It all started the day we were leaving India. I had spent all day the previous day packing everything we owned into the large suitcases. There is something charming about weighing international baggage to see if a packet of sambar powder would fit in the first 13 times you do it. After the 17th time this happened, I lost patience.
The previous day had morphed into the day we were leaving and I was still doing the pack-dance. I sighed a loud sigh. Loud enough for the considerate and well-intentioned husband to abandon all pretense at not-hearing. He was nominated to finish packing before he could flee the premises on a flimsy context. He did.
Our plans are always simple. For instance, if we have to go from home to the airport, our plan is:
1) Go to a temple that is an hour and a half away from the airport in a south easterly direction.
2) After the temple visit, go to a guesthouse that is an hour away in the eest westerly direction. Change.
3) Proceed to airport that is an hour away in a northern southerly direction.
When plans are made, strategies are not far behind. Napolean could take a correspondence course from us. The able general may have moved his troops from France to Russia and back fighting some wars along the way, but I doubt he could have loaded the suitcases onto the top rack of a car, tied it with rope and loaded the troops into the car before transporting them to a temple enroute to an airport. It would have him stumped.
The large suitcases were all loaded and tied onto the car. The children were counted and loaded inside the car. I hollered to make sure the hand baggage was not tied on to the top and then the whole family piled in and we took off. I don’t know why this is, but the temple we were visiting insists on women wearing sarees and men wearing dhotis. The husband smartly tied his dhoti over his pants and deemed himself ready. The last time I’d tried to wear a saree on my salwar kameez, I was rapped on my knuckles and told that any pant-like garment was not allowed. So, I was relying on step 2 in our plan to change into something comfortable before the flight.
We stopped at the guest house to change. It was hot and the infant in my arms was having fun with my saree. He kept playing peek-a-boo in it. I was holding onto the garment quite gingerly. The husband thrust the hand carry suitcase in my infant-free arm and then bounded off indecently behind some banana chips that were being fried half a mile away.
I haven’t really talked to men of the desert, but I suppose they must feel a sense of relief when they see an oasis. My senses were similar. Silk sarees are extremely hot and uncomfortable. I clutched the suitcase and opened it with longing. At first sight, I could not find any clothes for me or the daughter or the son. So I looked again. Nothing. I gasped and tried everything. Closing and re-opening to see if I’d missed the goods in a poor angle of light or something. Still nothing.
The husband walked in with a smile on his face. My look must have unnerved him for he came and asked me to eat chips and “chill”. Hot though I was, I asked him icily where our clothes were.
“There!” he said.
“Where?” I said.
“Just there – under the bed sheet!” he says. Why a man should pack a bed sheet in our hand-carry suitcase I still don’t know.
I pulled out a nightie. “You mean this?” I ask. Sheep could have detected the sarcasm, but the husband ignored it.
He was serious. That was the garment he had for me. A nightie. One of those barrel-like pillowcase shaped garments that are so popular as night wear in India. I gasped. Even by my lax standards of dressing, I could hardly travel abroad in a nightie. I gulped and swallowed a hundred times and asked about the children’s clothes. There was nothing in that department either. He had 4 vests of his, 2 pairs of his jeans, some towels and bedsheets in there. Also the camera. I could hardly wrap the daughter in a towel!
For those of you who wondered why the daughter and I were dressed like the Emirates Flight leaving at 3 a.m in the morning was to host a dear one’s wedding: that’s why.