Hankering for a hanky

The boy was oblivious to the car behind him. He must have been ten. Swinging his school bag and humming to himself, he was in a world of his own. “I was just like that at his age, except for the nose-picking!” my husband said.

We were a few feet behind him and observing him. When the car’s horn blared, that’s when the fella became aware that he was walking in the middle of the road. He quickly moved to the side and gave a sheepish smile.

“His mom must remember to give him a handkerchief the next time,” I grumbled. My mind flashed to my childhood when I never stepped out of my house without a pristine handkerchief on me. My mom had a never-ending supply of handkerchiefs, some of them so soft that I was often loathe to sully the delicate fabric.

After a recent trip back from my parents home in Chennai, I was unpacking under the curious gaze of my husband. The first thing that tumbled out of my suitcase was a fresh set of handkerchiefs. “I thought only my mom had this habit!” my husband exclaimed. I don’t know what it is about moms and hankies but they seem to go in sync with each other.

My mom was even more picky when she bought hankies. When she waxed eloquent about the quality, I would gently remind her of the reason she had bought them in the first place! But she gave them the same importance as buying saris or dresses. Even if it was used to wipe the sweat off one’s brow or blow your nose, this piece of cloth was a vital accessory in her opinion. I also noticed that the handkerchiefs that she gave me became pricier and fancier over time. The neat embroidery at the corners of these tiny pieces of cloth added to their allure.

Now the tradition of hankies as part of the personal toiletries has moved onto the next generation. Whenever we step out as a family, my older girl would ask, “Amma, do you have a spare hanky?” This sets a chain reaction and soon enough all of us would be rummaging in my voluminous bag for a hanky each. 

“Don’t you have a plain white one?” my husband would ask in a long-suffering tone. Having lived in a woman-centric household for most of his life, he had survived years of having to wade through female paraphernalia lying all over the house. The pretty lace or embroidered hankies had him shuddering in distaste as he turned closet drawers upside down for solid white ones. But a man with a leaky nose often fights a losing battle. Soon enough any piece of tissue would do the job and my husband would choose practicality over preference.

So I would urge you not to snicker the next time you see a man with a pink embroidered hanky pressed to his face. It would most likely be my harried spouse!

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