In which we discover the might of the humble “Hold-all”
One significant memory of train travels in my childhood is the way in which the entire family would collaborate to pack the “hold-all”. An apt name for this very useful piece of luggage. A military-green colored affair (sometimes dark grey or brown as well), mothballed through the year, pulled out just before we went on a holiday and aired in the sun as the whole family collected together all the stuff we all wanted to carry on this holiday. Lest you assume that the so-called “holiday” involved a popular tourist spot, or an exotic location let me clarify that holiday in my childhood always meant a trip to our grand-parent’s place in the heart of what was then called Arrah Jila. More specifically visit our maternal grandfather, our nana, in the village.
Someone would pull out the mattresses, someone one would get the pillows, some the bed-sheets and slowly the hold-all would be prepared to live to its name: “Hold-ALL“. Clothes and sundry other items were packed in steel trunks which had the owner’s name and address prominently stencilled on the front face, next to the locking fixture. Sometimes a suitcase was also carried, an elaborate cardboard and cloth contraption often finished with an edging of aluminum to impart strength to it. The suitcase was called attache, or in our language, “ataichee“. “Jholas” were marshalled to pack in chappals and such stuff which could not go into the regular luggage pieces. A plastic basket carried food stuff for the journey; essentially poori and bhujiya and some thekua for the in-between snack.
And the final act was the rolling and closure of the hold-all. Very often, someone wanted to pack in some last minute stuff. With the trunk and the suitcase full to the brim, the only saviour was the hold-all. Somehow the new addition was inserted into the hold-all and the elaborate process of packing the hold-all began. The open hold-all, carrying about 30% more than what it was designed for, was laid out carefully on the floor. Care was taken to arrange its straps neatly under this. Two quick folds at either end of the hold-all and then a mighty heave to place one end on top of the other to make a cylindrical arrangement before the final assault began to buckle the strap around it. And more often than not, the two ends of the strap did not meet and the kids were summoned to sit atop this bulging cylinder to somehow squash the hold-all into a strappable mass. Sometimes when the strength of the strap was suspect, an additional rope was wound around this to provide additional strength. And then the packaging was done.
The taxi was already waiting at the gate to ferry us to the station. Pitaji would stand at the gate while individual pieces of luggage were fetched and loaded in the taxi. The total luggage count was done and two of the kids were assigned the task of remembering this. The count was sacrosanct and was maintained throughout the various stages of the trip. Any deviation from the count was a matter of grave concern and a recount was ordered till such time the number was reconciled with the original count. There were always two elements which would put the count awry. One was mother’s purse (always a part of Pitaji’ initial count, often ignored by the luggage minders!) and the food jhola (after the food was consumed). Right till the time we reached Nana’s house this count went on. The count was often disputed, but we never a piece of missing luggage.
But the hold-all would never betray the count. How could it, after all it was the centerpiece of all our packages! The hold-all, a home away from home.