Sunday, March 9, 2014

First time at International Airport

Although it has been close to seven years now, the experience of my first travel abroad is still vivid and brings a smile on my face. It was, like for everyone else, a mix of excitement and nervousness. The memories came back to tickle me last week while I was sharing them with a few friends of mine.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan
Having spent close to five man-days of effort between me, my boss and the travel adviser filling / reviewing the form, copying information from the last few approved visa applications, taking print outs and making full use of the xerox machine (and pricking my conscience once again on seeing that I scored more in Social Science than Mathematics and Science in my 10th Board, and still opted for Engineering), another three days during the hot and humid month of April doing rounds of the Consulate in Mumbai, while standing in the serpentine queues gulping random liquids available on the streets, and having ensured that I do all the right things (and avoid using all the "prohibited" words) during the interview process, I was on tenterhooks till the time I reached the airport, exactly four hours before the departure of the flight. Fortunately, for a change, there was no last minute drama, and I was delivered the visa and passport just when I was about to leave the queue outside the entry hall for the seventh time, to join it again at the back! My romance with queues had just started. Tick tick one!

With the newly purchased blue color Aristocrat (somebody had advised that a different color and a different brand is helpful while identifying the bag at the baggage carousel) and the new jacket for the forecast weather conditions (optimum utilization of baggage restrictions made me wear the jacket in that Mumbai weather), I was all set for the journey. Having crossed almost half the length of the kilometer long hall, I got irritated by the constant whistling by the security. Only when I noticed almost everyone staring at me, except for the gentleman in the expensive business suit who must be coming across such idiots during all his fortnightly sojourns to the International Airport, did I turn back and see that all that was for my silly act of transgression - I did not take my luggage through the X-Ray machine. Oops ... there goes a little bit of confidence. Tick tick two!

After checking in the luggage, I followed everyone towards the immigration section. I was so proud of the fact that, unlike other careless passengers, I did not have to make any last minute movements of luggage from the check-in bag to the cabin bag, or between the two check-in bags. After all, who likes to show the entire world how many pairs of undergarments are you carrying or for that matter how many packets of Haldiram Bhujiya and Mom-made Besan-ke-laddoo have you packed in your bag. All this while, I did not notice the small piece of paper in everybody's hands. I was made to realize this only after spending around half an hour in the queue when I was sent back some 50 places and a few meters to collect and fill the declaration form. Well, this was a significant improvement, having repeated this a few times outside the entry hall. Tick tick three!

Image courtesy of charlesdyer @ Flickr
With all the bags in place, forms submitted, all security measures dutifully followed (including the all-important, two-time removal & wearing of shoes, belts, wallets, jacket), honor and pride still intact (well almost, with the interesting concept of frisking making you all but ...), the two-liter, half-filled Bisleri bottle unceremoniously dumped by the security-conscious, environment-unfriendly officer in the garbage bin, and having ticked off three acts of felony from my quota, I finally reached the waiting area, just about one hour before the departure. As advised by a dear friend, I once again checked the multiple copies of passport and visa, the hotel address and local phone numbers hidden here, there and everywhere. More importantly, I double checked the bags for any unknown packets of white powder or unrecognized pieces of glass hidden inside the Parker pen I was carrying. Rest assured, I finally relaxed and began the last hour of my wait.

As I look back, a few things change over the years, a few remain exactly the same. Phones were not so smart those days, nor did they make you feel (or look) smart. Hence, the family in the next row was actually discussing, planning and looking forward to their holidays in the Caribbean, unlike what I witnessed a few months back. Then there was this lady sitting in the far corner all jittery with the thought of traveling alone with the little one in her lap. Yes, that can be some experience. Ask my dearie. And of course, there was this group of 20-somethings who were yapping their way to glory, trying to impress folks around with all those words they had memorized during the GRE preparation. All in all, everything around didn't give me a chance to notice that there were 20 calls I had missed from my Mom. There go the remaining 20 minutes of the wait, one each for the 20 times she tried to call me. Tick tick four!

The announcement came on time, giving me no opportunity to tick off any more chances, leaving enough in my inventory for the journey ahead ...

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