A couple of years ago I was sitting on a bench at Gaya station waiting for a train to Kanpur. The station was crowded with thousands of passengers. Suddenly the sight of a coolie carrying a heavy load on his head caught my attention. Not because of the load but because of the unusual site of the Hold All he was carrying on top of a suit case on his head. The ubiquitous Hold All! Remember the one which used to be an important baggage that our parents and grand parents carried with them when they embarked on any long distance travel by train. Now almost extinct thanks to the invasion of the trolleys and strolleys.
I distinctly remember the Hold All because we had one at home which was packed to the brim whenever we traveled to Madras from Bombay every three years. Not so much on a holiday to see places but to visit old relatives.
A few days before the date of travel my mother would take it out of the loft, dust it, clean it and keep it ready for packing.
The things the Hold All could hold was really amazing. It was a kind of bed spread made of Khaki coloured canvas 6 ft. long and 3 ft. wide which had provision for tucking the pillows or anything else that the passenger thought fit, on both ends. In the centre of the oblong unit, were flaps on either side which could be wrapped around the dresses and other materials including the bed sheets needed for daily use, so that they don’t spill out of the baggage. Anything that could not be accommodated in the steel trunk, which was also another mandatory travel baggage, would go into the Hold All.
There were pouches of varying sizes to hold knick knacks & items like tooth paste, tooth brush, soap etc.
When my father felt that the Hold All had already accommodated the maximum possible items, he would make an announcement that he was now ready to roll up the Hold All and ask my mother if she has forgotten anything. Having got the clearance from her he would embark on rolling it up.
The task of rolling up the Hold All and tying it with a leather belt with buckles was a strenuous job which needed considerable muscle power and skill. Because, while my father managed to roll up the Hold All to a shape with great difficulty, it will unroll involuntarily, when he relaxed his hold even slightly to insert one end of the belt into the buckle. It is at this point the children would be called to lend a helping hand . Their job was to hold on to the Hold All to prevent it from unrolling, while he went to work on the belt and the buckle.
When everything was nicely packed and ready for transport, my father would beam with pride and pat himself for having done a good job. But his joy would be short lived as a sheepish call from my mother that she had forgotten some item meant for the Hold All would make my father almost go into fits. After screaming at my mother for her forgetfulness, he would reluctantly unpack and repack the Hold All, all over again. Fortunately his children were more than willing to help because for them it was a fun activity.
I remember the Hold All had a leather handle attached to it on one end, used for lifting it and placing it on the head of the coolie. We children would take turns to try and lift the hold all which was so heavy that instead of the baggage getting lifted, we would fall over it. For us it seemed like some kind of a game.
Carrying it from home to the station and bargaining with the coolie at the station for taking it to the compartment etc. was an ordeal by itself. Once we were settled inside the compartment and the train started my father would unroll the Hold All on our reserved seats- the hold all will transform itself into a bed spread through out the journey. Remember those were the days when the Railways did not provide bed spreads or pillows!
The Hold All was indeed a multi- tasking companion during the long journey from Bombay to Madras!
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