The Bathroom Report

It’s interesting when you get an email laced with humor from an editor. It suddenly makes the writing process a lot easier and fun because you know that the person at the other end is human. A few months ago I was asked to write an article on bathrooms and the multi-faceted space they represent for all of us. I didn’t really want to introspect on bathrooms and write about them, but last year I had decided that I was not going to say no to any writing work that came my way, and even if I hadn’t made that promise to myself, I could never have said no to this article because of the brief that it came with. It was a simple brief but it came sprinkled with a few parentheses in which the lady writing to me made her real opinion very clear. I love levity almost as much as I love my hightops, so the article was a go.
And since I’ve resolutely decided to put up all my work on the blog, you get to see a PDF version of this article.

POV_Bathroom Special

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Time and time again.

reem profileTime and time again I find myself writing about my growing up years, of moving around the country from one Air Force Base to another. Maybe it’s my security blanket or maybe I like re-visiting that time of my life because it all felt like a dream.

When I was 9 years old, I moved to Wellington, Ooty to a school called Holy Innocents and in that school I made my first enemy. Her name was Reem Khokhar and we couldn’t see eye to eye. For the life of me I can’t remember the reason for our mutual hate, but it was as intense as it can get with 9 year olds. I met Reem again when I was 11 at an Air Force base much further North and East of Ooty and there, we became best friends (relationships are fickle when you’re a pre-teen). Reem and I remained friends for many years. This was before the Internet took over our lives, so we had to resort to good old letters, gossiping, sharing our lives across borders and planning our great big separate futures. I was 13 when she left for Islamabad and by the time she got back to India and got out of boarding school and slid into the same city as me, I had decided to move to Bombay. Star struck BFF’s who never could be.

We did meet a few times and never once did I feel like there was something missing. I had grown accustomed to not seeing her often but at the same time I had a tab on her life. She was my first real friend and that was how it was going to be. At any point of my life I had some idea about what she was up to. I missed her wedding, but met her a year later in a hotel room, and we got each other up to speed with two hours of incessant chatter. She has an incredible self-deprecating humor that I have adored from when I was a little girl.

A few months ago I wrote an article about the Indian Air Force for Motherland Magazine and it was published this December. Reem read it and I got the warmest little note from her. Reem lost her father, Parvez Hamilton Khokhar, a month ago and had spent quite some time going through all the photographs of her dad to make a tribute to him. After going through all the photographs and her blog on her dad, I was hurled back to 1991 when she and I cemented our friendship and spent all our time together either in my house or hers. I remember her dad and I remember her with her dad. The thing is, I never saw PHK after 1993, so all my memories of him are from 21 years ago. He is still in his flying overalls with a smile for his little girl and her friend, and to me, he was obviously not the bossman and Commanding Officer of MOFTU, he was just Reem’s dad.

It broke my heart all over again because I think I had a clear idea of what Reem was going through. I knew there was very little I could do to abate her grief, so all I did was let her know that I was thinking of her constantly. And I heard back from her every single time.

I realized that there are certain unsaid pacts and relationships forged out of titanium that may be beyond the reach of 13 year olds but easily undertaken by them. I felt an invisible thread tied to Reem and me over the past few weeks. I had felt it last when she went to live in Islamabad, leaving me friendless (out of choice. I didn’t want another friend if it wasn’t going to be Reem) and I found it again. What’s wonderful is that she did too. In her words “When these sort of things happen in your life, the people you turn to or talk to are just a handful…the ones you know who understand”. There is an incredible sense of safety in knowing that ‘your’ people are more than the immediate few who you surround yourself with, and that friendship transcends time and definitely leaps over proximity.

Reem writes at: www.reemspeak.com

Everybody’s gone to the moon

I started a fortnightly column for the Sunday Guardian a week ago. I haven’t felt this kind of pressure to perform with 800 words or less since my book came out.

It’s not so much about finding things to write about, it’s more about reaching the expectations of an editor who I admire and want to choke all at the same time. It helps/doesn’t help that we’re friends. For the last two months I’ve been aiming to find my voice. The kind where I’m easy breezy and words just flow. I have it when I write on this blog but the moment I’m given an assignment I’m like Chandler Bing trying to take a passport photograph.
It’s like I’m the living example of the double slit experiment. I know I have a voice but the moment I pay any attention to it, it realizes that and goes back to bed.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about check out this video till the very end and see what that precocious electron does.

Here’s a link to my first column which was basically a rant that had been building up in my head this past year.

http://www.sunday-guardian.com/young-restless/zomg-everybodys-gone-to-the-moon

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What’s the story?

My friend Meghna is kind of spectacular.
She is volatile, beautiful, spontaneous, stylish and responds to names ranging from ‘Meghnatron’ to ‘Madmax’ to – everyone’s favorite – ‘Meghni Flower’ (when she’s in a good mood) and ‘Meghni Cactus’ (when she is enjoying a good murder).
I have never felt bored in her company and I’m the sort of person who takes some kind of sick pride in getting bored easily. We have been friends for 9 years and she is going to be one of my old lady friends when I go grocery shopping holding a walker.

Last month she bought me a ticket to a morning rave. A sober morning rave. My brain short circuited not just because of the shrieking oxymoron but also because Meghna and I have done many circuits of Goa during the party season and I remember once she whisked herself away to a 2 day party in North Goa in a Maruti Van with the Nepali chef and the Swedish waiter of the shack we used to get dinner at.

But since it was her plan, I knew it couldn’t be bad. I had a spectacular time and at around 8:45 a.m I had my t-shirt tied up 1980’s style and was jumping up and down in a hot room full of people dancing like it was 1999 (which was from when most of the music was sourced).

I wrote about it on Unmapped and I’m attaching the link in case you want minutes of the party.

http://www.unmappedmag.com/issue-16/whats-the-story/

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Czech it out

“How do you pronounce ‘P.r.a.g.u.e’?”
I knew this was a trap. It was not the first time my mother had asked me this.
“Praha.”
“Very good. And what about ‘H.a.g.u.e’?”
“Haha.”
I think this little joke lasted a good two years between us before it died out. I must have been 8.

Took me a while to get to Prague but I skid in a few days ago. It took a little work though, and my 4-day trip got trimmed to 3 because it was also time to miss my first flight ever.

I don’t like running at airports. It’s not fun. There’s a lot of stress which shifts gears and turns into severe anxiety, and there’s not much finesse in barging and throwing yourself into an aircraft at full speed when you have the option of gliding in calmly, like a seasoned traveler.
But ever since I have met Michael, I have sprinted at every airport I’ve set foot on with him.

It was a simple 4-step procedure.
1. Walk to Farringdon Station
2. Take a train to Gatwick Airport
3. Board the flight.
4. Land in Prague

Here’s what actually happened.
1. Walked to Farringdon station
2. Took the train to Gatwick Airport
3. Assumed the flight was at 18:45. (It was at 18:30)
4. Wondered why the train had suddenly stopped and wasn’t moving AT ALL.
5. Got told there is some fire somewhere.
6. Realized the actual flight time.
7. Blind panic and laughter ensued.
8. Tried calling the airline (no one answers at EasyJet).
9. Prayed.
10. Got to Gatwick 35 minutes before take off.
11. Had Michael prove to me why he had been captain of his track team. He went from solid to blur in a nanosecond.
12. I chased. Reached security. Had them pull my bag out for a random check. I have never tapped my foot faster.
13. Found out Michael had reached the wrong terminal. He blurred again and beat me at security.
14. I reached the gate and realized we missed the flight by a minute.

14 step procedures are never that much fun. Though I must say EasyJet were kind enough to put us on the next days flight without any extra charge (mostly because I impressed them by reading out the PNR number using phonetics) and since we didn’t want to trust the train ride the following day, there were drinks to be had, almost vegan salads to be loved and a square room with purple lights with a view of the runway for a visual treat. Prague would have to wait a few more hours.

It’s safe to say that the next day things were pretty painless. The universe is a great believer in balance. Prague was beautiful at touchdown at noon. A spring sun wore a crisp breeze like a scarf.
Not enough gets said about the drives from airports to city centers. The gradual increase in people and buildings, the carefully manicured areas for visitors and the come-hither looks of signage are all different with every new place, yet have the same blood running in their veins. The wafts of a city trickle into your senses, making everything feel new and exciting. There’s always that subtle welcome to the city that each person feels quietly and by themselves.

Prague at first sight is breathtaking. And a lot of it is because of the exquisite architecture, which is a mix of Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance and several other forms that developed over the years. Each building looks perfect in itself, and right next to it is another building equally beautiful. Rows upon rows of similar sized buildings, tinged with quiet colors make the backdrop of this city.
By the time I managed to inhale the architecture, we were at our hotel. Fusion at Panskà 9, quite possibly the coolest hotel I’ve ever set foot in. Easy graffiti signage, two walls plastered with polaroids of midshots of people in nothing at all (with an occasional bra worn by someone minutely shy), seating made out of railway trolleys replete with wheels, and a friendly staff who told us breakfast was included in the room tariff and it lasted from 10 a.m to 10 p.m! This was the beginning of a great day one! It also helped that rooms had their numbers displayed in neon right outside the door. I’m an 80’s girl. I’ll take anything with neon and run with it.
Room
With a 3 p.m breakfast devoured, we casually headed to where we thought the old town was. After going in the wrong direction for about a kilometer, we decided to ask for directions (I had 2 maps on me but I had decided to keep them safe in the hotel room). A U-turn and a quick stop for a glass of wine is always the best way to mend the error of your ways. Enroute to loosing our way we had encountered the tourist trap of Prague, so we knew what we had to avoid after our vino break. Yet, while heading to the Old Town, I figured why not just dive into that touristy area and see what was going on for just a minute. And then, while saying things like ‘every city has these. They’re so generic. You can never make out one city from another when you’re at the epicenter for tourists.’ I managed to get potato chips on a stick, a glass of beer, grilled sausages, some really expensive ham and I stared at all the little puppet shops around me. Needless to say, city centers catering to tourists have the hypnotic attributes of an optical illusion. I had to pry myself away and head to Old Town, or rather the periphery of Old Town. More stunning architecture, quaint little shops, Absentheries and lots more puppet shops. After a couple of hours of walking, my feet started to give way and I realized that I had been in some sort of transit or the other for the past 3 days, having come to London from Mumbai only a day before heading to the Gatwick Racecourse. So we dawdled towards the general direction of our hotel. Once again, we reached a very quiet area of the city that obviously, seemed unfamiliar. We were told to take the tram or a cab back because we were way out. And so we did. And that’s when Michael pointed out the Dancing House. Built in 1996 by Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry, Fred & Ginger (after Astaire and Rogers, as the house resembles a pair of dancers) is such an interesting structure especially since it is a complete contrast to it’s surroundings. It was almost twilight and the remnants of sunlight were bouncing off the rivers surface and the buildings seemed to sway without moving.
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We had grand plans for dinner but we knew that we were only fooling ourselves. A Twix, a stale doughnut, chips; two miniature bottles of whiskey and sleep like a dead person was how the day ended.

Before I get on with Day 2 I must add that I’ve noticed that whenever I’m in a city with a castle in it (Lisbon, Edinburgh) and I make a plan to see the castle, not only do I manage to not see the castle but also miss most of the other sights. It could also be that all these trips have been around 3 days or less, which suddenly make sightseeing seem tedious and I’d rather sit in a park and throw things at pigeons.
Prague has a castle. I guess you know what I’m getting at.
The next morning I read up a little during breakfast and figured that Charles Bridge was where I wanted to go first. It also mentioned that one should ‘visit this exquisite bridge at dawn to avoid… ‘ and that’s where I stopped reading. I really should have continued because when I got to the bridge at 11 a.m, it hit me that I had only seen these many people in a limited space twice before in my life. Dadar station after college used to get over at 5:30 p.m and Sunset Point in Santorini in July. Despite the number of people, the bridge was striking. It was a delightful day with clear skies with a certain crunchiness to it.
I could see the castle from where I was and made a mental note to definitely go see it the next day before my flight.
fucking castle
We got off the bridge and headed to a park we could see near the bank of the river. While getting there, we encountered 3 giant metal babies by sculptor David Černy. These baby sculptures guard Museum Kampa, and I later found out that Černy had been commissioned to make these babies to stick on to the Zizkov Tv tower, which is one of the first (and only) monstrosity you will notice while entering Prague. It towers over the entire city and its communist-era architecture makes it look like an intimidating rocket and an eyesore all at the same time. Černy’s babies have been crawling up the tower since 2001.
giant baby
After peeping into the mouths of the guard babies we made our way to a nice meal at a rooftop restaurant right next to river. Lazy lunches, when you have no plan or agenda for the rest of the day, almost have meditative qualities. This was one such lunch. Where life seemed just right.
Afterwards, we bummed around in the heart of Old Town looking for a coffee house called Original Coffee. Exceptional things have a habit of hiding in the shadows. And Original Coffee was no different. Tucked in a corner, away from the sun, with one person manning the counter, serving perfect cups of espresso and Americano. More walking around, ducking into shops, eyeing things and coming shockingly close to buying them, and looking for socks and a silver chain (don’t ask) took up the rest of the evening. There was not even a slight hint from either of us to do anything culturally inclined. I figured since we had a lot of the next day to ourselves we would certainly go to the castle (!!!) and maybe a museum. Back at the hotel, while Michael read, I decided to align and photograph the contents of my bag because I had stumbled upon a site on Flipboard that had a 100 such photographs of people’s bags and it seemed doable and easy (I managed to blur all the photographs I took).
With my little design project done, we figured why not head out and get a fusion Japanese meal because what else will you eat in Prague, right?
Some super sake + noodle soup later instead of heading out to Zizkov which is the hippest part of prague with over 300 bars in under 5 sq.kms, jet lag dragged me (and in tow Michael) back to our hotel bar for a night cap. The circular bar had stools all around it and the stools rotated around the bar. If this isn’t “crazy” enough, there was a massive screen that was showing adventure sports videos in sync with the music the Dj played. Two hours and many Sambuca’s later we managed to peel ourselves from the beartrap that was television.

I think I woke up in some amount of panic the next morning thinking we had no time and we must (at least) make our way to the castle.
Breakfast was at Café Louvre, which has seen the likes of Kafka and Einstein sit and sip coffee at its warm, welcoming tables and old school charm.
Pancakes, eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt, orange juice, tea, coffee, weiner wurst and hash browns were ordered, proving that over ordering is an art and I could probably teach it at a university. They had to move another table to fit all our food in, and the guilt and shame of all this made me eat almost everything.
Word of caution to anyone ever attempting to eat at this establishment, they are very generous with their helpings. Just order one thing. And then share it.
cafe louvre
Obviously I felt sick. I felt like the time I ate 9 pieces of cake because I thought others might eat it, and then I had to run away in the middle of a conversation to hurl.
After whining the entire way back to the hotel, I felt much better. It was check out time but we could stash our bags at the reception and roam around (castle!!) for a few hours before hailing a cab. We ambled towards the direction of the castle but then decided that, heck, it’s just a few more hours, the castle would take up quite a bit of time, we’d go hungry, plus it was cloudy (bad luck to see castles on cloudy days), so we figured we’d just walk the city some more.

So, with a few hours at hand, we just strolled. Cobble stone paths, old buildings, a wall with posters, signposts, the sun peeping out from ominous looking clouds pretty much made up some of our time. I don’t think we talked much till Michael said “What are the chances that at the end of this road, towards the right we’ll find a café where we can get a coffee or a drink?”. He had been to Prague 15 years ago, so I didn’t know if he genuinely knew about a place or was just bluffing. We walked right till the end, where to road split up, and saw nothing. And just as I was about to start to making fun of him, he walked into this narrow space between to shops and popped back out and asked me to come to where he was. The most beautiful coffee shop in the middle of nowhere. How did he know? Beats me. The place took my breath away. Wrought iron chairs outside, with walls embraced by sinewy vines, a wooden bar, benches tucked away in little corners of the wall + prosecco+coffee+marblecake made it all kinds of perfect.
I wish I could remember the name of this place but it’s best to let secret things that let you find them, remain secret.
Unnamed cafe
There was a stroll by the river, a nap in the park, a meal just before sunset, an Absentherie and sleeping on the floor at the airport involved in the hours before take off.

After working for 4 months without a break, this trip made me breathe a little easy and do as I please. That’s the fun in 3-day getaways. To be a brat and boast about not seeing anything of significance (and thwarting the very idea of castles).

A shorter version of this was published in The Sunday Guardian last week. Here’s the link.
http://www.sunday-guardian.com/artbeat/czech-it-out-unexpected-delights-off-the-beaten-tourist-track-in-prague

Bombay Unlimited

My friend Cyrus and I have worked as sounding boards for each other for the last ten years. In this period we’ve both changed jobs and industries several times and somehow it’s always worked to have his opinion floating around somewhere in my head before I took a leap or stuck to a current situation. And I think we’re each other’s cheerleaders without ever shouting it out loud.

A year ago I decided that I wanted to quit what I was doing and dive in with both feet into writing. Of course Cyrus thought this was a great idea, mostly because he had just finished a year of being an assistant photographer after quitting his amazing marketing job. He has critiqued a lot of my work, given sound advice and made fun of me constantly.

He texted a while back saying that a friend of his runs an online publication called ‘Unmapped’ and that I should write for them. He connected Karim Meggaro (editor and publisher of Unmapped) and me via email and after a back and forth of a few mails we decided on a piece that I could pen for Unmapped. The issue was about coastlines and my idea was to write about the coastline of Mumbai from a time gone by when the beaches were pristine to a coastline of a Mumbai from the future, where the beach would be clean, accessible and people friendly.

The article was published last week, but I didn’t know everything I needed to know about Unmapped. So I shot Karim a few questions to clear the fog. His answers made me fall in love with his ideology. Have a read for yourselves.

When and why did you start Unmapped?

A little over a year ago, I was sat in a pub in Copenhagen, having just quit my job, trying to come up with a great concept for a magazine. I had watched the online publishing industry grow and develop from a distance, and I figured now was a great time to jump in and try my hand. My idea was to create something that told stories from a truly international perspective – for an online audience that could be anywhere in the world. I also wanted to do something different from the traditional travel magazine – no paid junkets to luxury hotels, but real stories, told by locals, from places all over the world. Once I’d come up with the name, everything was set. Then the hard work started…

What were you doing before that?

Prior to Unmapped, I’d been working for about five years for magazine publishing houses on projects around the world – from Argentina to Mexico, Taiwan to Russia, Australia to India. It was a great experience of both writing and editing, meeting people, and also, in the later stages, on running a publishing operation. One of the best lessons I learnt from this experience, and one of the things that I love most about Unmapped, is that every two weeks, a new issue comes together from a handful of people around the world, each working on their laptops from wherever they can get a Wi-Fi connection – I see no need to establish an office at any point in the near future, when such a good job can be done from wherever makes people the happiest.

Unmapped is ad-free. Clearly that’s a conscious decision. Tell me why.

Part of working in a magazine publishing house is dealing with the advertising and advertisers that make such an operation possible. The reality is that even if you start out with the best of intentions in this area, the lines eventually begin to blur between what is best for the magazine and what is best for the advertiser when it comes to editorial. Having said that, I’m not against advertising per se: in time, it may become necessary to bring advertisers on board with Unmapped in order for us to grow to the next level.

I went with a subscriber-only model with Unmapped for two reasons. The first was a pragmatic one – doing so would mean I wouldn’t have to spend any time on ad sales as the magazine was starting up, which meant I could focus more on getting the look and feel of the magazine right, and finding the best possible contributors. The second was a little more idealistic – I honestly believe that a time will come when people are so used to paying for good written content online that they won’t even question the existence of pay walls, and I believe this time is starting to approach now. Why not get in at the start and help to lead the revolution?

 

Incase you missed the article, here it is: http://www.unmappedmag.com/issue-15/bombay-unlimited/

Also, if you’re a little more curious about Karim, you can stalk him on twitter at: @karimmeggaro @unmappedmag 

And if any of you need any free advice + occasional ridicule, here’s cyrus: @cyrusdalal7.

P.s. Cyrus is possibly the best food photographer around. He once made a vada pao look sexy.

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Vous Êtes Sexy

A couple of years ago I wanted to interview most of the people around me. I had come to a place in my life in Bombay where I knew achingly interesting people. And I wanted to document them. But not in the way one would using a rule-book or a set of questions that had grown tired of being asked. I wanted to focus away from what they did and dig in a little deeper into who they were and how they wasted time on Tuesday afternoons.

Then, last year, I met the good people from homegrown.co.in, and they said I could kick off my interview series with them.

I called it ‘Vous êtes sexy’ and asked some people questions that made me know them better.

I’m going to attach links to some of these interviews, so that I can remind myself how lucky I am to know the people I’ve surrounded myself with.

 

1. Adhiraj Singh

Adhiraj was my experiment interview for the idea that was going to become Vous êtes sexy. I think it was after hanging out with him a little that I realized what a funny person he was behind that absurdly deadpan face. We worked together for 3 months in 2011, but I’ve remained a fan since.

http://homegrown.co.in/vous-etes-sexy-with-adhiraj-singh/

 

2. Ravina Rawal

Ravina is a force to reckon with. She works absurdly hard but makes you believe that she’s been filing her nails and sipping champagne all day. She’s quite possibly the funniest woman I know, with enough sass to knock an entire army off of their feet.

http://homegrown.co.in/vous-etes-sexy-with-ravina-rawal/

 

3. Vishal Dadlani

Vishal is my favorite rockstar in all of ever. ‘Nuff said.

http://hg.dbsmedia.pro-linuxpl.com/vous-etes-sexy-with-vishal-dadlani/

 

4. Ayaaz Basrai

I mostly want to eat all of Ayaaz’s ideas. And some of his art.

http://homegrown.co.in/vous-etes-sexy-with-ayaz-basrai/

 

I hope you have fun reading these.

 

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Skin

The color of skin has always been something I’ve felt strongly about.

And by that I mean that I don’t think about it at all.

It’s not something that can be up for discussion. Or debate. It’s not something you choose.

But it is definitely something that people find easy to poke and prod with incredible ease. 

 

We call ourselves an intelligent species and yet in the same paradoxical breath discuss black/white/yellow/brown skin.

How childish.

 

Motherland Magazine did an entire issue on this. They asked me to contribute and I could not say no. 

While growing up I studied in several schools and lived in many different parts of India, and have always been amused with people who have wished to discuss, make fun of, patronize and support the color of my skin. What I always tried to tell them was that I was fine with being a deep shade of brown; it was they who needed to introspect (and probably evolve a little more).

 

I have tried to trap some of this amusement in my article. 

 

http://www.motherlandmagazine.com/skin/life-s-a-bleach

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Book etc.

It took me 7 months to write ‘Things Your Mother Never Told You About Love’. Which most people around me thought was freakishly good time for 40,000 words, which in turn made me doubt myself because 1. First time author. 2. Had I been too hurried? 3. Should’ve Would’ve Could’ve started swirling in my head.

The thing is I had a deadline.

I hate deadlines.

I have to meet them. It’s an ego thing. Like an open challenge to a deadline that it cannot be better than me, that I will un-do it and not the other way around.

I had 7 months, I dropped all other work, stayed in pajamas all day, drank a lot of tea, did occasional sets of push ups just to wake myself up and wrote a book. My first. Those who read it, liked it, despite the 3 grammatical errors that make my skin crawl and nose bleed. And I liked it because after spending a whole month critiquing it after submitting the final draft, I had tapped into the sublime appreciation of a task completed. This was going to be my first book forever and that’s something to smile about.

I dedicated it to 1997 and Grazia Magazine wanted to know why, and so I explained. 

In case you’re curious, here goes….

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Bag Lady

After having spent the entire morning and afternoon walking around exploring Prague (and eating/drinking pretty much everything in sight), I rolled back into my hotel room to ‘rest’ before stepping out again. I was aimlessly gazing at Flipboard till I came across this photo series called ‘Essentials’ by Daniel Eckler who is a creative director and designer. The series peeps into the bags of 100 creative people from around the world to see what the essentials are that they cannot live without.
Since I’m traveling light and had no check-in baggage, I figured what was in my handbag was of utmost importance to me. So I aped the series and photographed the contents of my bag and this is what I got.

The blue alien is my forever travel companion and the Clarityn is my armour against 17 allergies. The homeopathy Meds placate my hypochondria.
Everything else is pretty self explanatory.

Also, here’s the link for the ‘Essentials’ series which also explains why Eckler did the project.

‘What’s In Your Bag?’ Take a Look at the Daily Essentials of 100 Global Creatives’

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