Chapter 3 – 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 I 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 explained, ” the fact is that I have never lied in my life and my wife here will vouch for that. The first two boxes were packed by my wife herself and the other two does not 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? I didn’t pack them nor the packing was done in my presence”
“Sorry sir!” the official politely, but firmly said, `”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.”
‘Then how do you recite a sloka in Sanskrit?”
“Do you think every one who recites slokas or mantras knows Sanskrit?’
‘Ayya, meekku dandalu ” making a mock salutation, the professor asked, “what I should do with the rejected baggage? Carry on my head around your colony, locate the owners and distribute the materials?”
There was no need for that. The owners were already waiting at a distance to ensure the safe passage of their goods!.
“What all I could have carried for my children ! He wasted two suitcase-space unnecessarily” Ammalu complained 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, along with a pandit, to celebrate the wedding of your son or daughter. Am I right?’
“No, you are not; 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.
“Alamelu Mahalskhmi!” 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 to you, 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.”
“No, through forgery ”
“What do you mean?”
“SamkarAchArya 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”
The officer didn’t like my becoming popular in his office. 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.
“Victor, you are wasting time. Has he got a head?”
” yes, Sir?”
He stamped my paper ( luckily not on my head ), stood up as a mark of respect or to prompt me to move quickly.
Next, security check.
“Cabin luggage?”- The security officer.
“Lethandi (No)” – Me.
“Shoes and coat? Please place them on that basket.”
“Your waist-pouch, belt or wallet?”
“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?”
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 coriander leaves, salt, pepper powder and asafoetida”
`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 and I was carrying sufficient stock for six months”
Now , they panicked .”Six month quota of purgative, three of us consumed in a matter of few seconds! Devuda! Devuda!”
“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. One by one, the airport staff around that area, moved towards the toilet, pressing their belly, uncomfortably. 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 also.’
“But, I have no blood pressure”
“If this Brahmin stays here for another five minutes, we all will have not only blood pressure but brain tumor too” His staff were united in their opinion.
“Vellandi, vellandi please carry on” He was in a hurry to dispose me off.
My security clearance was happily over.
“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 tube for thousand years:
‘Aayiram kalam kuzhalilitteedilum–…”
“‘Hei, wait,” I interposed; “that is not Sanskrit”
“You said that you don’t know Sanskrit”