The weight of the world on my shoulder

A woman is never without her handbag. That may sound like a huge generalisation (actually, it is a huge generalisation), but the point I’m trying to make is that, for many of us girls, the need to lug tons of stuff around with us wherever we go is, for some reason, incredibly strong.

Why? Maybe keeping a few belongings with us makes us feel secure. Or maybe we just don’t wear clothes with enough pockets to stash our money, bank cards, keys, phones, books, pens, make up, hairbrushes, umbrellas, emergency sachets of chilli flakes (oops, I didn’t mean to say the last one!)… And perhaps it’s not just practical things we carry around – I, for one, will admit to keeping a few sentimental knick-knacks in there somewhere.

The bag itself, as the vessel in which to store all this stuff, is pretty essential then. It must be big enough to hold everything (but not too big), with sufficient pockets for organisation. Every woman has her own specific criteria when looking for a new handbag, so it’s pretty rare for a lady to let someone else choose an article of such importance on her behalf.

But that’s exactly what I did. Maegan has a really nice bag. It’s soft and maroon-y and real leather; big enough for a netbook and a small collection of Hindi books, as well as various other random objects of varying importance. So when she phoned me the other day from a posh boutique in Lajpat Nagar, saying she’d found the ideal bag (with 20% off!) and did I want her to get it for me, I trusted her to make the choice.

It was, of course, perfect. And on the bag’s first official outing (on the Metro), Maegan grabbed it off me, unzipped it and had a good rummage to see how I’d organised its contents. I was shocked. It was such an un-British display of privacy invasion that I was absolutely convinced she’d become Indian. Because, when you think about it, a woman’s whole life – her identity – is in her handbag. Looking inside is like unzipping a person and looking at her soul.

Which is exactly why, when we do get the occasional chance to root around in another lady’s bag, we enjoy it so much. There’s nothing better than indulging in our own nosiness. My friend Miriam, a Canadian writer and part-time Scottish person, has ingeniously tapped into this concept with her ‘Handbag Series’ on her blog. Featuring a few men as well as women, it allows us to anashamedly snoop around in other people’s lives. She has, of course, already ‘Handbagged’ me.

So about that thing I said regarding women never being without their bags. That’s not always the case in India, or so I’ve noticed. Here, lots of women keep all their ‘valuables’ down the front of their kameez or sari blouse. I’ve seen ladies keep mobile phones, wads of cash, small change, hankerchiefs, house keys – the whole shebang – down their tops. Maybe that’s why my tailor always leaves a bit of extra space when she stitches my suits. I’ll have to try this desi technique sometime, I think. It would be nice to have the weight off my shoulder.

You know, (I’ll finish with a bit of random trivia) some say that’s why Gandhi-ji is smiling on our rupee notes; no other country’s women keep their money so close to their, erm, hearts.

As nice, and a bit wrong, as that is, I think I’ll stick with my handbag.