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I still remember the first time my husband, then a young Flying Officer in the Indian Air Force, went to Punjab on what was known as a detachment, in defense parlance. For the uninitiated, it simply meant a longish official tour. I had, earlier, been filled in by seasoned unit ladies about the attendant perks of such detachments. Hence, the customary sadness of having to stay apart for nearly a month as newly-weds, was largely tempered by the anticipation that accompanied his return. And sure enough, I was not disappointed!

His suitcase was brimming over with all things Punjabi – a Patiala salwar set, a couple of Phulkari dupattas, embellished jootis, colorful blingy accessories and some yummy savories. My happiness knew no bounds! Coming from Calcutta which is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, I was always apprehensive of how my life would pan out in the far-flung military bases. Hence, sitting in the quiet, uneventful and rather conservative town of Gorakhpur 28 years ago, receiving these goodies on a platter was nothing less than a mic-drop moment for me!

This trend continued for the subsequent fifteen odd years, through our various postings. Groundnuts and cooking oil from Jamnagar; raisins from Nasik; pearls, cookies and authentic nawabi biryani from Hyderabad; cashew and wine from Goa; Shrewsbury biscuit and Laxminarayan chewda from Pune; succulent ripe tomatoes, red winter carrots and fresh green peas at dirt cheap prices from Haryana; sandalwood and brass knick-knacks from Bangalore (albeit, the miniature pieces, given their exorbitant prices and our modest salary those days) – you name it and my house had it. It felt I had the world in my oyster!

A trip to Rajasthan meant a veritable loot – bandhni dress material, leheriya sarees, beautifully handcrafted sitting stools and peg tables (all easy to dismantle), embroidered purses and bedspreads, tantalizing eats like ghewar and mawe ki kachori – all stuffed into a hurriedly purchased extra duffel bag, made the return truly exciting and wait-worthy. One additional bag underneath the AC II Tier train berth never did any harm, after all! If anything, it earned me the tag of Bandhni Girl among my friends.

Those were times when things like the Internet and online shopping had not invaded our lives. Small, nondescript defense towns did not offer much by way of shopping options. Hence, homecoming after a long tour was invariably peppered with the surreptitious excitement of fishing out these goodies from the suitcase. Our little guilty pleasures, I called them.

With an upgrade in official rank came the benefits of an air ticket and shorter travel time. But it also meant luggage restrictions and hence, limited and cautious shopping. Also, by this time we had gradually drifted to bigger cities and newer times. Salaries and affordability had escalated. The Internet ruled our lives and every conceivable item, required or simply coveted, was just the click of a button away.

But the joy, enthusiasm and anticipation that accompanied the detachment shopping of yesteryears was a feeling like no other. Today, life is so much more easy, settled and stable –prolonged absences, unavailability of fancy items and shoestring budgets have become a thing of the past. Yet, one cannot help but look back and wistfully pine for those days when life was bridled and hemmed in, when choices were a luxury, and when less was so much more!

First published on Women’s Web in July 2020.

P.C.  Scribbling Geek on Unsplash


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