Handbag Angst

(Women’s Lib is Old Hat)

Shammi Paranjape

Being a woman is not easy. One of the things is, you have to lug around this thing everywhere. It's called a handbag. And no, it's not as simple as it sounds.

My daughter on a vacation in Europe, texted:

Mom what can I get you?

I texted back:

A handbag??



There’s a history to that. I have been in search of a perfect handbag...forever. It’s a family joke. Yeti’s footprints easier to find than the bag Mom’s looking for...

A woman on a trek, a woman on a beach, a woman on a mountain top, a woman anywhere – they all have one thing in common. A handbag. It may be the regular sort, or a variation like a tote or satchel but fact remains women need a whole bagful of things around them. Not only the fussy ones but the no-nonsense types also, lug this thing around everywhere which is always mysteriously heavy. It’s rare to see a handbag which is not pulling a woman’s shoulder down. (The exception is the sleek evening bag which is also under pressure, to flare its dimensions to accommodate the mobile phone).

It would seem the handbag is a woman’s little world slung across her shoulder. If you have noticed, she steps out clutching it closely. She might peer into it just to check if everything is there. It ought to have everything as it spends the whole day with her (and at night is placed at a viewing and reach-out distance from her bed).

Considering the overriding importance of handbags in women’s lives maybe more thought could go into the making of them? Style is great, and plenty of it out there, but if the panache loaded into it, is cutting into your shoulder blade (metallic strap), or turning you into a beetroot, as you scrimmage for change, under impatient glares with a side of pity, (narrow stingy mouth), or, that style is throwing up from the chaos of your handbag every other item but the one which you need to grasp, (not enough pockets) then it doesn’t work (sucks as they say). Real class is being sexy in both body and soul … in plainer terms, if it’s a bag we’re talking about, it must have a sleek body AND a structured, planned interior with numerous zippers and pockets of all sizes, for easy and quick access to different items. A broad base would add to the seduction, so that contents don’t become a tumble-dry of things…

My question is, is it so difficult for creative bag designers to aesthetically align functionality to style?

Another bag related grouse - Have you ever wondered why restaurants, trains, planes, don’t cognise the ubiquitous presence of a lady’s handbag? Have you noticed how an extra chair is sometimes requisitioned at restaurants to house the pile of as many bags as women at the table? And, if not available, how the poor smart bags are hard put to find a comfortable perch? Difficult to accommodate on the table itself, most land up on the floor squished between the legs of chairs. Bag etiquette, anyone?? In planes, bags are dumped into the overhead bin or at your feet or squeezed out of shape by your side on the economy seat. Ungainly, unfair, and uncomfortable.

As to the mystery of what’s inside the enigmatic, always-heavy handbag, let me tell you what spilled out from mine, in wild kaleidoscopic disarray, the other day at a shopping mall… I was dismayed as the contents splayed out on the floor and even more so when a kind helpful male tried to assemble them into some order. It was a disassembling - not so much of the bag as of me, as if something vital of my personal world lay scattered around me. It was illogical, but as much as I appreciated the help there was this strong sense of a personal space being violated. Mumbling a flustered thanks I scooped up the contents in hurried sweeps, to dump back into my bag. It was a task. With good reason.

There was…

Here’s the list:

Wallet, hairbrush, moisturiser, sunscreen, lip balm, lipstick, blusher, tissues, wet wipes, cotton, small deo, sunglasses, reading glasses, small water bottle, house keys and, of course, the phone. And, the messy tangle called earphones.

But that’s only half the story.

I always feel the neurotic need to carry the following “what if” items.

Sudden allergy? No problem the bag will have an anti-histamine in the medicine pouch. The pouch will also have other sundry medicines like paracetamol etc. and eye drops for my Dry Eye syndrome. And yes, having been once bitten by an infected mosquito, a mosquito-repellent spray now finds permanent residence in my handbag.

Then there’s always but always - a pen. This has something to do with my fetish for pens (the only item glad-eyed shamelessly by me and even divested from its owner, if badly coveted.) Also, it is the fallout of a suspense movie I saw where the heroine scribbled with difficulty an SOS with a blunt eye pencil, (a pen not being available) - which bailed her out. It got etched in my psyche that pens are saviours. Not having one at hand makes me edgy.

On the same page as the above, is the next item in the arsenal – a dinky flashlight. Tiny enough to find a nook in the bag, it is for those once in a while, wild blue-moon outage moments, when a light is needed to navigate safely to wherever you need to get – mostly just the bathroom.

There’s more. An edible something like an éclair or mint or a tiny pouch of almonds or pistachios, I consider a hypoglycemic necessity, especially in a traffic-crawl. Not having something to pop in my mouth, when destination is 45 minutes or more away, makes me jittery.

Some other sundries come to mind - cotton buds, toothpick, safety pin, hairclip, rubber band, (an absolute must, to tie hair into comfy ponytail after the event) and hand sanitizer. 
Anything left? Well, on my way to a place like a dentist’s clinic or any waiting-in-queue place, I squeeze a book into my bag too. (Kindle has never been my scene).
And in the monsoon months which stretch over three months in Mumbai a teeny umbrella is also shoved in…

Point is - bags are a highly important aspect of a woman’s life. They need to be accorded rightful recognition and status.

Am I neurotic?? 
Maybe, just a little.
But, if there are bags for neurotics out there, let me know.
Also, calling all space designers out there, to kindly create some elegant spaces for perching them..

Women's lib is old hat. Time for bag lib now...

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