Panic Attacks of a Returning Indian

Panic attacks, not Paris attacks. Although my condolences and solidarity is with them. I know I've been writing some really serious stuff on my blog almost exclusively, and that it's been a while since I wrote something lighthearted from my everyday life. In the desperate attempt to keep my blog relevant, I have sought refuge in promotional posts, movie reviews (which is worth it) and global issues. A panic move, perhaps. I have really been busy off late with work and otherwise. But as I am gearing up to spend most of December with family back in India and Christmas with my dearest friends, I might have found something to write about.

So, here goes.

I got a message from my sister a few days back. I read it while I was half asleep - 'I have emailed you a list of things you have to get me when you come home'. Alarmed, I woke myself up frantically and tried to get hold of the nearest gadget to view the email in it's full resolution. Reading emails from my sister on the cellphone just don't do justice to the temerity of her demands. The list didn't disappoint.

Reading such lists from my sister makes me uncomfortable. You suddenly feel vulnerable, like someone has kidnapped your dog and has demanded for your dirty underwear as ransom. Reading down the email, I gasped at the repeated occurrence of pop culture couturiers like Victoria's Secret (perfume, but does it matter?) and Chanel and Michael Kors. I closed the email. Turned the power off on the tablet and burned it. I must leave no evidence that I have read and acknowledged this email. Only till a few days ago, her stance was a pleasantly surprising "I'm happy you're coming home for Christmas, what more can I ask for?" - It did sound too good to be true! I should've grabbed the moment. Damn.

Imagine me going into a Victoria's Secret outlet (I've got adventurous friends, so this won't be my first) and look around the shop, not reacting to the racy lingerie all around, to buy some stuff for my sister. Roy Raymond didn't exactly have this 'buying gifts for your sister' perspective in mind when he founded the apparel store, I believe. Such waste.

While my sister is being at her best of being herself, asking my girlfriend what she'd like for me to get her is but a wholly different ballgame:

"Why are you wasting so much money!?"
"But.. but.. it's a gift! Why are you looking at the price tag?"
"This is exactly the kind of talk that gets you into credit card debt!"
"But.. but.."
"Shut it! Just come home, okay?!"
"Ugh! Yes mom.."
"Bomb! I said bomb!! Like the sex bomb that you are!"
"Damn right!"

Leaving for India, for a very Indian guy like me, means getting gifts for relatives and friends and neighbors and well-wishers and pados ki bua and Ramu kaka. It really doesn't matter if you're broke, or make your living as a vendor in the New York City subway, or work as a janitor in an H&M (ugh!) departmental store. Or if you are a poor old graduate student in one football loving university in Florida. You have to get something. If you don't, people are going to think that you're actually living in Chhattisgarh. The amount and quality of gifts also depend on where you're living and are coming from: United States of America ranks higher than western Europe, which ranks somewhere around that of Dubai, followed closely by Australia and Southeast Asia. If you live anywhere else in the world, you may simply get some Cadbury and Fab India and make it up with excessive feet touching.

Before you start making the list of things that you're getting for an estimated 'n' number of people, there will always be requests from your wayward friends:
"Bhai, US mein iPhone 6 kitne mein bik raha hai aajkal?"
"Sun na, Canon better hai ya Nikon? Jiska bhi ho, ek 21MP waala DSLR lete aana!"
"Bhai, ek kachha lete aana.. XL size ka!" - this 'get me an underwear' is an actual request. I swear!

"Bhai, JD ka ek botal lete aana..?"
"Saale, JD India mein nahi milta hai kya?!"
"Abey, bhai kuch maang raha hai tu woh bhi nahi laa sakta, saale?"
"Saale, kuch laane layak bolega, tab na laaunga?!"
"Bhai sahab, college mein Miller Lite pilaya tha tere ko, Diwali ki raat ko! Woh sab kuch nahi, bhencho?!"
"Abey mote, senti kyun ho raha hai?"
"Abey kamine, vilayati Jack Daniels ki baat toh kuch aur hi hogi?!"

Just like my sister's email and the associated chutzpah, this conversation would be lost in translation if translated to any other language.

After a few weeks of planning to go to the outlets and malls, which is then followed by the daily routine of surfing random wholesale online retailers, you decide that you're not going to ask anyone what they want. You're simply going to arrive at their doorstep with a lot of sugary treats and rum chocolates.

So I made such a renewed list.

Surfing on the internet, I found frugal gift ideas for my closest relatives for whom I really care about. And so I decided that I'll get soap for them! No, nothing as trivial as Lux or Irish Spring. It won't be just any kind of soap. Rather handmade luxury soaps and bath salts that oozes an aroma that relates more to citrus gardens, lemongrass valleys and lavender havens than a stinking H&M dressing room. I really dislike H&M, as you can probably tell.

Anyway, just before I ordered such a gift set for my aunts, I realized something. I looked up the TSA website and asked my roommates about the restrictions of such items on airplanes. The 3-1-1 rule applies to liquids, but what about certain solids that (unfortunately) look like C-4 bricks? Even if they had information on the volume and weight, what about the quantity? Damn! Even though the hippy old lady who cuts my hair keeps saying that I have beautiful brown skin and touches my face inappropriately as she trims my hair (I should probably go elsewhere), I can still imagine myself being interrogated at the airport security because of the very color of my skin:

"Sir, why are you carrying 25 little brick-like objects in your suitcase?"
"Umm.. they are handmade soaps, gifts for my aunts?!"
"Handmade.. do you make soap by yourself, sir?"
"No, I didn't make them.."
"Sir, have you watched 'Fight Club' and do you remember the brilliant references of one Mr. Tyler Durden about making soap and making explosives?"
"No sir, I haven't got a clue what you are talking about.."
"Sir, you're going to Guantanamo Bay. Please step aside!"
"NO, PLEASE! WAIT! Didn't Obama shut it down though?!!"
"We can neither confirm nor deny such an attempt."

And so, that'll be the end of it. I truly am screwed!

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