It is usually easy to pack our suitcases on a return journey. Just empty out cupboards and drawers, make sure all the surfaces in the room are clear, and we are done.
True, we may decide to leave behind a half-bottle of mouthwash or hand lotion, but we do not spend time agonising over which clothes and shoes to put in — as we do when we are on our way out.
Of course, whether we are on an outbound journey or on our way back, if we are travelling by air, we are mindful of the weight of our suitcases. Thus, when we are returning from a sojourn in cooler climes, we carry a heavy jacket, choosing to ignore the fact that we are returning to the height of summer at home, we sling a couple of shawls over our shoulders, we remove the fragile items we could not prevent ourselves from buying from their padded packing and roll them in socks and lingerie... You understand. You have probably done it yourselves in order to get your suitcase within the prescribed limit of the airline of your choice.
On a recent holiday in India, we thought packing would be a breeze because we would have none of the shopping temptations that bulk up our baggage on trips abroad.
However, we hadn’t counted on the restrictive baggage weight of 15 kilograms for domestic air travel, and secondly, the entrepreneurs at every corner of every street in every place we halted.
They spotted the easily inveigled tourist in us and thrust eye-catching shawls and stoles and curios and handbags at us. Given that many of us were not adequately equipped for the cold mornings and evenings in the hills, we justified our purchases as “necessary” to ward off the chill, but truthfully, much more than we needed found its way into our hands.
Our group was made up of family and friends (and friends of family and friends), so we had no problem with adjusting that extra shopping in the vehicles when we drove from place to place — but we also had no problem with speaking our minds about what each person had bought.
Comments like: “Really! Another shawl to add to the even dozen you have already bought!” or “How many necklaces can you wear at one time? Stop!” did not do much to strengthen friendly ties and thus when our trip came to an end and we began the packing up process to return home, there was not only regret for those shopping excesses but also regret for all those minor altercations.
Then, slowly, wheeling and dealing began among those who were heading to the same destinations. “You haven’t done much shopping: Can you put a few of my shawls in your suitcase?” or “Just sling my extra jacket over your shoulder, will you? I can’t carry two...”
Despite the stray “I told you so!” and aggrieved “You didn’t want me to interfere and now you come to me for help!” old bonds resurfaced, and agreements were rapidly struck as we started filling our suitcases.
But we didn’t do it alone.
Instead, everyone congregated in each room until the packing was done there, and then moved on to the next room. Suggestions and demonstrations of “how to roll and stack”, and again, a lot of unnecessary comments flew back and forth accompanied with a lot of laughter, and when everything had been squeezed in, a digital hand-scale was whipped out to weigh our efforts — until all of us were done.
Some of us reconciled ourselves to paying for excess baggage, but most made it home free — and in the process of that joint effort at packing, packed up our troubles and troubled relationships as well.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.