Name any homemade delicacy and even fruits, especially mangoes, they are rarely forgotten by most NRIs while packing suitcases to return to their adopted home countries, post their nostalgic holidays.
Sometimes it is these threats that take half the allowed weight, and this ardent transportation continues despite the stringent restrictions from several countries for it. Maybe for the same reason, when I was recently in New York at a Punjabi fair – a team of immigration and customs with their dogs from JFK airport had come to unfold several do’s and don’ts on bringing food items from India or elsewhere. They did a role play too where they placed bags on the stage –some with food and some without and dogs escorted by the officials sniffed them and instantly caught the ones with food. I do remember what an official was announcing along: “the saddest part is many do not declare in the custom forms the food items they have brought along and sometimes also bring what’s not allowed and when our dogs inspect, we slap fines.”
This reminds me, and it had to – a suitcase of my cousin, I carried from India during the same visit as I was allowed two of 23 kg each. All because she had come to India after ten long years and couldn’t take her many newly stitched suits in the allowed weight. She also is my New York host, I didn’t mind. When I got the suitcase from her parents a day before my flight, I was elated they respected the weight limit, but during my layover in Hong Kong when I phoned them, I was irked hearing there are two jars of clarified butter –one for her and the other for her friend. I questioned in worry why they packed the liquid stuff and that being a dairy product? Thankfully, I filled about it in my US customs form.
I knew I would be told to discard the jars on landing but what worried me more than what if the jars busted? Clearing the immigration, I was now at customs where I was told to throw the jars in the bin before exit. However, as I opened the suitcase one of the jars was in a punctured state and everything in was fully bathed in clarified butter. I was also bathed but in distress, thinking about her exorbitant suits. Hence, I had to walk out with the mess and sadly disclosed the episode to her during my pick up itself
Interestingly, she was with me at the same fair few days later and during the same role play, I can still recall her laughter sprinkled with many regrets as we exchanged glances. I am sure; she will ensure not letting get such a mistake repeated. But, it was a mistake of not only her or of her parents but equally mine as I did not even check contents of the suitcase I had to carry. So how could it have suited me?
(The writer is a former Hindustan Times Author)