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Flipping through my travel diary of some years ago, brought me to this entry. Dear reader, I, as a mother, if you have ever come face-to-face with logic-defying moments, while preparing for travel, do read on…
Others have “aha” moments. I make do with “What on earth am I doing?!” ones. Such a moment happened to me last evening, as I filled a clear plastic bag with salt and put it into my handbag.
No, dear reader, I haven’t completely lost it. Salt hasn’t become the new currency. Nor am I on some kind of strange detox that calls for the everyday kitchen ingredient. The salt owes its presence to the leeches. “Which leeches?” you ask. The ones that inhabit the roads from Bagdogra, West Bengal, to Darjeeling, and further to Kalimpong, and Gangtok in Sikkim.
It happened like this…
I called up a well-read and senior neighbor who is rumored to be the inspiration for the Lonely Planet series. Her expertise in all things related to travel, is legendary. So I thought of requesting for her travel-tips before setting off on a 19-day vacation to the afore-mentioned places. And our pleasant talk stopped to a halt upon hearing of the leeches that live in these regions. “No stepping on the grass during breaks in the long car journeys” she said, “And wear your footwear when you need to respond to nature’s call”, she added.
I repeated this to my family. Abhishek, my cautious 10 year old, knows all about salt and leeches. He was convinced that hordes of these blood-sucking fellows were eagerly waiting his visit to their home, ready to pop out of the grass at the first onset of rains, which is once every day or so. He would imagine them falling upon unwary tourists (us!), with maniacal shouts of laughter (o.k. so I made up the last part!).
He looked at me with a knowing look. Turning to his father, he said, “Mamma will carry salt in her hand-bag”. Not asked. Not requested. Simply declared. After all, past experience has shown that Mamma does indeed carry a mini universe in her hand-bag, all for the express purpose of being able to keep him healthy, happy, comfortable, safe, cut-free, and non-bored.
Is there a term like the last one? There ought to be; parents know all about how much it takes to not have a child say those dreaded words, “I’m bored!”
Why not follow the “Prevention is better than cure” dictum and simply avoid presenting one’s blood to leeches? “Sure” responded Abhi, “I’ll wear my shoes at all times. But you will carry the salt too, won’t you?” Yes I will. Is there any doubt? And so the evening found me trying to fit in a bewildered guest of my kitchen into an equally bewildered handbag.
“Just look at me, I’m already bursting at the seams” declared the harried handbag.
I looked. My money pouch stared back at me. Next to it was my cell-phone, a handkerchief, a comb, my address book (yes I still have one of those antiquities), the house keys, a tiny box of cloves and cardamom, two pens, some sticky-paper and my “usual travel-bag” containing credit cards, the airline tickets, Abhi’s passport, frequent flyer airline cards, photographs of family members, photos of my gurus, my driving license (which is a handy identification document but otherwise completely useless as I don’t drive), some hygiene essentials, a taxi and rickshaw tariff card, some “carry at all times” pain killers, band-aids, an emergency “looks-fixer” kit with a mirror, bindis, safety-pins, 2 tiny vials of perfume, a lipstick, a pair of earrings, a tube of lip balm, hair clips and hair-bands, and finally, the little tag that was tied around Abhi’s neck at the nursing home where he was born (I know, I know! But am sentimentally attached to it).
Next to this nestled the vacation-specific mini-bag that had a torch, a scarf, some anti-nausea medicines for Abhi, some tissues and plastic bags (to wipe up the mess if and when the above-mentioned medicines failed, which they usually do), a tiny box of pepper powder (helps digest oily food, I swear!), some soothing ointment for the skin (mosquitoes and assorted insects like to make a beeline for Abhi and greet him like a long-lost friend.)
“Where’s the calendula”? The irritated boy rubbing his red arms will invariably ask, within twelve minutes of venturing outdoors. And last, a bundle of assorted toffees and chewing gum for the family.
I looked at the handbag in one hand and the bag of salt held in the other. Time to say goodbye to something…
Out came a bigger handbag from the cupboard. And the residents got transferred into a larger home. My husband saw the activity and admitted that he was relieved; he had plans to make me carry the digital camera in the handbag. “And the hotel allotment papers too”, he added smiling sheepishly.
I picked up the new handbag and sighed. “Oh well, my shoulders and arms will look more defined by the end of the trip” I muttered.
At dinner, Abhi asked, “Did you take enough salt?”. “Enough for an army of leeches”, I smiled. Watch out jungles, the Mukherjee handbag is here!