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The apricots in the suitcase

A bunch of ripe apricots hanging on a tree in the orchard. Apricot fruit tree with fruits and leaves. Ukraine.  

When I was posted in Ladakh in the early 1980s, the erstwhile Indian Airlines was the only civil aviation carrier operating between Srinagar and Leh. Leh had a newly constructed civil airport terminal, which was yet to be provided with screening equipment. So the airport staff were particularly vigilant.

Besides the necessary check for items such as weapons and explosives, they were required to enforce the J&K State government rule prohibiting passengers from carrying fresh fruits by air from Leh to Srinagar. This rule was supposedly meant to prevent pests in fruits from infecting orchards in the Kashmir Valley.

Because military aircraft serviced only the Leh-Chandigarh air link, senior service officers were using the Indian Airlines flights between Srinagar and Leh. Thus it was that a certain senior officer was returning to Srinagar after work in Ladakh.

This gentleman had for the first time tasted the lip-smacking juicy, fresh Ladakhi khurmani (apricot), which was in season at that time. He had so enjoyed fresh khurmani that he wished to carry some back to Srinagar. He was respectfully informed that civil airport security staff did not permit this. But he was insistent, even suggesting that his senior military rank would see his fruit package through.

So a small wooden box of khurmani was procured from the market. The box accompanied his check-in suitcase to the airport.

As expected, the security staff recognised the box, and refused to pass it.

The gentleman first requested and then heatedly argued with the staff, but they stood politely firm with an unequivocal and final “No”. So he angrily retrieved the box and his suitcase, and ordered the person who had accompanied him to take them back to the parking lot. Determined to carry the khurmani back with him, he got the box opened, got the contents packed into his suitcase, and rejoined the security check queue with a triumphant smirk. When the suitcase was presented for security check, it was passed without any trouble. Cheerfully waving goodbye, the gentleman entered security, boarded the flight and returned to Srinagar. The officers who had gone to see off the guest returned with smiles on their faces for more than one reason. One youngster mischievously commented on the senior officer’s determination to carry juicy fresh khurmani in a soft suitcase.

A few days later, news came from Srinagar that use of the word khurmani was studiously avoided at the headquarters. News also trickled down that Srinagar dry cleaners had good business cleaning khurmani juice off suits, and outfitters and tailors were stitching new uniforms. Some of the more irreverent among us would have given much to be present when the suitcase was opened at Srinagar. Even now, nearly 40 years later, the thought brings a smile to my face.

sg9kere@live.com


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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 1:54:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-apricots-in-the-suitcase/article34797634.ece

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