I have officially forgotten how to pack. Two full years of never leaving my house has ended in a rather severe deterioration of my skills.
Admittedly, I wasn’t great at it to begin with. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by great packers. Some bring to packing the same woke-up-this-way casual vibe of one kind of influencer. Their methodology seems like (cough) an open-and-shut case but when you get to your destination, their suitcases have everything they need and everything is unwrinkled. Some other packers in my social circle are agony-and-ecstasy packers, smoking for hours, pacing, staring at the ceiling, working with 3D blueprints till their suitcases become works of art—audio guides could be made available for special viewings. And because of all these packers, in the same way that if you grow up with a classical singer sister you refuse to even hum loudly, I just take no pride in my packing. I fling things one on top of the other and hope for the best.
The two central questions about packing are which stuff and how much stuff. Everything else is secondary. Which stuff and how much stuff are, of course, questions that can’t be separated from each other. A giant part of the internet is devoted to the exact 13 items to take if you are taking a holiday in north Goa vs what to take to south Goa vs Gokarna vs Gstaad. All the lists involve a wrap that you can just wear as a skirt or turn into a dress or use as a blanket in the aeroplane. I love reading all those lists while fully recognising that they have nothing to do with my life or my ability to process objects when these familiar objects have to be understood in relation to a suitcase. Should this orange bobble hat go into this suitcase, should this Malayalam novel, should this yoga mat? At some point the suitcase takes on the quality of the tree in Stuck, the surreal children’s book by Oliver Jeffers. The tree has, among other things, a whale, a fireman, a rhino, a ladder, an orangutan, a chair, a kite and the shoe Floyd first threw at it to knock down his kite that was stuck in the tree. When my packing takes on an Oliver Jeffers quality, I know there is nothing left to do but to close the suitcase and go to sleep.
If you add children to an already uncertain packing situation, a rhino will no longer seem like a surreal addition. The first time I visited my parents’ home for a weekend after having a child, my father looked alarmed at our car. Are you moving in? he asked mildly. No! we said in indignation, unloading quintals of the absolute essentials that simply cannot be left behind if you have a baby that weighs 2kg. Again, I am sure there are families that travel with all of baby’s belongings tucked into that little mirrorwork cloth pouch that three badams and one paan came in last Diwali but I am not friends with those people and will never be.
A friend who has unfortunately high analytical abilities told me my difficulty in feeling convinced I have packed well is because of my desire to carry the safety of home with me. The further I need to travel, she said, the more convinced I am I have left something essential behind. And, in fact, I have left something essential behind—my house and the delicious ability to close my front door on the world. And eventually, after you have opened and closed the door three times to check the geyser, the gas and the leaky tap, you have to close the door for good and leave. And then it’s just you and your suitcase against the world. To hold you in good stead where no one knows your name or your jokes or your low, low tolerance for green chillies. And you can’t help but think of all kinds of talismanic objects imbued with the power of home that could have saved you. If only you had packed them. If you are a chaotic packer like I am, then it is likely you have indeed packed them but have forgotten them and will only rediscover them when you are back home, unpacking with verve.
This is true. I am a champion unpacker. When in academic discussions someone talks about unpacking some hefty concept, the verb makes me want to raise my hand and shout—me, me, me! Let us put unread Malayalam novel back, let us fling the bobble hat back to the back of the top shelf, let us tuck the yoga mat in the corner, let us fling ourselves into our own comfortable bed and never leave again. Let us never make eye contact with another suitcase again, wheelie or otherwise.
Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.