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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 03

Sambharam and Sarpagandhi

‘As a security measure, Pantalu garu,’ remarked the smiling man on the counter when we went for check- in, ‘we want to ensure that you packed your suitcases, yourself ‘
‘No, sir. I didn’t.’
My reply was curt and with my standard head shake to emphasize my point.
He stared at me as if I told him that I had lost my passport. The Professor too was equally stunned by my answer and came forward to offer an explanation.
‘Are you the passenger, Sir?’ the official asked him.
‘No, I am not. But it was me who helped him in packing, considering his age . And the packing was done in his presence’
‘The packing was not done in my presence and it was not done by the learned professor, my relative. It was done by a dozen people who dumped their things into these suitcases, with my permission, of course’
The prof. again wanted to say something but the official cut him short, ‘let the passenger continue. He seems to be an innocent truth-speaking villager’
‘Excuse me sir, I’m not innocent and I’m not a villager, but as you said I’m truth -speaking. I have been always and everyone in this city knows this truth. Are you in Hyderabad from 1959?’
‘I was not born then’
‘There lies the root of the problem. Now, coming back to the suit cases, the first two boxes were packed by my wife herself and the other two doesn’t contain a single item of mine. They are all gift items, packed by my friends in my suitcase for delivery to their kin’
‘Could you at least tell me what they contain?’
‘How on earth can I , young man? I didn’t pack them nor the packing was done in my presence’

The official consulted someone sitting behind him with a dull face and dry look and reluctantly said , ‘ very sorry Pantulu garu, we cannot accept those two baggage’

‘There is a sloka in Sanskrit–‘ I started to recite an old one.
‘Sorry sir, I do not know Sanskrit’
‘I too do not know that language’, I admitted

‘Ayya, meekku dandalu,’ making a mock salutation, the professor intervened, ‘ tell me what I am to do with the rejected baggage? Carry on my head around your colony, locate the owners and distribute the materials?’. Had I been younger to him, he would have slapped me on my face.

But the professor had no reason to get angry. The owners were waiting at a distance to ensure the safe passage of their goods!. The Bolaram airport of those days, allowed visitors to come up to a point close to the baggage check-in counters.

Ammalu was sad and angry.

‘What all I could have carried for my children ! He wasted two suitcase-space unnecessarily,’ she complained about me, to the prof.

The officer at the immigration counter was stiff and formal. He looked at me and Ammalu alternately and twinkling over his thick- framed spectacle, asked her with an insipid smile,’ so, madam, you are going to America, to celebrate the wedding of your son or daughter and this Pantulu will be conducting the wedding ?’

‘No. Pantalu na pathi devudandi -he is my husband’

I looked deep into her eyes for her calling me ‘pantalu’ for the first time.
‘Just for pun’, she smiled and added, ‘didn’t I ask you to wear your pants and not your usual Panchagatcham?’

‘Ammalu Madam!’ Addressing Ammalu with a tinge of sarcasm, I said, ‘ there should be compatibility between husband and wife, not only in attitude, but in appearance and apparel too’

‘ If I look much younger, it is because, I’m younger to you and my habits and thoughts are clean. The change over to salwar kameeze is to help my easy movement in elevators and as per the instruction of my daughter in law. Unreasonable attachment to anything, all the more to orthodoxy, is unhelpful’
The officer was not interested in our arguments. ‘OK, OK, I am sorry for my wrong assessment’ .

Glancing at my face and photograph in the passport alternately, he asked with a suspicious look, ‘ are you sure sir, this is your passport?’
‘Of course, it is mine’
‘Then the face is not yours’. He enjoyed his joke and promoted by facial expression, others too to laugh.
‘Yes, you are right. I didn’t like my earlier face; so I got it transformed’
‘Through surgery?’
‘No, through forgery’
‘How, how?’
Sankaracharya. through a rare Yoga practice, could exchange his body. I used the same Yoga to change my face’

The people around started crowding me and someone commented, ‘See his new face is glowing’
‘An young lady from behind, pushed aside others and enquired, Sankaracharya garu, ekkada unnarendi- where is Sankaracharya?’
Prof. Nandur, just returned after distributing dolls and others to the concerned owners, was fuming with anger. He answered the lady, pointing his finger towards me , ‘Mee mungattanae unnaru- he is standing before you ‘

The officer didn’t like my becoming popular in his office. He was sure that I was not the original Sankaracharya, but there was some mystery in my appearance and argument, he would have thought. So, he cut me short.

‘Ok, in the passport photo, you are with a turban. What didn’t you wear that turban on your new head?’
‘My scalp is not bald now’
His senior from the next table came and admonished my interviewer.
‘Anjayya, you are wasting time. Has he got a head?’
‘yes, Sir?’
‘Stamp the papers and attend the next passenger’

He stamped my paper, stood up as a mark of respect or to prompt me to move quickly.

Next, security check.

‘Shoes and coat? Please place in that basket’
‘Your waist-pouch, belt or wallet?’
‘Any other stuff not allowed to carry in person’
‘What lethandi, lethandi?’ He was vexed with my monotonous reply. ‘This flight is not for Gopisetty palayam’
‘Look, gentleman, I have a valid passport and boarding pass.That is all what I need to board the flight whether it flies to New York or Nellikkuppam. And you need not worry about my security. Have you heard of Kalarippayyattu, the martial art of Kerala? I am an expert in that’
‘But, you do not appear to be a martial master’
‘Don’t go by appearance. Once upon a time —‘
‘That is OK, what do you have in that small bag?”
‘Sambharam, sarpagandhi—‘

The immigration officials, from coastal Andhra, had never before heard those names.
‘Sambharam?’ what is that? one fellow asked. His companion could not wait for my reply, ‘sarpagandhi, what is that?’ he asked, searching my bag.

I removed a bottle of white liquid from my bag and showed them.
‘Ghudumbha laga undhe!’, remarked one fellow who was familiar with country liquors.
‘This is sambharam, diluted butter milk, aptly flavored and spiced with curry leaves, salt, pepper powder etc’.
`Let me taste it.’ said the Ghudumba expert.
`Brahmandamandi, marvelous,’ the team gulped the entire liquid and cast away the empty bottle.
‘Sorry sir, we can’t allow any liquid in the flight. This is a new rule’
‘But that was not a liquid,’ I mentioned casually, looking at the opposite direction.
‘What was it then?’ They started worrying.
‘It was a gas. But don’t worry; it was a purgative. A mild one though,’ I gave a small explanation also, ‘ I have a problem for bowl-clearance ; was therefore carrying sufficient stock for six months’
‘Devuda, six month quota of purgative, three of us consumed in a matter of few seconds! EdugondalavAdA! ‘
‘Excuse me, I will be back in a moment’ One fellow rushed towards the toilet . The second one moved his palm across his tummy and the third one, with a hand signal warned those around him, to move away. After all, it was a gas and gas vaporizes. Some of the passengers who were in Que too had a feeling that they too were involuntarily inflicted by the malady of sambharam.
When calm was restored the enquiry on sarpagandhi was taken up.
‘That is a medicine for my blood pressure,’ I explained to the concerned officer.’ you can have that too’
‘But, I have no blood pressure’
‘You have a head! Any one with a head or a wife, is bound to have a head ache’
‘If this Brahmin stays here for another five minutes, we all will have not only blood pressure and head ache but we will go mad.’ His staff were united in their opinion.
‘Vellandi, vellandi please carry on’. The head of Security was in a hurry to dispose me off.
Raising his hands above his head, Prof. Nandur , wished us a safe journey and remarked, ‘Have a comfortable journey and memorable stay in US’
‘Chala thanks andi Nandur garu. Memorable indeed will be his sojourn in US, even for our neighbors!’

‘There is a Sanskrit sloka,’ Ammalu said, while boarding the flight and recited a funny couplet in Malayalam which says that a dog’s tail will never get straightened, even after keeping in a straight tube for thousand years:

‘Aayiram kalam kuzhalilitteedilum–…’
‘Hei, wait,’ I interposed; ‘that is not Sanskrit’
‘You told the airport fellow that you don’t know Sanskrit!’

To continue

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