It always feels good to be back amongst those I love.
The fact we can now fly direct to Pune on an international flight makes returning even easier. There is no need to dread the thought of an arduous road trip from Mumbai airport after having got off a long international flight. Now getting home is just a hop, skip and jump into bed. However, there are still a few niggles that make the return home a little irksome. Flying from New York means it is almost a 24-hour journey with layovers, getting to airports etc. By the time we touchdown, all I can think of is getting home.
Customs, immigration and baggage claim become impediments in achieving my goal. It has not been too bad of late. In Mumbai, more often than not my arrival has been streamlined with amazing efficiency. But Pune airport was a different ball game. It seems as if the airport staff probably wake up a few minutes before the plane lands. Along with my co-passengers, I was one of the first to disembark. As we walked off the gangway, we faced a cordon. While the board declared arrivals was towards the left, the cordon meant we had no choice but to turn right.
My non-Indian fellow passengers who are used to following rules, instantly turned right only to hit a dead end. Hesitatingly, someone moved the cordon slightly in order to walk down the correct path. And as the surge of people increased, I moved the cordon to create a wider path. The airport authorities were standing at the far end of the corridor and simply observing this drama without bothering to rectify the mistake. I overheard a couple of co-passengers laugh and say, “This is India. Welcome.” I cringed inwardly because it is hardly the kind of welcome we should be proud of extending. The drama continued as we entered the immigration hall. We were not allowed to enter because we did not have arrival forms. I have flown in and out of India enough times to know these forms are handed out on flights. I had actually asked the airhostess on flight about the form thinking I may have dozed off while she was handing them out. She informed me there is no need for a form. I figured this was Modi’s new rule in his effort to make life seamless and did not argue. Turns out the air hostess is half right. There is no need for a form BUT only if you are an Indian.
Foreigners need to fill out the form as we discovered when we were ignominiously stopped at the entrance of the immigration hall. As we all stood in line scrambling for pens, juggling duty free bags and hand luggage and trying to fill out the forms, officials scurried around loudly asking all Indians to come ahead and proceed towards the immigration counters. There were no desks where foreigners could stand and fill out forms and in the meantime it became a free for all as Indians stampeded past. As I waited while the immigration officer perused my passport and visa, I asked him if this was a regular occurrence. He affirmed this and said they have urged the airline staff to hand out the forms on flights to prevent this type of ensuing chaos but to no avail. The airline staff who I questioned refused to entertain my questions simply declaring forms were never given on flights and that was that. I could sense the resignation as well as frustration of my fellow passengers. In my head I thought, welcome to India.
I love travelling and there was a time I literally had wheels on my feet because of the urge to roam and explore. As a writer, I often amuse myself at airports, in trains and while on the move by creating scenarios for my fellow travelers and possible reasons for their trips. Maybe lurking somewhere in my head is a book waiting to be written. However, there is one unique phenomenon that occurs only when I am travelling to and from India. This is the saga of the wheelchair passengers. When I am waiting to board or disembark a flight to and from India, I am invariably greeted by a long line of wheelchairs. I totally understand a legitimate need for wheelchairs but I think Indians abuse wheelchair assistance. Even the perfectly fit and able, take wheelchairs presumably because they do not like the long walks to the gates. It is an amusing spectacle and unique to Asians. I have never seen this dependence on wheelchairs for seniors anywhere else. Travelling abroad has become extremely popular with Indians and I guess eventually the etiquette of travel will catch up. Until then such irksome scenes and sights will persist.
And while I may rant and rave about it, I know inside I also have that Indian mentality of, ’it is as it is’ and shrug my shoulders without fighting it too much. I just let it slide.
After all, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.