April 24, 2020
I grew up in Kallianpur, India, but now live in the UK. Once a year, during my children’s summer vacation, we visit relatives in India.
For me, holidays to India always start with a list. As soon as we let the family know that we have booked our tickets, the list arrives:
1) ‘Remember to get chocolates- Those Ferris ones, everyone likes them.’
‘Yes, those round spiky ones in gold wrappers with nuts inside.’
‘Oh, Ferrero Rocher you mean?’
‘That is the one. And get lots. The last time you came there were no chocolates left to give Walty Ab. He is still fuming. And I had to pay one thousand rupees - a thousand rupees, mind you - For a tiny box of truffles from that shop that sells imported goods to give to Mimi Voni. I had to lie and say they were from you. You know how particular she is. Although she only lived for six months in the Gulf twenty years ago, she has delusions of grandeur worthy of the queen of England. The only chocolates she claims to like are good quality cocoa dusted chocolate truffles with a hint of sea salt.’
2) Shampoo: ‘Get the ones smelling of apples and vanilla.’
(‘Don’t they get shampoo in India?’ My husband asks; eyeing the myriad bottles scattered around the suitcases, as I wrap duct tape securely around them so they will not split during the journey - It would be a disaster if shampoo got into the chocolate boxes - And begin the mammoth task of weighing the suitcases and juggling the contents so the weight of each one does not exceed 23 kilos).
3) ‘And Nimmi aunty’s boy – He is two I think, or is it three? Anyway, get something for him.’
4) ‘Something for Billu Ab’s grandkids.’
‘How many of them?’
‘There are three. Or four. Something like that.’
‘Are they boys or girls?’
‘Can’t remember. Can you not get something generic?’
5) ‘For that family down the road who are always giving you jackfruit when you come- Get jeans for the boys.’
‘What size are they?’
‘How should I know? Just guess.’
‘Younger one is in fourth standard, older one in tenth.’
‘Yes, but what age are they?’
‘Nine and fifteen I think, but the older one is well built and the younger one is very skinny.’
‘Are they tall for their age, short?’
‘Just get some jeans, Renita.’
(And before my husband begins his, ‘Do they not get jeans in India?’ spiel, I interject - ‘These are foreign jeans. They have a sheen all their own, even if they are from Primark.’)
6) Handbags for Lethi Bai, Sevrin Teacher and Bijju Mausi
7) Sunglasses for Anthony Dattu and Victor Maam
8) Men’s perfume and t-shirts for Paulu’s sons
9) Makeup for Cathrin Voni’s girls
12) iPhone 11 Pro Max
13) Anything else electronic beginning with ‘i’ or having an apple in the logo
14) If there’s any space left, more chocolate boxes
Every year my husband implores, ‘Please try and pack reasonably this time.’ And every year, he sighs as he calls the taxi company to book a people carrier for the journey to the airport for: ‘2 adults, 2 children.’ ‘Then why the people carrier, sir?’ ‘Well… there are 4 large suitcases and assorted hand luggage.’
Every year, the journey to the airport is fraught. My husband, thin-lipped as he shares his seat with a giant suitcase and my handbag spilling over with baby clothes. ‘Baby clothes? We do not have any babies.' 'Not for us, for Aunt Chinnu’s cousin’s child.’ ‘Why in your handbag for God’s sake?’ ‘There was no space in the suitcases.’ ‘Have you packed any clothes for us?’ Both of us remembering our visit the previous year when we had to buy our entire wardrobe down to socks and toothbrushes as soon as we landed, from the local shop. ‘Um…Well… Um…’
At check-in, I discover faith again as I plead mercilessly to Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints, to please, please, by some miracle make all the suitcases weigh 23 kgs or less, frantically remembering the shoes for Pedru Ab-‘his feet blister easily, Renita, the shoes in India are not good’- that I sneaked into the green suitcase, and the diabetic chocolates I packed into the brown one after they had all been weighed by hubby the night before and declared to be teetering closer to 25 than 23.
A frenzied reshuffle begins, as I open suitcases and stuff more items into already bulging backpacks, and my hubby slumps with his head in his hands.
Finally, the suitcases are through - Thank you Oh Great and Loving Lord - And we make our way to the plane overloaded and hunched under the weight of hand luggage digging into our shoulders and backs.
But… before we board there is the short but necessary detour to duty-free for the whisky: ‘Something to give both Fathers at the church and also the Pilar Fathers for all their prayers…’
And if you thought that was the end of the story…
On the journey back, the whole scenario repeats itself - But this time with pickle bottles presented by loving relatives, packs of jackfruit and banana chips, bafat powder, grated coconut, bhujia, pots and pans for the kitchen, a pressure cooker, a spice grinder… ‘Why not take that mixer, those guavas and chikkoos from the fruit basket and the kitchen counter as well, for good measure?’ my hubby asks.
But in between, we have a fabulous time. The warmth of family, friends and total strangers, the amazing food, stories exchanged, gifts showered, love bestowed. The smell of spices, the pleasure of biting into a perfectly ripe mango, juice trickling down chins, the sun tinting faces gold, the noise, the chaos, the heat, the advice, the love, the glorious mess of contradictions that is India. Home.