Baggage from the past

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“Hey Arun,” I stopped my nephew who was making his way back to his room with a healthy snack of strawberries, “do you remember the piece of bedding luggage families would carry when travelling by train?” Blank look. “The bedding thing that had pockets for pillows on the sides and . . .” Blank look.

Suddenly it occurred to me that it was a thing of the past, something that had been phased out of our lives.

But what was it called again? I interrupted my dad’s shower, knocking on the bathroom door, and yelling, “Daddy, what was that bedding thing we used to take on the train?”

“Oh-ho, that was . . .”, he paused for a moment to think before saying “holdall.” Of course it was the holdall.

It was a common sight in the crowded stations, during my childhood years. Every family had one, and the holdall literally held all—pillows and bedsheets for the whole family and much else besides.

You needed some skill to pack a holdall. (It tickles me to write this as I feel like an all-knowing sage.) You roll out the empty duckback-canvas holdall on the floor. Two-dimensionally, it is slightly narrower than a single bed with large pockets at its head and foot. These pockets could fit a couple of pillows each. But before you put the pillows in, you would spread out all your bedsheets and blankets flat along the entire length of the holdall, from inside the head pocket to the inside of the foot pocket. Then you put the family’s pillows into the pockets on either side. At this stage, as a child I remember trying it out like a bed. Of course after a while, my head and neck hurt because, for one, two pillows were too high for comfort, and two, as the head and foot pockets often had other pockets on them which were also filled up with stuff, these hurt my head too.   But I can still smell the canvas in my memory, associated with the exciting prospect of travelling by train.

Rolling up the packed holdall needed skill and strength. It was moderately easy to fold the lumpy head flap in and the lumpy foot flap in, packed as they were with pillows and whatnot. The last fold of the holdall was a tricky roll manoeuvre, where you needed to roll the two lumps into each other. You would then require a combination of adult knees and child bodies to keep the holdall from unrolling, while you quickly used the leather or canvas belts, which now materialised from under the holdall, to fasten the roll together. You then sat on the holdall a few times to shape it. The holdall had a leather or canvas handle, attached to the belts, to carry the holdall efficiently.

Typically families would pack their toilette bag in the holdall. Train travel in those days could be awfully long. I remember travelling to Madras from Calcutta every year, and the journey each way was nearly three days. Three delightful days, I tell you, meeting all kinds of interesting people and watching the scenes change as the train made its way across the face of that great country. I usually ended up with tiny particles of coal in my eye from the steam engines, but it was no big deal. How people ate their meals on the train could make for another post, so too could the description of the berths—all very exciting, save for the appearance of the ubiquitous cockroach.

I was saying that train journeys were long, often involving more than one night on the train. The toilette bag with the toothbrushes and toothpaste was needed around the time you were putting away the bed things, which is why it was often placed in the holdall and put away on the top berth till it was needed again at night.

If I may add my pet peeve here, it is about the return journeys. The holdall had in one of its flaps all our dirty linen from the last couple of days. For some reason I thought it was a nasty idea. Maybe I was emotionally out of balance, because I was already missing my grandmother, uncles and aunts, and cousins. Maybe the thought of holidays being over was too much. But I do not remember being annoyed for long. The thought of the new school year always filled me with joy and anticipation— new books that needed to be covered with crisp brown paper; I usually got a new pair of shiny black school shoes too.

Links:

Even as I was writing this post I found another article entitled Holding on to Rare Sighting of Holdall by R.V.Rajan published in the Indian Express on 16th July 2014. Although I am loathe to admit it, it is a better article than my post and worth reading.

The Internet is devoid of good pictures of holdalls. The only one I found was this Clasf ad: A brand new holdall (bisterband) to carry bedding while in India.

Filing away my lines—Listen to this

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The speaker took his seat again;
The congregation sat enthralled.
Ofcourse, they felt alive, refreshed,
Ready to go to cannibal land,
If so the Lord called,
Or so they thought.
And when they stood to pray, I watched—
Their hands were raised, emotions reigned.
Perhaps some dreamed of martydom
In far-off wild and heathen lands
And at the gates—their diadem

Over dinner that very night,
They heard a radio voice appeal.
No oration this but simple words
Of scripture—sharp and clear and real.
If they’d had ears, they would have heard,
The Lord was actually calling them.
Not to distant lands, but to obedience.
Will these be the ones on that awful day
Who’ll stand before the throne and say,
“Lord, Lord, did we not work for Thee?”
And He must say, “Depart from Me.”

-n- June 1985

[Disclaimmer: I am not proud of most of the "poetry" that I have penned in my lifetime. I am no poet, but most of these poems were written at times when prose could not have provided the necessary expression and release of emotion. My poems are as important to me as singing may to be to someone who is not endowed with a singing voice---it justifyably fulfils a need. Thus, although not primarily meant for the consumption of the wider audience, it has a place in my blog, which, as I have mentioned before, also functions as a platform for my own retrieval and use.]

Filing away my lines—Reminder

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Penned when living in New Delhi

A bird sat at my window sill
“Sweet Sweet” he seemed to say,
“Sweet is my life since the Father cares
“And feeds me everyday.”

The wise old bird, his head held high
Tweeted shrill and clear,
“When I stumble and fall, the Father knows,
“I’m precious, loved and dear.”

You remind me bird, to you my thanks,
Of the Father’s loving ways–
Of more value am I than you,
Can I forget His grace?

The bird, his purpose over now,
As ‘Thank You Lord . . .” I prayed,
His ‘Amen’ was a joyous tweet
As he took off and flew away.

-n- 15 October 1988

[Disclaimmer: I am not proud of most of the "poetry" that I have penned in my lifetime. I am no poet, but most of these poems were written at times when prose could not have provided the necessary expression and release of emotion. My poems are as important to me as singing may to be to someone who is not endowed with a singing voice---it justifyably fulfils a need. Thus, although not primarily meant for the consumption of the wider audience, it has a place in my blog, which as I have mentioned before also functions as a platform for my own retrieval and use.]

Filing away my lines—A moment invested

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Penned when I was in Anbu Hospital in Teppakkulam Madurai with Flora Athai

A moment with Thee is like refreshing breeze.
How profits my soul when I’m down on my knees.
Thy presence with me is like healing balm.
The storms in my heart abate and all is calm.

A moment with Thy word and ready I am to face
The trials and toil my life is bound to trace.
I spen a moment to drink my heart’s fill–
Of Thy word, and glory, I am richer still.

-n- 21 December 1986

[Disclaimmer: I am not proud of most of the "poetry" that I have penned in my lifetime. I am no poet, but most of these poems were written at times when prose could not have provided the necessary expression and release of emotion. My poems are as important to me as singing may to be to someone who is not endowed with a singing voice---it justifyably fulfils a need. Thus, although not primarily meant for the consumption of the wider audience, it has a place in my blog, which, as I have mentioned before, also functions as a platform for my own retrieval and use.]

Filing away my lines—End Of Worship Service

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My note from 1996: My own children are yet too small, although I have begun worrying about their spiritual safety, but right now I feel pressured to keep a check on Prabhu and Sam my precious wards

The worship is ended,
The brethren are leaving,
Their voices and laughter
Fade into the sun.
So silent the prayer room
Just hallowed by praising,
It all feels so empty
And still and alone.

A flash in my mind
And a quick recognition
Of the Presence who stays with me
All the day long.
I kneel at His feet
As I feel healing comfort,
And glory He changed
Lonesome tears to a song.

-n- 6 May 1996

[Disclaimmer: I am not proud of most of the "poetry" that I have penned in my lifetime. I am no poet, but most of these poems were written at times when prose could not have provided the necessary expression and release of emotion. My poems are as important to me as singing may to be to someone who is not endowed with a singing voice---it justifyably fulfils a need. Thus, although not primarily meant for the consumption of the wider audience, it has a place in my blog, which, as I have mentioned before, also functions as a platform for my own retrieval and use.]

Filing away my lines—Aboard Lord

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My note from 1996: My own children are yet too small, although I have begun worrying about their spiritual safety, but right now I feel pressured to keep a check on Prabhu and Sam my precious wards

Safe from the enemy’s hand
We’re all on the boat, Lord
Safe from the tyrant’s land;
We’re all aboard, Lord.

The children came one by one
And all on the boat, Lord
The journey has now begun,
With all aboard, Lord.

The storms are sudden they say.
We’re all on the boat, Lord
And the kids on the deck play,
But all aboard, Lord.

They lean far over the railing,
While all on the boat, Lord
A sudden heave could a child fling,
Still all aboard, Lord.

They will not come inside
Right now in the boat, Lord
Cover them Master, and help provide
To stay aboard, Lord.

I’m sick with fear
For them on the boat, Lord
May the journey’s end be near,
While all aboard, Lord.

-n- 10 May 1996

[Disclaimmer: I am not proud of most of the "poetry" that I have penned in my lifetime. I am no poet, but most of these poems were written at times when prose could not have provided the necessary expression and release of emotion. My poems are as important to me as singing may to be to someone who is not endowed with a singing voice---it justifyably fulfils a need. Thus, although not primarily meant for the consumption of the wider audience, it has a place in my blog, which, as I have mentioned before, also functions as a platform for my own retrieval and use.]

Filing away my lines – The Parting

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This was written when Tim was not quite four.

Alone on an island in the empty sea,
Tim stood bewildered watching me
Sail away at a steady pace
Till I was but a dot that he could trace,
And gone now.

He cradled his face in the sand and cried
Mama had abandoned her precious child
To die here.

The heart of his mama broke anew
Each mile of the way as the ocean grew
Between them.

The heart of our God and Parent of all
What sorrow will bear when doom befalls
His children.

Before them—gloom and thickening black precedes
Behind them light, love, good, sing and dance recedes
Never again to see home and Father
Alone and hate and dark and die
Forever.

-n- 31 May 1996

[Disclaimmer: I am not proud of most of the "poetry" that I have penned in my lifetime. I am no poet, but most of these poems were written at times when prose could not have provided the necessary expression and release of emotion. My poems are as important to me as singing may to be to someone who is not endowed with a singing voice---it justifyably fulfils a need. Thus, although not primarily meant for the consumption of the wider audience, it has a place in my blog, which, as I have mentioned before, also functions as a platform for my own retrieval and use.]