Priya Sathe

on her collection of cloth, plastic and paper bags

There was an open market-like structure in the middle of a mall in Malaysia. These weren't exactly shops, they were more like stalls. These stalls were selling clothes, footwear, souvenirs, home decor articles and several other knick-knacks. Ever since coming to Malaysia on vacation, I hadn't bought a thing. Honestly, I wasn't too excited about the quality of the things that were being sold, especially in comparison to Singapore which is where we had come from.

I decided to look around anyway. You never know what you'll find. Just when I thought that my shopping luck was running out I saw a woman carrying a very pretty cloth bag. It was white and had a beautiful green tree printed on it. Then I noticed a few more people carrying similar bags. I was compelled to ask one of them where they'd gotten those and I was told that there was a footwear stall in the right corner which was giving those with a purchase of three pieces of footwear. Buying footwear on that stall suddenly became mandatory.

I noticed that I had browsed that stall before and hadn't fancied anything. But suddenly, I realized that there were three plastic flip-flops that were a must buy! My daughter and husband had been patiently waiting for me in an ice cream shop on the first floor.

When they saw me with that bag they instantly knew that whatever it was that I had bought was because of the bag. They know me well.

People collect all sorts of things - Stamps, currency notes, bottles, shells, antiques, coins, sculptures, paintings, books. The list is endless. I collect bags! Plastic, paper, cloth, I like them all. I don't collect or ask for the carry bags that fruit or vegetable vendors give. I don't have to. I have so many bags that I'll probably be able to carry a different bag each week when I go grocery or vegetable shopping. I'm guilty of buying things I don't need just because the bag was good. So do I shop for the sake of the bag? Sure. I even watch movies to eat popcorn and drink tea to eat cookies. So there!

I am often more excited about the bag than the shopping. Whenever I go shopping with my sisters, the first thing they do after coming home is give the bag to me. I remember we had gone sari shopping to Nalli in Mumbai when my niece was getting married. My sister managed to find the perfect saris to give - 35 of them. I was excited about the bags. So after we were done shopping, I told the manager to give us 35 bags since all those saris were going to be gifted. Then I asked for huge bags to carry the saris in. He gave us 4 humongous bags.

I almost felt as euphoric as I might have felt had I won a lottery. I must have been a hoarder in my previous birth. Well, according to my family, I was a trash collector! Oh well.

I have bags that I've kept for 30 years and bags that have moved countries and cities during their existence. I have gift bags that contained gifts for my daughter who recently turned 25. I can see myself bringing gifts in them for my grandchildren. I have bags from department stores that don't exist anymore or stores that have changed their branding since then. I have bags that have been gifted to me because my friends and family are aware of my bag fetish.

My sisters gifted me 50 bags on my 50th birthday because they were sure it was the perfect gift. I have bags full of bags and drawers full of bags. I always ask for extra ones when they're nice. I shamelessly ask my friends to get me bags from airports and museums and they do. It feels great to pick out a bag from my wide collection and give them to people whenever I'm bringing something for them. So even if I am giving someone a small jar of homemade pickle, I always have the perfect-size bag for the jar.

Honestly, I do sometimes think that I need help because of the way I hoard them and ask for more. But then I can't be blamed for wanting to keep my memories alive, can I?

I might not still have the saris or dresses or shoes or toys or chocolates or the tens of other things that I brought home in those bags or the gifts that somebody might have brought in them, but I do have the bags that carried them. I distinctly remember most of what I've bought or received, thanks to those bags. If all this sounds 'not so normal' then so be it. My bags might look empty to the eyes but they are filled with precious memories and love.