Josna Rege

249. Baggage

In 2010s, Books, Britain, Food, India, Inter/Transnational, places, postcolonial, Stories, travel, Words & phrases on April 2, 2014 at 6:35 am

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910


Kuwait Airways, New York to London: My only suitcase had been successfully checked in and would be sent through to the final destination. But, set on the scales, my carry-on bag raised a little cry of alarm from the check-in clerk. According to her, the weight limit was 7 kg , or 15.4 lbs, and at nearly 25 pounds we were looking at some serious excess baggage. Thankfully her supervisor strolled over, eyebrows raised questioningly, and looking at the dismay on my face, dismissed her colleague’s officious concern with a casual wave of the hand. I was through—this time; but perhaps I won’t be so lucky when I have to undergo the ordeal again in London and Paris.

This Kuwait Airways flight is nearly empty, and I’ve been given the okay to stretch and occupy my entire three-seat row. The offending carry-on is wedged under my seat, bulging out in all directions; despite having jettisoned several pounds’ worth of books, papers, and clothing from both bags before leaving for the airport, I’m still overloaded. Was it Mark Twain who, writing a letter to a friend, apologized that he hadn’t had time to write a shorter one? That’s my excuse for my packing job as well.

Is that also the excuse for the unquestioned habits of thought that stain our every perception, the assumptions and prejudices that load our every reaction? That we don’t have time to honor each human being, each interaction, anew, giving them all the attention they deserve? Instead we short-circuit the full experience, substituting it with a pre-scripted response.

This is the other kind of baggage I’d like to shed on this trip. In a 1999 interview, the postcolonial scholar Edward Said said, “We have to break out of our self-constructed mind-forged manacles (quoting William Blake’s famous term) and look at the rest of the world—deal with it as equals.” This is what I mean by traveling light, my theme for this month’s A-to-Z challenge.

My eyes are puffy from lack of sleep and my skin dry and stretched to breaking point; but I’m trying to appreciate every little thing rather than to wish this exhausting journey over and done with. I love the fact that all the announcements are in Arabic, English, and Hindustani; that last night one of the dinner options was basmati rice and curried lamb, guaranteed Halal, and this morning one of the breakfast options was a vegetarian uthappam with chickpea curry and a spicy spinach ball; lots of hot tea, with real milk if you ask for it. Soon we’ll be landing at London’s Heathrow Airport and I’ll have to stay in the terminal to wait for a connecting Air France flight to Paris, then another on to Bremen at last. Another long day, with long lines to wait in, and bureaucratic hassles with boarding passes and carry-on luggage, no doubt. But I’ll be able to buy English sweets and newspapers, browse the airport bookshops to see what they’re reading in England, listen to French and German and a host of other languages being spoken, notice where people are from and what they are wearing. On this plane, bound for Kuwait via London, there is an interesting mix of South Asians from different parts of the diaspora, Middle Easterners, and an assortment of Americans and Britishers.

Heathrow Airport, London: Aah. A beeline for Boots the chemists for face cream, hand cream, and all-natural Bassett’s jelly babies (okay, there’s some baggage that just can’t be dispensed with.) Now there’s time for a nice pot of tea and wifi so that I can post my story for the day.


Note: Naaley is Malayalam for “tomorrow.” I heard a South Indian man say it on the plane and immediately thought of the lovers in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, who spoke this word to each other every time they parted, knowing full well that that time might be the last.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

  1. […] Baggage About excess baggage, both literal and figurative (Written in transit) […]

  2. Interesting trip. Travelling light makes for an interesting experience in so many ways. It’s amazing how we try to shore ourselves up against the unexpected by carrying so many unnecessary things.

    • Thank you, for visiting, Kathryn, and for your reminder of how we seem to carry things to protect ourselves–from what, I wonder? Perhaps we even need all these things as markers of our identity because we are afraid of losing our very selves?

  3. So many rich details here. Makes me hungry, for the food you describe, and the bustle of cultures crammed together, and being in different places. Beautifully written–I love the connection between your crammed bag and the idea of all the emotional/cultural baggage it is so hard to shed as well.

    • Thank you, Allie. It wasn’t hard to write about that bustle of cultures crammed together while crammed into a succession of airplanes! Thanks, too, for your appreciation of the writing. I suspect that it will be pretty uneven this month, due to my other commitments and being on the move. And I write these things best when I stay away from teacherly preachiness, which I’m afraid I succumbed to in “C.”

  4. What an amazing adventure you on on. I can’t wait to take it with you via the A to Z challenge

    Paula at /Smidgen,Snippets,&Bits

    • Thank you for visiting and commenting, Paula. I hope I can keep this up. At the very least I will try to post photos with longish captions!

  5. You are taking an interesting route from New York to London! Sounds like lots to look at and think about. And being able to stretch out in a whole row of seats sounds wonderful.

    • Yes, Kristin, it is interesting to take different routes and airlines, because different cross-sections of people travel on them. On Kuwait Airlines, at the time of the Muslim call to prayer they posted the outline of an airplane on the TV screens, indicating the exact direction of Mecca, so that people could orient themselves toward the Kaaba as they prayed. It was very quiet and unobtrusive, I just happened to look up an notice it.
      So much to look at! I’ve arrived in Bremen, now, and it is a beautiful city–so green and ecologically conscious. Also very egalitarian and committed to public housing and preservation of old buildings and open spaces.

  6. What a wonderful and diverse world we live in, Josna. Your post describes that so beautifully . Enjoy:)

    • Thank you, Don. Knowing that I had to write a post made me take greater note of all these details on the flights. And yes, despite the exhausting, stressful nature of air travel these days I was able to find pleasure in some of these little observations.

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