By a stroke of luck, I happened to arrive at an address on the same day that a parcel I had sent five days before, arrived. I was so surprised to see that there was not a scratch on it; the parcel box showed up in its original pristine form, the duct tape used to secure it was firmly in place and it was very clear no one had tried to tamper with it. It contained all three listed items: 1. Fish snacks, 2. Rice snacks and 3. Onion snacks.
The fish snacks were in actuality Manipuri dried fish, khuogu from New Market, Dimapur, bought on a very warm day scouring fish shop after fish shop until we found something satisfactory. My cousin, who was the expert, told me, ‘Choose the fish which are not blind.’ An emoticon looking suspiciously like Munch’s painting (The scream) with its hands held up to its mouth went off in my head at this stage. ‘How do I tell which fish are blind and which are not? Don’t all fish look the same?’
Her reply was to make sure the fish eyes did not have holes in them. So there I was trying to examine tiny dried fish for holes in their eyes! In the end, it was just more practical to pretend that none of the fish had holes in their eyes, and we quickly rounded off our purchases by buying a quarter kilo. It crossed my head that I could label the packet, ‘non-blind fish’ but was not entirely convinced that would get past Customs.
The Rice snacks were simple enough. Puffed sticky rice fried in oil. That is Rice snacks. It is rice, sure enough, but having been fried, it qualifies as a snack. Many thanks to oil, the great qualifier in most Naga households.
The third item,Onion snacks, were a far shot. They were not technically onions. That is right, not technically onions, but like a cousin of the onion, once or even twice removed, as the English like to stress.
They were khuvie, the Naga version of chives, still fresh, still had mud sticking to them because Mum used to say that if you clean it of all mud, it would hasten the decaying process. The khuvie wrapped in a page of Nagaland Post, reached unintercepted, quite undetected and unchallenged.
That parcel was such a striking contrast to the parcels that I have often received from overseas. They arrive looking like an amateur boxer had used them for boxing practice in place of a sandbag. Every time that happens, I make a mental note to ask the Customs office to keep some sandbags ready just in case, you know, some of their workers aka amateur boxers want to take a swipe and decide to practice on my parcels instead. They arrive after the packages have been torn open and their contents thoroughly scrutinized. Covered over in plastic sheets and tied together with the customary jute rope, they are then sent on to their final destination. It’s quite embarrassing to pick them up at the local post office because, at this point, the packages no longer look respectable. Truth be told, they begin to closely resemble a homeless man’s cardboard home roughly dismantled and thrown back together again very inexpertly. With as much dignity as I can muster, I collect them and go home. Sometimes I chicken out and send my mother’s driver instead.
Why? Why? Why? What are you hoping to find in peoples’ parcels? Would anyone be so daft as to send… I don’t know… guns? In a parcel? I know there is a story somewhere of a man who posted himself from one Aussie city to another Aussie city and arrived fully intact. That is, frankly speaking, too much adventure for me and for most of us who use the good old-fashioned parceling system.
I have a good mind to make up a parcel of nothing but smelly socks and label them ‘really smelly socks, all flavours’ and see how it will get through Customs. Maybe they will open it and rifle through it and catch chronic intrusivitusinfectisimus from it. A bit of nasty poetic justice then.