Once upon a time she was my constant companion. I wouldn’t leave home without her. Whether going to school in the morning or visiting neighbours in the evening, she would be neatly folded and pinned to my dress or tugged in my skirt. We loved playing Rumal Choras kids. When I started carrying fancy bags to college, she found a special place in that bag. Life was unimaginable without her.
Sparking white, or in soothing pale shades of pink or blue, with pretty flowers or little birds embroidered, honeycombed edges, Miss Hankie and her friends were such a delight. I remember making my first little hankie when I was in 4th standard. SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) was a compulsory subject in school then. With such excitement and love I hemmed the edges of a small square pale blue cloth and embroidered a pink lotus in one corner. After that I went on to make so many hankies, in different colours and embroideries, some with my name stylishly embroidered. I was so proud of carrying my own little hankies, sometimes perfumed, gently dabbing away sweat or dust from the face and neck.
Miss Hankie was ever so romantic and enigmatic. Lovelorn youth would often find solace in the sweet-smelling handkerchief of their lady love. Boys would use hanky as ploy to strike a conversation with the person of their interest. “Excuse me Miss, I think you dropped your hanky,” was corniest pick up line ever. Miss Hankie found a special place in romantic Bollywood movies as well – Reshmi Rumal, Kaali Topi Lal Rumal, where handkerchief played such an important role. There are so many romantic movie scenes where the male protagonist is seen languishing over a delicate little hanky of his beloved.
For the male counterpart of Miss. Hankie, it was all about chivalry. We have so often seen the protagonist offer his handkerchief with aplomb to a damsel in distress. The ‘resham ki rumal’ has always added to the appeal of the swashbuckling Hindi film hero. Remember Shammi Kapoor in “Sar par topi lal, haath me reshmi rumal hai tera kya kehena”
Sadly however, little Miss Hankie is now on the brink of extinction, nudged away by the convenient tissues. Like most people of my generation, I am guilty of making the switch to tissues. I have lost all my little hankies; I just carry a pack of face tissue in my purse. There are hand tissues and paper towels that have made hankies completely redundant. My mom, however, still sticks to her hankies, finding them more reliable than the array of tissues. Fortunately, male handkerchiefs have survived, they still find place in most men’s pocket, though the charisma once associated with them is lost.
Tissues may have brought in convenience, but unlike hankies there’s nothing romantic about them. There was something personal about hankies, reflecting so strongly the personality of their owner – the touch, the smell. Tissues on the other hand don’t have a distinct character, they are just use and throw. And the idea of picking up a used tissue is quite repulsive, no matter how beautiful or charming the user may be!