Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two Minutes Older: Packing It All In

There’s an Iznogoud story where Iznogoud gets a gift from someone and each time he opens the box, there’s another one inside that’s bigger than the box it came in. While this may challenge the laws of physics, I have often wondered when someone will invent such a useful object. You see, I have trouble deciding what to pack.

This is how it goes: one month before I need to travel, I begin to make lists of things to pack, under the general headings of Must Take, Can’t Do Without and Just In Case.

The first two categories are the easiest and most obvious. For instance, Must Take would include clothes, the house keys for when you return and suchlike. Can’t Do Without would be items like necessary, basic medication or camera/laptop/phone. It’s the third category that constantly challenges me and makes me out-Girl Guide myself each time I travel.

Just in case, I carry extra clothes. My logic – what if there’s no way I can wash my clothes? What if it rains? What if someone steals my clothes off the line? But most times I don’t have a reason for why I pack what I do, unless you count the category itself as not just self-explanatory but also logical.

Just in case, I (always) carry several zip pouches containing rings, toe rings, payals, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, even if it’s a two-day trip. Just in case I decide not to chew my nails, there are scissors, nail cutter and nail file (but, thankfully, no nail polish or remover). Just in case, also: torch, extra batteries, universal adapter, extra footwear, spare soap, hand sanitiser, hand mirror, extra handbags …you get the picture. Like Harold Wilson, I am an optimist, but an optimist who takes her raincoat. (I should say here, that of all the things it’s occurred to me to pack, a raincoat has never made the list. Not even when I travel to Bombay in the monsoon.)

And then I worry that I will run out of reading material. I assume that my mere presence in a city will repel bookstores or cause them to hide themselves from general view. And so I pack the book I happen to be reading, two more that I definitely will have the time to read, and a couple extra – you got it – just in case.

If you thought that all this advance planning would intimidate me right at the list stage and that better sense would prevail when I looked at my tiny, empty suitcase, you’d be wrong. All that advance planning achieves is it give you ample time in which to expand your list to unwieldy proportions. If you’re like me, you’re more likely to mentally list the number of suitcases and backpacks you have and wonder if you need to buy more. Just in case.

This time, when we travelled to Pondicherry, we packed one suitcase each and a couple of other bags that we thought we’d leave half-empty so that it could contain any shopping we might do or gifts we might buy.

What happened was, every time we closed our eyes, our bags reproduced. Before we knew it, five bags became seven and – by the time we settled ourselves in the train back home – eleven.

The night before we left, I had a panic attack and my son asked me – half anxious and half tickled at the amount of stuff lying on the floor waiting to be accommodated in our eleven bags, “What will happen if all this doesn’t fit?”

“Then you just wear whatever’s left,” I said.

I assure you, I wasn’t entirely joking, though my son giggled with delight at the thought.

It’s at times like this that I wish that Mary Poppins’ bag was an already achieved invention – one that could make the immaterial material, make object out of thought and horse out of wish. (Though, of course, for that to work properly we’d have to live in a benign Disneyworld uniformly coloured by niceness, decency and self-deprecating humour. Such a bag would be totally out of place in, for instance, Chennai Central).

The other way to avoid the horrors of packing is to stay at home and read travel blogs.

This column appeared in today's New Indian Express.


Banno said...

Very, very nice. Just in case, you are coming to Mumbai, you of course, don't need a raincoat. Or umbrella. Because they don't work, anyway. :)

I would have loved to seeing you struggling to get into the train with 11 bags. :)

Space Bar said...

Banno: No, no you wouldn't have been allowed to just watch! I'd have given you the heaviest piece of luggage to carry!

Ludwig said...

Heh. I must say, it was a mightily impressive sight, that cab! Approximately in the nature of Mohammad bin Tughlaq in respect of Delhi to Devagiri :P

km said...

I find it interesting that when our parents traveled, the most essential items were things like the good old Thermos flasks, food, pillows and sheets. We seem to have traded those things for laptops, chargers, cameras, iPads, batteries...

Niranjana (Brown Paper) said...

All you *really* need is a small beaded bag. And an Undetectable Extension Charm.

Space Bar said...

Luddo: I almost put that comment of yours in, let me tell you.

km: thermos flask! i miss 'em. and the lovely sound they made when i dropped them on the ground! coffee with shards of glass...

niranjana: i actually just want to be beamed up to wherever i need to go. (and welcome!)

km said...

Damn. I just can't remember that sound. Now I will have to break one.

"Coffee with shards of glass" sounds like the title of a poem angsty teens might enjoy.

dipali said...

I love your packing sagas!

Anindita said...

:) Very nice post. I'm exactly the same but recently I've been trying to travel light and going off the deep end with that. And you know, unusual emergencies do happen. At Heggodu, someone wanted two of my tops to wear in a play(!) so despite carrying an extra, I was short of one in the end. Clearly, one needs to plan for such extenuating circumstances.