Monday, February 18, 2008

The Package

My mum has always maintained that I am waay too sentimental. And as much as it kills me to do so, I'll admit it...I'm one of those nutty people you've heard about who cries over commercials. I know, I know, it's a little ridiculous. But then again, there's something just so heartwrenching about that humane society ad about the happy little dog with his big brown eyes peering hopefully out of its tiny cramped cage wanting to be adopted and taken home. Maybe it's just the dog in the commercial. Maybe it's the message of the commercial itself. Maybe it's just me. But either way, if you've watched that commercial and never secretly wanted to bawl like a baby, may I just say, you've got an icy, icy, cold, cruel heart. There, I said it.

So last week, I bawled like a baby. And no, this time it wasnt the commercial on air. It was more legit. I got a package from home.

At first I was really excited. I arrived at my apartment to find this big box waiting for me at the doorstep, and a warm fuzzy feeling came over me as I saw my dad's familiar handwriting all over it. They hadn't even told me they were going to be sending a package.

For the past month or so, my parents have been doing a mini-tour of all sorts across India - visiting my relatives scattered across various different states, and taking their dream vacation to see Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and the surrounding locale. I remember when my mum called me right before they were going to start their holiday and cried over the phone (alright, so maybe that sentimental thing is all in the genes). You see, this was going to be the first holiday that my parents and sister were going to take without me. We've toured India countless times over the years, but always together as a family. This would be the first time in all these years that they would be holidaying without me tagging along, and my mum was getting all teary-eyed over it. "It's okay, mumma...just take lots of photos for me, and I'll be sightseeing along with you.", I convinced her. In the end, they had a good time, and over the next few weeks, I kept hearing "oohs" and "aahs" over the phone at every mention of the taj mahal and the red fort and the pink city and the endless destinations they had been visiting. And then I got the package.

I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut through all the tape holding the box together, all the while shaking my head in disbelief over the sheer quantity of cellotape used. I could get an anonymous package from anywhere in the world and I would still recognize my dad's trademark obsession for tape all over the package and know just who it came from. After cutting left, right and center, the box fell apart pouring out bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts all over my living room. I reached out for the biggest small box within the main box and set about undoing the obsessive tape work holding this smaller box together. I let out a big gasp when the packaging finally came apart and I saw what I was left holding in my hands. It was a small, pure marble, replica of the Taj Mahal...just as intricate and delicate in design as I imagined the real Taj Mahal looked like. It was simply beautiful. I set it gently on the side table in my living room, and continued to sift through the styrofoam peanuts.

Two marble elephants, one with a small piece of the foot chipped off. Not too noticeably messed up, I reasoned. I could easily hide the chipped off foot by placing it at the right angle next to DVD player in the entertainement center. A box of kaju katli from Mumbai. As I opened the box and took a bite of the yummy goodies, I fondly remembered all the holidays I had travelled with my family to India. No matter where else we had been traveling in India up to that point, before flying out of the country, we would always stop by this one particular sweet shop in Andheri that we all insisted sold the best sweets. We'd buy small boxes of halwa, and other sweets to gift out to friends back in Kenya. I insist I do not have a sweet tooth, and I generally hate ghee laden ladoos, but when it comes to kaju katlis, my dormant sweet tooth comes alive. Stuffing my mouth full of the katlis, I continue to search through the package.

A couple of small, beautiful, framed pictures from Jaipur. I fantasize using them to make a picture collage to decorate the walls of my boring apartment. They'll definitely add some life to the place. A pair of silver dangling earrings. My sis sure has good taste. A few satchets of instant pani puri mix. Mmmm. I'm craving some pani puri like right about now. I could use a trip to the indian grocery store, I decide.

Clothes. A bohemian mix of western and indian styles. Tunic style tops with artistic embroidery. And just in the right colors too. No funky bright reds, greens and yellows. My beloved hues of black, white and cream. It's amazing how a single whiff can take you back on a journey through the years. I do my own version of a febreeze ad and raise the clothes to my face and suck in the smells contained in the clothes. The clothes in the package have that distinct new-clothes-from-a-shop-packed-inside-mum's-suitcase smell to them. They remind me of countless holidays spent with my family, wandering down the unknown alleys of an Indian town, admiring the endless gallery of salwar kameez, tops and jeans hanging from impromptu displays created outside the stores. The haggling over prices with shop owners and the excitement of wanting to wear the precious new clothes at the next given opportunity. I sniff at the clothes and a warm feeling of nostalgia sweeps over me.

And then I saw it. The one item in the package that overwhelmed all the emotions I felt inside of me as I opened the package and reduced me to tears. It's a paper bag and as I peek inside it, my throat tightens and I feel all choked up. I empty its contents on the carpet and pick each one up. Inside the bag are brochures and pamphlets and postcards collected from every single place that my family has visited during their trip to India this year. Postcards with views of the Taj Mahal from every possible angel. A booklet advertising the Swami Narayan temple. Leaflets collected in Jaipur. Brochures from the various mosques and temples they had been to. And as I leafed through them, a sob broke loose and I cried.

You see, my dad's most precious legacy to me has been his love for travelling. It's the one passion we share together. Sometimes to a point of annoyance to the rest of our family. My dad jots down bits and pieces of his day in a diary he carries when he travels. I blog when I travel. My dad takes an infinite amount of time positioning us and finding the best angel for a shot on his old kodak camera. I take an infinite number of photos in the hope of the best shot on my canon digital camera. He talks to rickshaw drivers about the most authentic restaurants in the area. I consult yahoo travel on the best places to eat wherever I travel. He collects brochures and pamphlets wherever he goes. I collect brochures and pamphlets wherever I go.

A flashback to all the trips we've taken to India together reminds me of all the brochures, pamphlets and postcards we've collected together over the years. Two of each. One for me to hang on to, and the other for him to hang on to. My mum would often complaint of all the paper "junk" that we were carrying back with us, and why we had to have two of everything. Once we were back home, we'd set aside a day to go through all the brochures and pamphlets and exchange whatever I had that he was missing and so on and on it would go, back and forth with all the postcards and leaflets, laughing and re-living the adventures of the trip through the exchange of the souvenirs.

As I looked at the contents of the brown paper bag, I realized what my dad had done. Even though I was missing on their trip, my dad had still collected twos of every brochure and postcard he had picked up during their travel - and sent me my own copy of the trip. It was his way of taking me along on yet another travel adventure.

Packages from home have a strange way of flooding your heart with a mish mash of mixed emotions. This one made me cry.


Vatasal said...

its hard to find people...who r like urself and who thinks like like urself. I just read your post...and there was something that struck me, first of all, its really interesting to see anyone who know so much abt india and its regional specialities...its really cool. Moreover, i too am a very emotional kind of person (i dont cry at commercial..although :P ), but dont get many people to share my thoughts..and never used to share my thoughts before.Thats why i'm a new blogger (wrote my 1st one yesterday only :D )...and it really helps u to bring all the stuff, that was just accumulating inside ur mind...its nice... :)

~vagabond~ said...

Thanks for all your compliments, Vatasal :)...but I cant claim to know all that much about India as I'd like to. I was born in India, and my parents are originally from India but I've spent almost all of my life abroad. All I know of India is through cherished memories of long holidays there stories told to me by my parents of my early childhood there, and their own lives growing up there. I wish I knew more of it. Even so, at heart I feel every bit Hindustani.
And yes, like you, I do find blogging very therapeutic too. :)

Dust Unsettled said...

Lovely post... I am going to call my parents today and ask them to take me to a vacation... It's long due.... Thanks for the post!

Cuckoo said...

And you made me cry.
Can not say more than that.