Friday, April 02, 2010

Half way across the world

Some things take their own time to come to you and when they happen, they do in a jiffy. My trip to India got postponed due to various reasons for three and a half years and when things finally worked out, it happened in a week. In seven days, I had mentally prepped myself that I was finally visiting India, got myself tickets, made enough rounds of Target, Ikea, and Walmart to buy goodies worth the airline baggage weight limit, packed them in the two huge suitcases dad had dowried while marrying me off to America, sorted through my wardrobe to discard all the cleavage, ass, or leg accentuating clothes that would not pass the family censor board, and packed myself some decent and boring clothes to bring back.

Thankfully my ex-company paid for my return ticket, so I didn’t care about the airline or the route. I left my car and valuables behind because with half a dozen PhD admits from various schools, I hope to come back to the US soon enough. I had personally asked the travel agents to get me window seats so that I could spend my time admiring the topography of half the world while there was enough sunlight. My first leg of the journey started with the five and a half hour long Seattle-New York flight at 6 in the morning. Reaching the airport just a little after 3am, I was dutifully whisked away from airline to airline only to be informed that the flight was operated by a different airline and was overbooked, hence I wasn’t assigned a seat and would have to wait to see if there was a seat available before I could board the flight. I gritted my teeth, mentally preparing myself for the obvious discomforts and hassles that were to come my way in the next 30 hours until I reached Kolkata.

Fortunately enough, I was able to board the flight, only to get a middle seat flanked in between two old women, one Russian whose animated talks I understood nothing of. I was so tired after days of adrenaline and lack of sleep that I fell asleep even before the flight took off. In 6 hours, I landed at the JFK airport in New York, only to observe the stark difference between the east coast and the west coast of US in terms of topography, people, structure of buildings, and the overall look. New York sometimes looks and feels like a mini-India to me.

After 30 minutes of walking and terminal hopping, I found my Air India terminal where I was to secure my boarding pass. While I waited for the formalities, I craned my neck to look at the people about to be my fellow passengers for the next 16 hours of my flight from New York to New Delhi. Mostly Punjabi uncles, patiala style salwar kameez clad aunties, and their children wearing GAP and Aeropostale 1987 sweatshirts whose faces showed the same “I-don’t-want-to-go” expression that must have been reflected on my face. In addition they carried very desi style samaan (luggage), consisting of not just suitcases but big cartons, bigger stuff that looked like dead bodies wrapped in sack, and hard covered suitcases they must have bought 50 years ago when they immigrated to the US. I was dead sure I was not getting a window seat as usual, and would be spending 16 hours of flight from JFK to New Delhi sandwiched between people.

I got an aisle seat. Good news for my bladder that wouldn’t cry out in pain as I made my way to the loo through snoring co-passengers. I boarded the flight to be greeted by saree clad air hostesses and the background music of “pal pal dil ke pass tum rehte ho”. The interior of the flight already seemed like miniature India. I had a seat at the rear end of the aircraft, and by the time I reached my seat, I had heard at least 5 different languages I recognized being spoken on the phone, all meaning similar things like I have boarded the flight- Bengali, Punjabi, Oriya, Tamil, Hindi. Bad news, I was placed next to a woman and her baby boy who was already shrieking. What is it about desi babies, their unbearable crying skills and the indifferent parents who barely flap an eyelid or take measures to ameliorate the chaos desi babies cause? Was this what my music entertainment system would be like for the next 16 hours, I thought as I scanned for a pair of ear phones. 20 minutes down the line, the lady and the baby thankfully moved across the aisle to sit with the husband, and the seats were replaced by 2 innocent looking sardarjis- safe, less noisy, low maintenance. In the next half an hour, my flight had taken off the American soil, and I bid a silent bye bye to America and dozed off.

The next few hours seemed excruciatingly long and the few things I remember are my neighbor sardarji offering me his share of gajar ka halwa since he didn’t like it, the baby by that aisle howling and pulling all possible stunts while his mom showed slow but clear signs of disengagement, looking indifferent to the noise pollution the baby caused in the aircraft as she ate, slept, talked to hubby, or read. I was dying to crane my neck out of the window and look at the landscape below, but takeoff was followed by lunch, followed by everyone pulling down the window blinds and napping and snoring. Trapped between snoring passengers and shrieking babies, I stared at the screen that mapped the route of travel, looking at figures like miles travelled and local time at various places like London and Beijing absentmindedly. I fiddled with the entertainment system and for the next few hours, ended up watching Aa Dekhen Zara, 500 days of summer, big bang theory, and a couple of Punjabi music videos I understood nothing of. I was kinda hungry, thanks to the difference in time zone. I had skipped breakfast while taking that 6am flight and by the time I reached New York, it was 2pm New York time. I barely had time to change terminals and take that flight, hence now both breakfast and lunch were skipped. The flight left at 5pm local time and they immediately served dinner, my first meal of the day barring the cans of fruit juices and pretzels I had gulped down in the previous flight.

16 hours of tossing, turning, hearing others snore, falling half asleep, swollen legs, and intense physical discomfort later, I landed in Delhi. The first thing that hit me was the wave of heat on my face. Even having grown up in India, nothing prepared me for the first bout of heat. It felt strangely familiar- the sights and sounds around me, a goods train passing nearby, a tractor, shorter buildings, and a different looking viewscape. 4 hours of wait later, I took my last leg of the flight from Delhi to Kolkata. This time it was the window seat, but it didn’t matter anymore. It was dark outside, and I fell asleep the moment I buckled my seat belt. A few more hours and I had landed home, after three and a half years of staying outside. I am dying to update so much more. It seems I will have a lot of blogs to write the next few weeks.



Abhishek Khanna said...

welcome back! i would love to read your thoughts when you drive for the first time after landing in India! For me, it was too scary :D

Neha said...

Just reading your post is making me want to go to india (not because im fond of the crying babies and all the discomfort!).. I have also been in the US for exactly 3 1/2 years now, but every time the flight lands in india, i feel awesome! the 30 hours of travel, i think, is worth all that!!

Rachna said...

Yes, the flight to India is always excruciatingly painful!That's why I take super-extra care which flight I take. And Air India is a big no-no!
Glad to know you'll be back for your PhD. Love reading what you write.

chatduke said...

this would be good ... your India trip blogs ... !!! ...

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

glad to read about the admits! all the best. enjoy your time in india

Day Dreamer said...

Is that 3 and half Years? or 3 and half months?

Day Dreamer said...

Is that 3 and half Years? or 3 and half months?

Mukesh said...

I love the way to describe your long awaited journey to india !!

I love the way u write !!

keep posting great stuff !

Wishing you...Happy holidays in india !

sunshine said...

Abhishek- Am trying my best to pen them down, but time is definitely a constraint :)

Neha- hehe

Rachna- Thank you :)

chatduke- well, I hope so too :)

TGFI- Thank you :) Cannot access your blog :( !!

Day Dreamer- 3.5 years !!

Mukesh- thank you :)