Saturday, October 31, 2009

50 kilos of Life

How much does one’s soul weigh? And since without the soul, there is no life, consequently how much does one’s life weigh? If MacDougall is to be believed for his work in 1907, it is 21 grams. The airline companies have a more definitive answer. It is 50 kilos if you are traveling economy class across the Atlantic. It is more if you are traveling business or first class. Since I am not someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it’s the 50 kilos that matter.

For the first 20 odd years of my life, I stayed in my home town. Travel outside to other cities was limited to short trips, with a definite return date not so far into the future. Then, I started on my first job. Ever since then, I’ve practically lived out of my suitcases. So after nearly five years now, I look back and wonder at the way this has defined my life. I have been to places, lived for considerably long durations in 4 cities and seen another 40 or so. And each time I moved for good, there always has been this dilemma about what to carry on and what not to.

Moving from one city to another takes its toll on certain individuals. Especially me. There are some I’ve seen, who don’t really seem to be affected by it at all. While I would agonize in a Shakespearean ‘to or not to’ take a certain item along, these people are packed and ready in a backpack not even 10 kg in weight. These are the people I envy, and yet I have never been able to get them to divulge their secret of their life, er, packing. For them, life weighs as much as a small backpack can fit in it. They are, what I call, birds. Light, free from the baggage of life that I tend to collect so easily. But this is not about them.

For the less fortunate souls like me, the 50 kilos, so grudgingly allowed by the airlines, is not enough to hold everything that I need. And I don’t even get started on what I want to take along. In each city I’ve spent long enough, there is with someone, tied only by the fact that this someone knew me, a potted plant which once adorned the window in the room I stayed in. Then there’s this chest-drawer full of small odds and ends lying in the place I started out from. Its material value is probably nothing. But with each of those small things is a memory associated. Maybe the memory is something trivial in the grand scale of things, but profoundly touching enough to make me hold on to it for this long. And yet when I set out to travel to a new city, that chest-drawer is the last place I look for stuff. Over time, I’ve noticed that it is not just that chest-drawer back home. In each place, I’ve called home long enough; I’ve managed to collect a similar chest-drawer full of stuff. Just that when it is time to leave, that gets left behind.

The crazy part of all this is that every single thing in the bags is, more often than not, easily procurable at the destination. Neither have I been to a city which doesn’t sell toothpaste to its travelers nor one which doesn’t have clothes or utensils on offer. Yet instead of carrying along that chest-drawer full of memories, I pack in an umbrella. It is simple practicality that always wins over everything else.

50 kilos of stuff is not much. Not when it is not gold. Not when it is not something as precious as memories. Still when it is time to choose what should go along and what should be left behind, it is the not so precious that wins. We leave many of the things, which mattered, behind hoping that somewhere in our mind, we have made the space for the memory about them and the time associated with them. If all these memories are the sum total of our life and we end up leaving behind some of these memories just like the objects, how much of our life do we end up losing by the time we get to the end of the journey? And how much of it do we really carry beyond? 21 grams doesn’t seem a lot of baggage as a soul. And what do I pack? Does the place where I’ll spend eternity need an umbrella? Will there be a shop round the corner which will sell me the stuff I might need? Do I get to carry on the memories of a lifetime or is there a traveler class distinction that says 21 grams worth of memories only? I can almost hear a ghostly whisper saying, “We are sorry, but only Pharaoh-class travelers are allowed to bring along a pyramid full of stuff.”
We all need memories to remember who we are. Even if eternity or the next birth is supposed to be a clean slate, I do hope that I’ve a big chest-drawer full of memories to leave behind.

--Though it might seem odd, this blog-post is dedicated to my two suitcases, the vessels of the 50 kilos of my life over the numerous trans-Atlantic hops and other travels, holding on to their precious cargo with unwavering grit, at an occasional cost of a wheel or handle and checkered with countless baggage tags, each one as a proof of a journey successfully completed.


Henri said...

I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU! I have moved so much in the last few years that I know how important it is to pack smart. And by pack smart we mean, adhere to the airlines baggage limit. But, on the other hand, I am of the opinion that I never want to have that much stuff if it meas I cannot pack and leave in a single day, on a whim! And to my credit, I never have vessels or umbrellas or stuff like that. It's usually clothes (and I throw them out mercilessly when I pack) and books. I carry all my books except the ones I don't enjoy! I believe my house, the one in Ahmedabad should be the final destination of all the books I have. I can't say I enjoy moving around, but I can say that I do a pretty good job of it. And though I may carry my drawer of memories along, I am merciless when it comes to discarding those too :) Anyway, love your post and I do hope that the PhD in the UK means you now have a cupboard and you don't have to live out of a suitcase. Love and hugs.

Abhijit Karnik said...

@Henri: Nope, the PhD in UK does come with a cupboard but still... I still kinda live out of a suitcase. Probably stems from the fact that the place and the cupboard are not mine (and won't be for long enough) or the possibility that I now love living out of my suitcase.