few years ago, it so happened that I found myself meeting new women, new acquaintances in a new social circle, who I was compelled to mingle with due to a change in life circumstances. They were lovely women, friendly women, but from a different background, living a lifestyle that I had no exposure to.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was in awe of them; actually not of them, but of what they wore, to be specific. Here they were flaunting the very bags, shoes and sunglasses that I saw in those glossy magazines. I never thought that real women actually bought the bags that were shown in these magazines, but here was a full scale display of the latest ’It’ bags, a full blown parade of the trendiest footwear on perfectly pedicured feet and a competition of various logos on unabashed show.

I hid my own modest handbag just as I tried to conceal the chipped nail polish on my toes. Here were these women, casually carrying around several dollars worth of bags, toting them about, changing them often, replacing them with newer bags of the new season. Sometimes, a bag would be left open unconcernedly to reveal the inner lining to all, so that one was left in no doubt about it being the ‘designer’ brand that it was. One could tell from the checkered or monogrammed lining what brand it was. Soon I could recognize the ‘brands’ and sometimes I did not have to guess at all. The shining logo said it all, the glitzy initials pronounced it all, the emblazoned symbol asserted it all- above all, these icons screamed out the price tag, loudly.

A bag to flaunt, a bag that wouldn’t just carry my belongings , but one that would carry my self esteem to new highs.
It was this pressure to blend in with the new crowd that had me seriously thinking of going out and buying a ‘designer’ bag. A bag to flaunt, a bag that wouldn’t just carry my belongings , but one that would carry my self esteem to new highs. A bag that wouldn’t just be an accessory, but one that would accord me a status. Yes, now I understand, I wanted a status symbol. A certain something to proclaim that I had ‘arrived’! So that I could be part of this group of women.

So after a huge debate with myself, a brief discussion with my husband who agreed to go along with what made me happy, I set about buying for myself a bag. A bag to make me happy. Yes, it would make a huge dent in our collective pockets but I was ready for this.

I stood outside the designer store, strong-willed and ready to make the purchase of my lifetime. As I looked inside the glamorous store, I saw expensively dressed women being shown various equally glamorous handbags by gloved, haughty looking, expensively dressed shop assistants. The way they were handling the bags, one would think they were handling gold or diamond jewellery or platinum. I don’t think they were bargaining, but I think they were discussing the luxury features of the bag. By the way, even the window displays did not have any prices displayed on the bags.

Call it my middle class upbringing, call it my practical mind taking over or call me old or just plain miserly, I am proud to report that I did not even step inside the store.

At that moment, nothing or nobody could have convinced me that I needed that bag. Yes, I had wanted it, but did I need it? No. At that price, I began to calculate the other things I could buy. The result was shocking. At the price of such a handbag, I could feed an entire village in India for a month or more. At that price, I could fund a child’s education including my own. At that price, I could arrange an operation for someone who desperately needed it. Above everything, at that moment outside that shop, I thought of the sweat and toil that my husband and me had put in to make that money. Was it worth just a bag?

Why was I so desperate to buy something that was ‘arm candy’, but would cost an arm and a leg?

Why did I want to hang a bag on my elbow so that I could wear my status on my sleeve?

It was a proud moment to do a full U-turn at the door of the store and never ever think of buying a bag that shook the shackles of the earth for me.

It made me really think of myself and how I want to appear to people and also about what makes me happy. Call me old fashioned, but I know that if I’d bought the ‘It’ bag, I would feel guilty forever, I honestly would. I still haven’t heard a convincing enough argument that would make me buy a bag that costs the earth.

People say the quality is impeccable, the luxury factor is something else. Well, perhaps they are right, the bag will last forever. But do I want to lug the same bag forever? Besides any object when used will show wear and tear, so in theory, can it really last forever? Yes some of the bags come with a glamorous looking lock. But you could still get burgled for the bag itself, wouldn’t you? My argument is that the cost of the ‘It’ bag is always going to be more than the actual contents of my bag. Also I have a question: if do buy this kind of bag, am I allowed to wear ordinary shoes, clothes and watch with it? Is that allowed? Maybe I need to refer to my magazines again.

I think I’m going to be the practical person that I am with a little bling thrown in for some fun.
I think I’m going to be the practical person that I am with a little bling thrown in for some fun. Fashion and trends are all very well, but not at the cost of my peace of mind.

So, no logos, designer brands, signs, crests, monograms or symbols for me. I certainly don’t need any emblems of status to add to my personality. It’s enough if I have an invisible stamp of ‘VJ’ on myself, my clothes and my accessories. I

LIFE IN A HOSTEL: FOOD ON A BUDGET

019-cartoon-foods-free-vector-imagesLiving in a hostel was all about being on a budget. Of spending within limits, of finding the cheap shops, eating joints and bargain shopping. Our favourite eating places were the restaurants around the hostel. Eat-all-you-can ones were high on the list. These are some of our much-loved hangouts, in no particular order:

  • SHIVALA : That I actually remembered this name is testimony to the fact that this Udipi restaurant was very popular amongst us. It had all our favourite South Indian delights plus fruit juices of all kinds including Ganga- Yamuna [orange and mosambi combination]. We never wasted anything and had absolutely no qualms about sharing from one plate, tearing and sharing a common dosa, sipping from a communal glass and finishing off each other’s leftovers!
  • WAIKIKI: When we craved Chinese food [which was often], this was where we headed. In the rainy season, watching the rain and sipping hot sweet corn chicken soup with plenty of soy sauce was simply divine. One day, the guy charged us extra because we had helped ourselves to too much soy sauce. They also had Parsi specialities of all kinds. How can I forget the Frankies- to die for especially the mutton one.
  • KAMATS: This was just next-door and our veggie friends went there while we went to Waikiki. A hot favourite was their tomato omlette- a besan pancake with tomatoes! Oh and their cold coffee with ice cream and their thali. The list goes on……….
  • MONGINIS : to grab a quick slice of cake or a humungous black forest pastry, this was our dessert place. So also was the ‘halwai’ in Bora bazaar…. cannot remember the name.
  • BHAT THALI: this was the eat-all you–can, unlimited thali place. For the princely sum of Rs 30, you could eat all you could stuff and scoff, without bursting. Rajasthani/ Gujarati food- a full thali experience, with waiters who came in rotation murmuring ‘ Rotla’, ‘Rotla’, Rotla’ or something similar. We starved ourselves before coming here, not just to keep the stomach empty, but also to save up for the Rs 30. Yet we always felt we could not do full justice to the price we paid for it. Rs 30 was a big deal back then.
  • CANON PAV BHAJI: As we ‘xeroxed’ our copious notes, a favourite pastime was devouring the  spicy pav bhaji, eating it standing at the counters by the roadside, watching Mumbaikars passing by.
  • TOASTED SANDWICHES: OOOOOh! How good can a sandwich be? Well, you have to eat this one to know. Fresh bread slathered with butter, green chutney, tomatoes, boiled potatoes all toasted and then generously lavished with a special white butter of some sort and more of the green chutney…..all from a roadside vendor with a makeshift setup, opposite VT.Blissful! and definitely competing with the Canon Pav bhaji.
  • ST GEORGE”S MESS: This was for food better than our hostel canteen. The dal fry and special dal fry [with a huge dollop of butter floating on top] with hot chapatis within the ambience of the hospital [past stretchers, police ‘mamas’ in the Emergency department] was a special outing.If I remember correctly they even had 2 gulab jamuns with their special thali!
  • AAREY MILK COLONY COUNTER: This was the place to have ice cold flavoured milk from little glass bottles. A must for last minute top up of nutrients just before exam time, it was a pleasure standing at the wooden kiosk and slurping away watching the activities around the VT area.
  • VT CANTEEN: A late discovery. It was the place where tea was served in a silver tea set  with a touch of the British Raj days.

There were some places that we always wished to go to. Alas, one place has remained an unfulfilled dream. Bade Miya kebabs: how we longed to go there. But often told that it wasn’t a place for unescorted females like us, this remained out of bounds. Some places were out of question as they were out of our budget. But when we started internship and got our first pay, it was time to pay a visit to Gaylord’s –the place to be. Feeling rich with Rs 1200 in the pocket, we decided to treat ourselves to dessert at Gaylord’s, near Marine Drive. We sat outdoors as apparently there was an extra charge to sit indoors. One friend ordered an ice-cream costing all of Rs 40 which was the most expensive on the menu and when it came it was a tiny bowl of the sweet stuff which she ate relishing every mouthful. Of course there were plenty of other little foodie delights – eating toasted bhutta [corn on the cob] and chana jor garam at Marine drive, masala peanuts from the newspaper cone, chaat at Chowpaty, missal from the college canteen, tea from a glass tumbler in the canteen…………Of course we ogled at the nocturnal stalls that cropped up in the lane leading from VT. The pavbhaji vendor hacking away at his bhaji and reducing it to a pulp, the egg bhurji wala slashing away with his metal spatula and making that clanging sound on his tawa inviting us to sample his wares. These were definitely out of range even for our seasoned immune systems. Eating on a budget had a charm of its own. It was being together with the group of friends, talking and sharing over food that we loved. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t exactly gourmet food, but for me it will always be one of my favourite things and a cherished memory.

LIFE IN A HOSTEL : PART II

imagesLife is about moments and memories. Celebrations in a hostel are the most unique and unforgettable of life’s moments. I have skipped straight to these because these were some of the most exhilarating experiences in life and nothing can recreate them.

Birthdays in the hostel were events in more ways than one. Especially in the early years. If Enid Blyton captured the essence of boarding school through St Claire’s and Malory Towers, hostel life was all about living those kinds of dreams.

0110-1104-2115-3207_two_happy_little_girls_having_fun_at_a_birthday_party

A birthday was always celebrated at midnight. Bleary-eyed friends trudged up to your room and woke you up just before the clock struck 12 and Voila! There was a cake complete with bright, iced flowers in multicolour, candles to blow out and strains of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ reverberating through the corridors. Birthday bumps were followed by the most boisterous and enthusiastic singing, with overturned buckets doubling up as drums. The rest of the hostel slept soundly like nothing was going on!

Holi in the hostel was like no other. Coloured water entered the rooms and filled the corridors. Buckets of water were splashed all over the walls and there was total mayhem.

Dahi- handi and Ganpati processions were celebrated outdoors by boys and men dancing and having a good time. But for the girls it meant being indoors and watching enviously through the windows. Dancing to the loud, upbeat music on the streets was definitely a male bastion. But the music was such that the girls always wished they could dance to it. It was invigorating and energetic with a beat that invited you to get up and do a jig. Finally one year, it got a bit much for some girls in the hostel, who could not contain their longing to let their hair down. So when the music played, these spirited girls just gave vent to their heart’s desire. In the landing between two flights of stairs, they danced as the deafening music outside got louder and more frenetic. We cheered, clapped, whistled [another male territory] and laughed hysterically as we gathered around them and egged them on. Tying dupattas on their heads as bandanas they looked like boys themselves and never have I seen such passionate ‘tapori’ dancing or such dance steps!

There was no dearth of entertainment in the hostel. There was only one television set in one room in the entire hostel. The common room had one but one had to make special efforts to go down to see it. No mobiles of course. Some radios. But what we lacked in electronic devices we made up for in more ways than one. Talking over a cup of chai was one. We could talk endlessly, gossip tirelessly, share jokes mindlessly and laugh uninhibitedly. Sitting on our cozy beds in our comfy gowns there was nothing as pleasurable at the end of a tiring day at college. There was a kind of sisterhood that slowly developed between us that just cannot happen when one does not live in a hostel. There was a comfort level that you usually felt only with family members and that steadily increased as the years rolled by. A lifetime bond formed uniting to memories of shared experiences……………………….

WHY IS THERE NO ‘MEN’S DAY’?

UnknownTry finding ‘Eve teasing’ in the dictionary. Growing up as a female in India, it is a terrifying familiarity ingrained in one’s mind.A derogatory term associated with disrespect and contempt for women.The Oxford English dictionary states ‘Eve teasing ‘ as being a term having its origin in India!

Wikipedia states the meaning of ‘eve teasing’ as a euphemism used in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan for public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men.

Isn’t it shocking that this term which is so familiar to us in India is only limited to a few countries and unheard of in other countries?

From an early age, every Indian woman learns to be on guard and on high alert to this menace.

Whistles, rude remarks, obscene gestures, lewd songs, touching, pinching, groping in crowded places .If you are a female in India, you have seen or experienced this countless times.

It is not just the ‘roadside Romeo’ or the vagrant ‘mavali ‘ sitting aimlessly by the side of the road who indulges in this activity.

I have seen and experienced on innumerable occasions, seemingly normal college going youngsters give vent to their frustrations by participating in this loathsome misdemeanor. Usually in groups or in pairs! Rarely alone!

Safety in numbers, perhaps!

Herds of boys or men huddled together who start whispering and hissing out profanities at the sight of a woman. All too common. Almost accepted practice!

I know of a certain lecturer in my college who brazenly used lecherous signals and made indecent noises to the women’s compartment of the local train opposite to his! Not once, but often. Unabashedly, in full view of the girls from our college.

So, what is it that gives an Indian man the preposterous idea that he can impose on a woman and her dignity? What makes him think that it is his birthright to inflict his absurd beliefs of romance on a woman? What gives him pleasure in joining in such a revolting act?

I used to think that wearing western clothes like skirts and jeans was an invitation to be harassed. No, not even the most conservative, loose salwar kameez clad woman is spared. Whether one is young or old, single or not, pretty or plain, rich or poor, if you are an Indian woman in India, you have seen it all.

What makes a monster out of some Indian men when in certain situations?

Do they behave in the same manner when they are with their family? Do they behave similarly on foreign soil?

Can we blame our society for this? Is it not our society which places women inferior to men? Telling us time and again that women have a lower status on the social ladder.

Or shall we blame our Bollywood films where the hero, a demi-god, boldly and shamelessly pursues an initially reluctant heroine relentlessly .He teases her, stalks her and serenades her with explicit lyrics until she finally gives in. Numerous films have been based entirely on this theme, glorifying it and glamourizing it.

All in good fun they say.

Well, ask any woman who has been at the receiving end of catcalls, hoots, whistles, jeering comments, humiliating songs and she will tell you that a person who does this is not a hero by any stroke of imagination.

A coward, yes!

Some Indian men use a convenient excuse. It’s all a pastime, a form of entertainment. Didn’t some of our gods in mythology indulge in flirtatious playfulness with their women?

Well, yes. But this is real life. If you have to emulate the gods why not their virtuous deeds.

Our mythology and legends deify women, worship women as ‘devis’. Why is this not remembered?

Is ‘eve teasing’ a sign of pent up frustrations and a repressive society where boys and girls, men and women, do not socialize freely? Perhaps, it’s the hormones playing up. Maybe.

But justification for this offence, absolutely not!

The 8th of March is celebrated as Women’s day all around the world.

So, like every year we see plenty of programmes to improve the lot of women, empowering women and other such clichés.

But is anything going to change as far as the ‘eve teasing’ scene is concerned. I doubt it.

Why do we women need alteration, improvement, upgrading and change?

Social media has come up with a day to celebrate just about everything.

Why is there no ‘Men’s day’?

It’s time we had one. To celebrate the men who respect women,

who have the maturity to accept a woman’s right to her dignity, her right to accept or decline, her freedom to dress and travel as she desires, her right to live without fear of being derided and degraded all because she is a woman.

And, of course, we need to use ‘Men’s day’ for those men who need to be educated, advised, counselled, cautioned, reprimanded, admonished or thrashed as required.

It’s not an easy task. But to all those Indian men out there who have or will involve themselves in this hideous misdeed, I advise that the next time they feel the urge to

prove their masculinity in this way, they should think twice.

Why not use all that surging testosterone to do something productive? Go win a medal for India in the Olympics. Take on some one in a fair fight in full public view.

Why not use all your energy to pick up a broom and clean your street.

You will win adulation and the love of many a woman’s heart.

If you have so much pent up frustration and anger, why not turn it into something positive? Go join the armed forces, the police, defend the country, show your courage and you will win the praise and respect of the entire nation.

There are many ways to show you are macho. Flexing your muscles is fine, but assert your virility by revering women, proclaim your manliness by valuing women.

As any woman will tell you, the most attractive part of a man’s body is his brain.

Daily Prompt : Work? Optional………………. LADY OF LEISURE [LOL]

LADY OF LEISURE
Well, what is work? To different people, ‘work’ has a different meaning.
Ask a physicist and he or she will tell you that work is the displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force. In English, this means if something is made to move from one place to another with a force, that is work. So in theory, if you lifted a suitcase off a floor, that is work.
Ask a housewife and she will tell you that work is what she does in the house all day long, year round, cooking, cleaning, looking after the family.
Ask her housewife neighbour and she would not call this ‘ work’ but just her duty. Ask another housewife and she would not call this work but a ‘labour of love’
Ask their husbands and they may or may not call their wives’ efforts ‘work’!
Ask a critic and work to him/ her is to find fault with others’ work.
Yes, WORK means different things.
But ‘work’ loosely means anything you do for a living or essentially to make money to fill your stomach, to have a roof over your head and protect yourself from the forces of nature.
So if money were not in the picture, if money grew on trees, what would I do? It’s hard to imagine that because I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.
But if I were a Lady of Leisure, what would I do?
To work or not to work is the question.
Would I do anything at all? Would I lift a finger? [That by the way, would be ‘work’ as per physics’] or would I just lounge around doing nothing?
Say, if I ‘worked’ out in the gym, would that be work?
If I ‘worked’ my new designer dress at a rocking party, would that be work?
If I worked at being glamourous and fashionable, would that mean I work?
No? You are right. All play and no real ‘work’ would make me a dull person.
So,Yes! I would work those brain cells [though it wouldn’t be ‘work’ in physics]. I would try to work out what works for me. And once I’ve found the answer, I would definitely work in the real sense, whatever that is. As I said ‘work’ for everyone means something different, but we all probably agree that an empty mind is a devil’s ‘work’shop and I certainly wouldn’t want my cranial ‘work’space to be that.

GREY MATTER

                                                           GREY MATTER   ‘Hair Dye’: Two words that to me have signified a mask of sorts. A cover up, a pretence, a need to stop the inevitable. An urge to appear what one is not. A fight against nature! An unnatural defiance to halt what is meant to be! I have always had a few grey hair since my early twenties and every time I saw these little silvery shiny strands in my thick black mane of hair, I would deftly snip them to the ground, cut them to their roots and keep hacking at the tiny stumps that grew back as stubborn spikes. Over the years, the whites grew in numbers until it was hard to keep up with their growth. I mean how much grey hair can you keep cutting down. Especially the ones at the back. Eventually, I accepted the grisly fact that hair ‘dye’ was the answer. Everyone was doing it and it wasn’t even called dye anymore. Hair colour it is………..which sounds so much more glamorous, fun and most of all YOUNG! And, it comes in virtually all the colours of the rainbow. I was spoilt for choice. Do I choose a chocolate, walnut, mocha, cinnamon or chestnut brown? Sounds like a coffee shop menu! Perhaps, I should spice up my life and go in for a honey copper or a deep plum or soft cherry? Or should I up the ante and opt for a little more adventure with flaming henna red or a hot mahogany? What goes with my personality? Am I a demure dark coffee or a vivacious burgundy? What goes with my Indian skin tone? Is blonde and platinum out of bounds? ‘Midnight blue’ sounds exciting too. No, too outrageous! How about highlights and lowlights? That would mean going to a salon. I was going to do it at home. After much deliberation, I decided that I would stay safe and stick to something that matched my own hair colour or what it used to be. But mind you, no jet black for me. That was how the ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles ‘in my childhood dyed their hair. So unnaturally blazing black, that one could spot a hair dye job from yards away. So natural darkest brown it was for me. Safe, not boring! Conservative, not orthodox! Month after month, year after year it became a routine. The gloves, the brushes, the mess in the bathroom, the stray stain on my ears, and of course the disgusting odour of ammonia and peroxide for a few days and nights afterwards. But it was worth the trouble. All the greys were swiftly coloured as soon as they poked their way out of their follicles. Concealed from view and wiped away from my memory. As soon as they raised their ugly grey heads above ground, I painted away their existence. This would continue if it wasn’t for the time I was compelled to stop colouring my tresses, a few months ago. Yes, I stopped. I did the unthinkable. I went au naturale; I paused for a break. I gave my hair the chance to emerge out of its synthetic refuge. In its full crowning glory, just as nature intended it to be! It must have been a shock for people to see me without my disguise. To me, it was just I, the person without any embellishment. Me, minus any pretence. Me, with all my imperfections on show, no holds barred. To my own surprise, there was no shame, no embarrassment. In fact, it was a relief at not having to constantly hide what is very much a part of my personality. Perhaps it’s part of growing up, not just growing older. Of getting wiser not just being clever. Here I am in all my splendour displaying my light and dark locks, without a care in the world about what others think of me. It’s amazing to see how comfortable I am in my own skin or should I say with own hair! Perhaps, the best hair colour for me is ‘sensuous salt and pepper’. I’ll save the ‘midnight blue’ for another day!