The Holdall…

Friday May 06, 2016

“You push all the kids in one by one… 4 of them… then the big steel trunk… and the two suitcases with the canvas covers… that small bag that you needed to deliver for Neeta Aunty in Delhi, given by her brother who is your neighbour… those two sizeable bags with home food to last for 2 days… that ‘Surahi’ – the earthen water pot… and the big, burly HOLDALL…” said Rajat, my good friend, in an off the cuff, innocuous soliloquy at the lunch table this week…

“And suddenly you discover after the train moves… the holdall is in… but Munnu, your third child… is lost somewhere in between the food bags and the HOLDALL…”

Rajat lived many years in the same small government owned, ‘Locomotive Town’, Chittaranjan, in West Bengal, where I spent the first 7 years of my life… the dainty, brick painted, flat-floored town of the 60’s and 70’s… where you could get into your neighbour’s house in a neighbouring street considering it to be your own… no fault of yours… they look the same exact as your house… and most of the time, waft out the same smells of a quintessential middle class living…

I haven’t been to Chittaranjan in the last 30 years but I am told it still is quite the quaint town the way I had last left it… no brick turned out of place and no smell altered… and still flat floored, for two reasons… one – the government is wary of the creaky concrete on the floor above the ground floor as the Railways contractors are infamous using any cement but the best… and two – if the locomotives suddenly started flying they would not take any substantial runway through the small town before they are airborne…

But something has changed…

With all the renaming drama in the country and the zeal and enthusiasm with which we have added more and more trains to the already burgeoning network… the ‘7-up Toofan Express’ that I used to take to travel across the south east of the town to Howrah (Calcutta – OK – Kolkata) and north west of Chittaranjan to Delhi… is now called ‘13008 Udyaan Abha Toofan Express’…

Now… for the LANGUAGE enthusiasts like me… the ‘Udyaan Abha Toofan’ could be a blasting blooper of all times… in my own humble leanings towards Hindi as a language I would interpret that as a “Splendorous (Abha) Garden (Udyaan) caught in a malefic Storm (Toofan)…

And… for the LUGGAGE enthusiasts like Rajat… the ‘HOLDALL’ has disappeared, not just from the family’s entourage… but the dictionary too…

——————–

“Leave that alone… we will put that in the HOLDALL…” shouted my father… “and that one as well… that can definitely go into the HOLDALL…”

Come May… and the sweltering heat… and the impending summer vacations… the plan in urban-middle-class-nuclear-familied India was plain and simple… take to the numerous trans-state trains that criss-cross the largest railway network in the world… and get to your ‘native’ place…

Now… ‘native’ was a very convoluted word in my mind in my growing up years… till I read of American Indians and Aborigines much later in life… I was convinced I had a much better place value in my own country…

For an Odisha-born, Telugu-speaking, 7 years in West Bengal and living in Delhi ever since… my parents kept it amply clear… native was where their parents lived… where their siblings lived… a definitive connect that way, miles away… my parents ensured we had a good reunion every summer with our roots…

A good part of the plan was to start the banter at the dining table weeks in advance… being employed in the Railways it was routine for my father to contour our dinner time conversations to a 7-up delayed that day by 7 minutes… or the AC Deluxe train that started from Howrah lost its way and ended up at New Jalpaiguri… or those 250 odd people caught at the railway station exit gate without valid tickets…

“This country is going to the dogs, I say…” my father would say… that was a good 40 years ago… well… he has since stopped commenting about the state of the country and that of the Indian Railways… he has run out of vocabulary…

With a week in the looming for the journey… my mother would pick up the energy from the heavy smoky air in the kitchen… the sweet meats for us during those 2 days of the journey… and some with added preservatives for our relatives when we reach our native place… and enough other foods with varied levels of preservation duly stamped for taste, texture… and trademarked for the 8 odd meals that we would have during the journey… before we again had home made food cooked by maternal and paternal aunts when we reached our destination…

And the biggest celebration was always packing the luggage… the clothes for a month long vacation… dumped into the VIP or Aristocrat polycarbonate suitcases… and the suitcases themselves covered with freshly washed canvas covers, often made from the army fatigues… that were stitched by the neighbourhood tailor… you see… while the polycarbonate protects and carries your clothes… but for a life-lasting polycarbonate… you need to protect it with an oft washable canvas clothing…

Trust me… I still have that VIP polycarbonate suitcase at home… 40 years old… has lasted a lifetime… still going strong as a relic in my attic… all because of the canvas cover custom-stitched by my neighbourhood tailor… 40 years ago…

A day before the trip… everything is in place…

All except the HOLDALL… that is always the last to be packed…

“We need to pack those 4 bedsheets… bedcovers… inflatable pillows… some newspaper… those slippers… ah… ok… those wet towels that we can dry on the window… when the train moves they dry fast… what… some clothes that cannot go into the suitcase… ok… shove them in here… what else… ok… those steel chains to lock the luggage to the seat corners so that the luggage will not be stolen…”

For my father, who was the self-appointed director of packing the luggage… the HOLDALL was the command centre… the 5 ft by 2 ft canvas discernibly spread and open… with all sorts of travel items conspicuously spewing out from all ends of the HOLDALL…

“Where do we put these toothbrushes and toiletries and all, Nannagaru (father)…?” I would ask just before we left home…

Well… I knew the answer… but I just want the affirmation… for the austerity of the HOLDALL…

I don’t have the HOLDALL at home anymore… but my travels today are conveniently upgraded to wheeled luggage… Brooks Brothers cached in as the latest…

Rajat’s mention of the holdall this week though… brought back memories of many Mays of my life… Thank you Rajat…

Happy weekend…

Ravi Kodukula

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One thought on “The Holdall…

  1. The HoldAll does bring back memories – Ours was bottle green with a leather strap – and it was always the last hole that held it all.

    Like

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