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A drawer full of happiness

Illus: for TH_sreejith r.kumar

Illus: for TH_sreejith r.kumar

A couple of weeks ago, when my sister was home with our darling niece, she got an inane urge to break open this one drawer from our old dressing table. One that had remained locked for close to 25 years. Yes, that old. Soon her enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I joined in to see what treasure might unfold on opening a drawer-cum-chest that held within itself such a long passage of time.

A little badgering by loving daughters pushed our father to unfasten the lock with a hammer. Our happiness knew no bounds as our eyes almost immediately exhibited the feeling. Wooden hair pins, metal  bindi  stamps with tiny containers of coloured  bindi  powder, small wooden  kumkum  cases, an array of cosmetics including eye-shadow kit, blush, mascara and liquid foundation, and a collection of lipsticks from the most loved decade were before us.

I marvelled at the uniqueness of the products and the ways in which women used everyday products differently back in the 1990s. Mascara was a kit in itself that came packaged with a mini- toothbrush for application. The brush was required to be stroked on the soft black cake after moistening it. That these products were still in usable condition was bewildering. Liquid foundation maintained its consistency as much as the gorgeous berry and burgundy lipsticks retained their creaminess.

While the marketing student within me was amused at actually having the privilege to see prototypes dating back to 1995 of leading cosmetics brands that flourish as successfully even today, the child inside brimmed with stupefaction as I touched those bottles, tubes and boxes.

As little girls all of us wanted to sneakily use our mother’s make-up to feel older and glamourous. The joy of locating something we only saw on actors on TV for the purpose of only holding it, was huge. How deliberately inaccessible were cosmetics made by moms back then as opposed to the times now when I see little girls with their lips smeared in lip-gloss or eyes lined in kohl .

Amidst the flood of memories that came rushing by, I felt how “rummaging” for things in the hope of not being discovered has always been a special part of childhood. It was more befitting in the context of the 1990s where things unintentionally happened in a balanced way. Despite loving my childhood, I always thought, isn’t nostalgia and unbridled love for childhood days akin to a knee-jerk reaction? So why are the 1990s perennially present in our hearts and minds and in the spotlight? In tandem, I also wondered, perhaps considering the age-structure of our economy having the potential to give the elevated ‘demographic dividend’, a sizeable population has its childhood tucked away in late 1980s or the charming 1990s. Hence, the big deal about this last decade of 20th century.

Enchanting experience

However, the realisation of having everything in equal measure then made it unknowingly enchanting for all of us. While technology in the form of computers, cars and mobile phones assumed an exalted status, those of us who possessed it enjoyed it as much as we revelled in other simple delights like reading  Champak and  Tinkle  or getting ready for school while listening to ‘ School Chale Hum ’ on the radio each morning. Our outdoor play-time was meticulously rationed by mommies so that we could complete our homework on time. We waited for Ramanand Sagar’s  Ramayana  with grandparents as much as laughed with parents on watching ‘Small Wonder’, and there were limited but iconic TV shows from all genres that ran on cable TV. It was as if we had a little bit of the best from everything, and after lapping all of it up it always left us waiting and wanting for more.

It was probably the last decade when one witnessed the existence of a hobby such as philately or learnt the idea of cinema halls being a focal point of urban spaces, or would know that Eclairs was a toffee of the highest order. From this perspective the 1990s should be lauded aside from being loved, for its fine balancing act. The decade cherry-picked the finest to offer to us millennials. Or so I would like to believe.

And just like that, I learnt how before the decade of the 2000s, women in a typical Indian household used metal stamps of intricate designs, dipped in the chosen coloured powder to emboss a bindi  between their eyebrows. It is because of this reason that the opening of that drawer was much like a revelation to me. My sister, though, still remembered a few things she had last seen in the drawer.

The custom-made dressing table was first brought to our childhood home in Delhi sometime in 1989, and it continues to be present around us here in Ahmedabad. That day and the one that unfolded two weeks back: it was almost as if all other compartments of the dressing table had moved pace with time, serving as a pedestal for myriad things with progressing years, but that one drawer was still anchored in the wonderful decade it was made in, as if holding it with all its might.

Close to 25 years have passed and time has stood there intact. Out of curiosity I had often toyed with keys lying around home to see if I could attempt to unlock it with an unmatched key but to no avail.

The stash brought open articles belonging to the time that had once been. They make for collectibles to me, souvenirs of 1990s fashion, devoid of the run-of-the-mill quality of today that is here to stay. Jolted back to the present, I realised, so this was 1990s! It hugs you as soon as you encounter a mere semblance of the decade in any form. And a thousand memories invariably ensue.

jagnaniaanchal@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 3:29:16 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-drawer-full-of-happiness/article23343546.ece