As joyful as it is to immerse oneself in the Dubai lifestyle, once in a while the pang to return to the homeland does get felt. This is aided by numerous ministrations by family and friends who want to feed you, or get you married, or pamper your kids, see how much your grandchildren have grown and generally shower you with love and affection. You give into their bubbling emotions and announce your arrival date.
Soon after, you realize that this overflowing of love is actually a front. The real agenda is what you are getting for them.
As soon as the people back home realize you are coming, the first line of their message to you reinforces, as a formality, their love for you and the joy they feel at your arrival. The next fifteen lines make it clear that the love and joy is actually meant for the stuff they want you to bring for them.
It could be one item or a dozen. But there is more than an even chance it will be inconvenient to buy, bulky to carry and expected to be free of cost to them, because you know, you love them so much Sometimes the demands are standard, this shirt, that dress, those shoes. It could be that simple or it could come with added instructions like Whatsapp the picture before you buy it, make sure it’s a specific shade of pink and other complications. It has been known to happen that after the purchase they will change their minds and send you back to exchange it. No doubt, you have all the free time in the world to do all of this.
There are also those who feel they are making your life simple by asking for some generic item, available at any supermarket. In their heads they are the very epitome of co-operation, ‘Just that one thing for me, thanks’. It could be a type of food item or a kitchen consumable or maybe a gold biscuit. Small, lightweight, easy to pack, so simple.
The crunch comes when you make the mistake of asking about quantities. You are expecting to hear ‘One or two will be fine’. The response you actually get is ‘As many as you can carry’. This statement is a minefield. This basically means that anything you get will be too little, unless your check in baggage includes a forty foot container that large corporations use to ship industrial goods across continents. If you don’t come with the expected quantity, expressions ranging from contempt to disgust will be worn on the face of the receiving party. That it is your holiday, your baggage allowance, your space constraints and your decision what to carry or not is entirely irrelevant.
Then there is the ‘package’. The package is a nefarious term to describe, well, a package.
The dreaded message begins with ‘A friend wants to send me something, can you bring it with you, it’s a small package’. That friend could be an innocent, sweet as honey grandmother, or it could be a warlord very high up on Interpol’s wanted list. How would you know, you don’t question friends.
There are many variables to this package, small is a relative term, it could mean smaller than your hand, it could also mean slightly smaller than a chair. The package could be delivered to you a week in advance or arrive at your door five minutes before you leave for the airport. It could come in a plastic bag that you could easily peek into or it could come in a sealed metal box lined with lead that an x-ray machine could not view the contents of. It could be entirely silent or it could be making a soft ticking sound.
When the lady at the airport check in counter at random asks you if you have packed your own bag and are aware of its contents, try not to panic and run away. Smile confidently and say yes, of course. Immediately wipe away the sweat forming on your brow and control your nervous twitching eye. With enough practice, you could wipe your brow and rub your eye in one smooth motion, with no one being the wiser. The sanctity of the package is paramount.
With great luck, you may have avoided the shopping and delivery requests and got away scot free, but you cannot escape duty free. Dubai Duty Free might be in your area, but it is someone else’s gold mine. You have half a dozen requests for items from duty free with no regard for duty free allowances. If you were thinking of buying something for yourself, forget about it. What makes you think your duty free allowance is meant for you.
Purchasing bottles, perfumes, chocolates, makeup stuff, it could so happen that your holiday budget is exhausted before you even get on the plane.
Lessons learnt from experience make be believe that you don’t tell people that you’re coming. You land and then call. The ones who are delighted with your call and immediately want to meet you are the keepers. The ones who say ‘Arre, how come you didn’t let us know you were coming’ are the ones you should never give advance notice to.
Ashish Jagtiani is the name he was born with, though that is a bit of an urban legend. He goes by the name of Jaggu, a very popular name across the airwaves. Dry, dark and lucid would describe him aptly, where one can only hope that one is not on the receiving end of that unholy trio.