Sankar Chatterjee

Posted on May 15, 2017


Are You Carrying Any Explosive?

John Dodd, a young American was passing through the security-check in the international airport in Lima, Peru, while his both luggage took their own ride through the X-ray machine. John passed through the security gate, getting thoroughly checked manually by the security personnel, when he noticed both his luggage pieces were seating on the floor after coming through the scanning X-ray machine. Two security officers came over, escorted him to a questioning area and one of them threw the first salvo: “Are you carrying any explosive?” John denied and explained to them that he was in the country to hike on the ancient Inca Trail to explore the ruins of Machu Picchu. One of the officers went back, brought back both pieces of his luggage and flew open to dump everything on a table. That was when a capped small glass bottle, with some granular white solid inside, started rolling towards John. One of the gentlemen grabbed the bottle and took it inside another room. On return after an hour, he announced that the identity of this sample did not match to any forbidden sample in their database! Then, John remembered. After hiking on the Inca Trail, he spent a few days exploring different Inca sites within the boundary of so-called Sacred Valley. One day, he ended up in the town of Maras known for its historic salineras (salt mines). High on a mountain slope, there were several thousands of salt pans that wonderfully glistened in bright high-altitude sunlight. Each pan was a rectangular deep cut-out, dug right into the slope. There sat a natural spring at the top of the valley. Its warm water, loaded with natural salt fed the pans with a steady stream of water. Even in pre-Inca time, the civilization who had lived there developed a highly effective system to divert the downwards water into the pans. This was done by passing salted-water through numerous narrow channels created along the boundaries of the pans and controlling the amount of water that could get into a particular pan. As the water from a filled pan slowly evaporated from the heat of sun-rays, the water became supersaturated and salt precipitated out as various size crystals. Remaining water in the pan was then allowed to dry naturally. Within a few days the keeper carefully scraped the dry salt from the sides and bottom and reopened the water-supply notch. Same practice has been continuing over last several centuries. Some salt from the site were being sold at local gift stores from where he picked up a souvenir sample. He explained his account to the security guards and to prove his point, he even tasted a few crystals in front of them. Both the guards and he heard his name being announced in the airport’s PA system, being the last passenger sought for a particular departing flight at that moment. Reluctantly, the guards allowed him to repack his luggage and led him to the gate. John promised to himself “Never again.”


A PhD-level scientist, Sankar Chatterjee possesses the passion for traveling worldwide to immerse himself in new culture and customs to discover the forgotten history of the society while attempting to find the common thread that connects the humanity as a whole for its continuity. His most recent (2016 – 17) essays appeared in The Vignette Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Missing Slate, Scarlet Leaf Review, Drabble, Funny in Five Hundred, Friday Flash Fiction, Ad Hoc Fiction, Quail Bell Magazine, Travelmag – The Independent Spirit, Three Drops from a Cauldron, and forthcoming in 404 Words.