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Living Out Of The Box
Text by Prabha Chandran and Illustration by Farzana Cooper
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

Retail therapy was the panacea for many ills - till PRABHA CHANDRAN came to an island where there was no retail...

How would it be if you woke up one morning and realised that all the things you had spent time, money and effort collecting over half a lifetime were essentially unimportant? That Morano masterpiece you bought on your honeymoon in Venice with its endearing chips from the babies, no longer graces your living room. Nor does the trousseau silver or china add elegance to your dining table. The new Armani outfit you splurged on for your anniversary lies shrouded in your wardrobe on a rack of ageing designer clothes…and all those jewels you proudly spent your Diwali bonus on, now sparkle only for the benefit of your locker. You feel bereft - as if you've left a part of yourself with those prized possessions - but all you can take on your next chapter in life is the contents of one 20 kg suitcase.

That's what happened to me when I accepted an assignment in East Timor. This was a field assignment so there would be no container filled with worldly goods arriving on the remote island - where we needed it most. I was apprehensive to say the least…. If only I knew then what I know now: that it is possible to be completely happy even fulfilled, with a tenth of my possessions. True, I knew the Buddhist-Gandhian view on attachment to worldly goods. My father had joined the bhudaan movement when I was a kid and would have donated the family heirlooms had it not been for my mother's strenuous threats. As a service officer's daughter, I had grown up in the austerity of the '60s and '70s - meatless days and no cereals once a week as families donated their rations to the brave jawans. But I'd left all that behind me once I joined the rat race and as life entered the fast lane in the '90s, my possessions gave me the joy and security I could no longer bank on in my most intimate relationships. Acquisition became an antidote for angst.

I look back on my periodic bouts of 'shopaholicism' now and grimace at thousands of dollars, francs and rupees spent on things I am happily doing without. But I needed them then. When life handed me a lemon, I would reach for my credit card and go on a spree - if you haven't already discovered retail therapy, believe me there's no faster cure for heartbreak, job stress or anxiety than that gorgeous dress which makes one feel like a million dollars. Retail therapy was my panacea for many ills - till I came to an island where there was no retail.