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Vacations And Obligations In India

Vacations And Obligations In India

January 02, 2011

The travel memoirs of an NRI.

Fasten your Seatbelts. Turbulence Ahead.

As a child, yearly visits back to India meant weeks of frenzied shopping and the launch of a certain degree of verbal warfare at home. Words like “Flash visit", "shopping” and "luggage” flew through the air dodging furniture and landing on the opponent. When Mummy flung ‘Shopping’ and 'One more?' at Daddy, he retaliated with "Money" and "Luggage!!!"

Suitcase after suitcase were crammed to bursting levels. Torches, emergency lamps, jars of Tang powder, packets of chocolates and enough Nido milk powder to meet the calcium requirements of a small village, all jostled for space in there.

Passenger Comfort like never before.

Onboard the flight, we smiled smugly as the perky air-stewardess dutifully performed the emergency drill. We had our own private stash of food and supplies in the luggage bin. All we needed was to cling onto our bulky suitcase and allow it to drift us ashore to some uninhabited island in the midst of the Indian Ocean.

We would spend the rest of our days sipping thick, milky morning cuppas and snacking on pistachios with tall glasses of Tang juice later in the evening. An island lifestyle which would have forced Robinson Crusoe to go hide behind the coconut trees in shame.

God’s Own Country’s very own Car.

The arrival at Cochin airport was always followed with the same ritual. The airport doors would whoosh open so that we would be rudely awakened from our breezy island dreams and instead be hit by a balmy gust of tropical air. Year after year, our trusty driver Jose (Jose-Uncle for us kids), greeted us at the entrance grinning beside his gleaming white Ambassador car.

Now for those of you who have not had the pleasure of travelling in an Ambassador, I need to dedicate a few lines to this man-made marvel. An Ambassador is not just a car. It is THE Car. Move over, Benz and BMW.

Want to fit an entire football team in a single car? Ambassador is the answer.

Want to stuff the luggage of an NRI with several ‘conditionally’ grateful relatives? Again, Ambassador fits the bill.

Mummy masters the Magician Hat trick!

Once home, eager relatives would steadily trickle in. Helping hands would break open stubborn clasps on some of the suitcases. Others would crowd around trying to perfect that correct expression of surprise and gratitude when Mummy distributed the 'A Little Somethings'.

Unpacking the suitcases was like pulling things out of a Magician’s Hat. One surprise after another. It still amazes me how many torches, emergency lamps and flasks could be stuffed inside a suitcase. On top of that, ‘Gulf’ quality handkerchiefs would be stuffed inside these flasks. And it didn't stop there. Gold rings and chains (again 'Gulf' quality) were wrapped inside these handkerchiefs. It was a bit like a game of 'Pass the Parcel' gone haywire.

Family Scripture saying: “And not a single leaf of the Family Tree shall be unvisited”.

Then we proceeded to the nightmarish part of the trip - visiting relatives - which was like Halloween 'Trick o' Treat' ing, except the candy was replaced by cups of tea and plates of ‘mixture’. Almost every house in a 5 km radius was visited because everybody was related and everybody was on the ‘Cannot Avoid’ list. Of course, Jose-Uncle and his trusty Ambassador ferried us across to each house and back.

Back to the Future.

And 20 years down the line, Jose-Uncle still greets me each time I arrive at Cochin airport laden with my own set of stuffed suitcases. Some things haven't changed since then. I am still terribly motion-sick all the way home. Jose-Uncle still has a very strong opinion about Kerala politics, which I don't understand at all. The Ambassador still rocks (literally and figuratively).

But the difference is that nobody wants emergency lamps anymore. The zillion inverter companies around the state saw to that. And candies that come in packets? No way! Nothing less of a Ferrero Rocher or Toblerone is acceptable.

Journey back to Dubai and Deja Vu.

Predictably enough, keeping up with the superhuman packing and hoarding skills of Indians, we took back as much luggage as we arrived with. Watermelon-sized mangoes, bunches of bananas, innumerable spices, and pickles of every possible vegetable and meat known to the Malayali. Enough supplies to get us through any impending crash scenarios and reach that magical island.

That is if the weight of Mummy's newly purchased Kanjeevaram sarees don’t cause a buoyancy problem.


  • Noel
    16.01.11 02:39 AM
    really nice article....brings back loads of memories :) Even though we moved from Sharjah to the UK, mum still does more or less the same thing with the packing lol!! You should see some of the things that we bring back from India (usually a few years worth of 'vanitha' magazines for mum, half a market full of vegetables and not to mention loads of 'Onakameen' (dried fish) and dried topioca) :) oh and not to forget, the familiar 'kerala' smell you get when opening your suitcase...

    and you're right... mallus back home now are really picky about what they want from us when we get home... (Even though almost everything under the sun is available in India itself)... apparently they think we live in some kind of place where iPhones and Toblerones grow on anywyas keep up your awesome work.. peace!!
  • Maria
    07.01.11 06:20 AM
    Ah! how could I have forgotten to mention about the unopened gift bit :D Yes, you are about the Mothers and their infinite thoughtfulness. I still need my Mum to remind me what to get for who when I visit each time.

    But things have changed a lot since then. Each family branch has a lotta leaves and nodes in 'gulf' or 'States' or 'foren' and standards are indeed high now! Struggling hard to keep up with it ;)
  • AussieDesi
    05.01.11 07:58 PM
    Great article, brought back memories of my own childhood bi-annual visits.
    How previous year's birthday gifts which you were never allowed to open made a mysterious re-appearance in Mum's suitcase...for distribution to cousins! :-)
    Definitely agree with the "Magician's Hat" but will always have utmost respect for my mother in remembering to bring something for everyone - nobody, even servants and neighbours - missed out.
    As the distance between desi and foreign things reduces, I'd be interested to hear what other NRIs take as presents?

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