Inside view Society

A mixed bag of bags

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R. Kumar

Of bags and baggage and mysterious parcels

My son Amar came and went after a brief visit, leaving behind intriguingly shaped bags and parcels. “What should I do with them?” I called him to ask. “They are occupying all the space in your room.”

“Space is meant to be occupied,” said my pragmatic son. Astrophysicists out there, please note. “Maybe,” I responded. “But traversing your room is like practising steeple chase leaps. Whatever is inside them?”

“Clothes and some odds and ends I had collected while in Chennai and Bangalore,” he explained. “Keep what you can and throw what you can’t,” he said before signing off.

His advice reminded me of a sentence given as an example of ambiguity in an English grammar book —‘The English eat what they can and can what they can’t,’ — a sentence probably crafted by a disgruntled Scotsman after biting into jellied eels.

“When he says keep what you can, he means keep everything,” said my husband in a resigned tone. He has, for years and with negligible success, been trying to get rid of what he calls “accumulated junk” but what my son and I believe are “things-that-will-save-the world-from-certain-annihilation.”

Prized possessions

Mysterious, unopened bags are as irresistible as unread diaries; you never know what they may yield. With the eagerness of a greenhorn sleuth on his first project, I opened the first bag I tripped over. “Clothes!” I reported to my husband, as if it was an exciting find. Rule number one for a detective: “Everything, even the most ordinary item found and identified, is cause for celebration.”

“And, look, books!” “Books?” This got my husband’s attention and he joined in the voyage of discovery. “Very good books,” he exclaimed, sounding approving. “We’ll keep them all.”

The next couple of bags yielded more clothes. I contacted my son once again to find out what exactly he wanted kept and what he wanted disposed. I know how upsetting it is when some shabby but favourite possession is given away behind your back. “All the books and most of the clothes,” he said. “Keep the socks and the towels. The sheets and hankies too. Retain the bags, they’re all good. And everything else you think will come in handy.” Before ending the call, he asked his father to take whatever he wanted for himself.

There was a variety of T-shirts, an excellent collection with weird designs or witty quotes on them. My husband looked long and hard at one with the caption, ‘The universe is made of protons, neutrons, electrons and morons,’ and offered it to me.

“Clothes, books, books, clothes!” I muttered, stuffing the T-shirt into one of the “To Keep” bags. In fact, there was no “To Discard” bag. “Didn’t he collect anything else? Some chocolates, for instance? What about the “odds and ends” he had mentioned?”

“Maybe in this one?” My husband had located an interesting-looking plastic bag. It contained odd stuff all right whose end was imminent. Medicines long past their expiry dates, ancient mouth fresheners that could send Dracula leaping back into the safety of his grave, toothpaste and shaving cream tubes that looked as if a road roller had squeezed the last bit out, used disposable razors, cracked shoe polish, bristle-less brushes and similar collector’s items.

Mystery unfurled

And then I found it, an unopened packet. “Too light; not chocolates,” I commented, tossing, weighing and considering it. “Look, the picture of a lion drinking tea. Too light to be lion meat. It must be...tea!” I guessed. Second and final rule for the wannabe Sherlock Holmes: “Make inspired guesses.”

I was delighted when my husband nodded, taking the packet from me. “It is. From Madagascar. Natural antioxidant. Caffeine free. Tea bags with no strings attached,” he read. “And straight from the source.”

My imagination conjured up a picture of earnest tea-pluckers in Africa picking the leaves and putting them straight into stringless paper bags. “Wow! Our health and environment-conscious son has got the right thing. What colour tea? What flavour? Let’s find out.” I poured boiling water into two cups, scalded my fingers pushing the buoyant teabags in and discovered it was red tea. “Colour red! And flavour?”

“Vanilla!” exclaimed my husband in disgust, pushing away the cup. He had been scrutinising the packet while waiting for the tea to cool. “Why can’t tea taste like tea?” I took a sip and gargled to get the taste out. “Now what do we do with all this healthy tea?” I asked.

“Can it,” my husband suggested.

A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series. She can be contacted at khyrubutter@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 9:51:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/of-bags-and-baggage-and-mysterious-parcels/article22999989.ece

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