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.