Emancipation began during the 1900 AD when the Industrial Revolution took place. Shifting the attitude towards women and the dressing down or dressing up took place. This shift brought about a change in the way women lived their lives. They became mobile and so was the need to carry the big bags with the keys, scissors and other requirements were put into the bag to be carried forward. Then began the need for the evening bag. This was made with different materials and bags started getting divided into accessories for the elegant dinner, evening walk in the park, and daytime use. The bags were elegant and sparkling. The most exquisite of them is the minaudières or the metal clutch for evening use.
I had this fascination for vintage art and used to watch my neighbour aunty as a 11-year-old dress up in her chiffon, pearl and her minaudière in her hand, clasping it like a queen. Her coiffured hairstyle and her elegance was the talk for the neighbourhood women. She was a young widow and never mixed with the plebeian.
I used to wave at her and one day she called me over to her home. I saw an old photo of her younger self and with her balding husband next to her.
She was dressed beautifully in all photos. In my innocence, I enquired why she married the bald man. She told me he was a good man. I wasn’t convinced but protested that she is so beautiful. She smiled at me. That night I prayed I hope I never have to live with a bald man ever. Little knowing that over time what remains is the inner beauty and not the external beauty. But I must admit I still struggle every day telling myself that beauty is transient.
So the ritual began of me visiting her home and drinking milk and cookies and she sat like a diva sipping tea and listening to old songs her HMV record player. She had Beatles, Presley, Bach and Mozart and Bengali records.
I saw her gold minaudière clutch hanging by the wooden rack. It caught the sunlight from the large window overlooking the weeping willow tree. I stared at it. Didn’t realise she was watching me stare at it.
She asked if I wanted it. I agreed immediately. I brought it home and showed Ma. It wasn’t acceptable that I accept gifts, she asked me to return that immediately and said that it doesn’t belong to me. It must be returned. I pleaded but to no avail.
I took it back to her home and she looked at my sad eyes. So she came back and told Ma that I must have it and I readily nodded in agreement.
The years passed and we left Shillong and the bag stayed. I shifted cities and it came with me like a talisman everywhere. In my belongings, it popped out with the gold sheen.
Her name was Mrinalini. I carry that Mrinalini’s bag for a few evening soirées and I feel her elegance all around me. It’s like a fragrance you can feel but not touch or possess.
As I sit against the sunlight and hang my minaudière against my chair. It lies listlessly like an unshed tear. It’s probably missing the Shillong tea planter community soirées and is choking in the crowd of people who barely notice its age or its finesse.
I leave the party with my minaudière on my shoulder and a little girl is again awestruck with its sheen. I tell myself this is Mrinalini’s gift and I must keep it safe till I can. Maybe will pass it on to someone who would truly value its filigree metal vintage art. Someone who would understand that Orissa has these artists and are waiting for awestruck people like me. Holding on to art at every low or high point in my life.