What lies inside cupboards unopened since the lockdown: Memories of places and people, and a reminder of who I am

Perhaps I didn’t open my cupboard through the lockdown because it came with a huge and unbearable side-serving of nostalgia.

Manjima Bhattacharjya September 12, 2020 12:35:29 IST
What lies inside cupboards unopened since the lockdown: Memories of places and people, and a reminder of who I am

'Curious Fashion' is a monthly column by feminist researcher, writer and activist Manjima Bhattacharjya. Read more from the series here.

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Since the lockdown started in March, I have barely opened my cupboard. It isn’t because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for six months, and neither is it because of the challenges of wooden doors in the Mumbai monsoon – they swell up and just pushing them open or pulling them shut, in my view, constitutes exercise. No, it’s just that my relationship with my cupboard and my clothes has come to some sort of halt. You could say, “it’s complicated”.

Through the lockdown I have operated from a pile placed outside the cupboard in the corner of my bedroom, recycling everyday wear straight from the pile – the “home clothes” crawling from pile to washing machine to clothesline, and then directly Back-To-Pile. This, while being incredibly boring, has been labour-efficient and one less thing to worry about in a period heaving with demands of housekeeping, cooking, work, and keeping it together.

When I finally opened my cupboard last weekend for a Facebook Live event I was speaking at, it hit me like a ton of bricks how much I had missed the colours, the (non-hosiery) fabrics, the smells and sounds that things in a cupboard make. Instantly I was reminded of a carefully built, but taken-for-granted pre- COVID-19 life, that feels distant now.

Like the yolk-yellow flowy top with massive sleeves reminds me of our last travels to Bangkok. The military jacket, my last indulgence while loitering post-panipuri in Lokhandwala Market. A Masaba jacket with a large rose print, from the very early days of online shopping. The pista-green linen sari twinkling with crystals from an exhibition in Chennai that my friend Ruchi and I chanced upon when we went out for margaritas after two days of conferencing. The wispy gingham dress that only gets to go to Goa, my ‘resort wear’. Fabric from Senegal, Pondicherry, and from Purvi Handloom Store when it was still located in a cul-de-sac in Versova – fabric yet to find its destiny, its form and a tailor that will steer it there. A pashmina stole for freezing conference rooms, from Vancouver to Taipei. The powerloom sari from a local market in the devadasi belt near Bijapur, that makes me wonder how the women in the local collectives are doing in this situation. The tie-die silk harem pants made from fabric chosen during a field visit near Ajrakhpur in Kutch.

The Pero sale that my friend Bishakha and I cart-wheeled into after a working lunch meeting, where we ended up getting a piece each in the same print – mine a top, her's a dress. It will be a while before we end up at the same event in the same clothes, twinning. A chequered gamcha kurta from an upcoming designer in Kolkata – what my friend Paromita calls “another gamcha scam”. Glittery top, silver pants – that make me wonder if I will ever go dancing again. With that, I shut the cupboard with a sigh. Of course we will go dancing again, I told myself.

There is a map inside my cupboard. Of places I have gone to, and of relationships and friendships past and present. Of the feeling of communing with others over shared aesthetics, and of moments locked into my memory through the talisman of clothes. Clothes can be powerful reminders of who we were once and who we have now become. Every piece has a story. To excavate the contents of cupboards is to visit different phases of your life, a portal to both good and bad memories. Perhaps I didn’t open my cupboard through the lockdown because it came with a huge and unbearable side-serving of nostalgia.

Cleaning my cupboard has been a soothing ritual from as long back as I remember. Sorting clothes into piles (sometimes by colour, by fabric, by utility, by season – when I lived in cities with real seasons), giving away things, bringing out unused pieces, putting away overused but loved ones. I was ‘the girl who spent her weekends sorting her cupboard’. It was a ritual that brought me back to some equilibrium and made me feel like I had some control over my life, some plan, some reassurance that things are as per design. I plan to open my cupboard this weekend and sort out a shelf or two to start with. Maybe this is my cue to feel more normal, a cue that the internalised lockdown must end. A sense of a new, cautious but optimistic, beginning.

Of course we will go dancing again.

Manjima is the author of Mannequin: Working Women in India's Glamour Industry (Zubaan, 2018)

–Image via Pixabay, for representational purposes

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