I love India and the simple complexities and complex simplicities she offers at her airports. Each experience has a novel hidden inside it. Like most people who have voyaged through Indian customs/immigration, I have a few stories stashed under my sleeves.
A couple of years ago, my bag was misplaced on my way to Bombay (Mumbai), India. I tried *lodging* a complaint with the airports authority, but an old uncleji used his, “I am older than you,” line from Bollywood movies from the 70s and made me wait for eternity while he screamed his lungs at frail bodies.
I was stressed, as my trip was ten days long and split between my parents and in-laws, which meant two different cities. Lo and behold, I didn’t receive my bags until after I had visited my parents and returned to my in-laws place to return to NYC. Did I mention that was the bag with the food-related goodies?
When my suitcase finally arrived, I got a call from the airport with rather discreet instructions. While my mom-in-law waited outside, I ventured inside the secret world of customs. My bag looked like a cadaver in a morgue. I heard rodents squeaking or maybe it was nauseating words pouring out of mouths.
Let’s not talk about the guy who asked if I would marry him, so he could get a green card. Or the not-so-gentlemanly gentleman who was convinced I hadn’t been married for as long as I was. I wanted to laugh loudly and cry softly. Finally, after haggling over my bag and incessant probing revolving around matrimonial quests and green card acquisitions, for forty-five minutes, I was given the okay to waltz through the green channel. Seriously, all that for a bag full of chocolates, mixes, sauces, and pastes??
Funny story: This one time, a custom’s officer at Delhi airport tried messing with my brother, who has the world’s most awesome sense of humor. This guy wouldn’t let my brother carry the officially permitted quota of whiskey. He wanted the fancy alcohol left behind, so he could trash it. We all know what “trash” in this case means. My brother, with a serious face, told the customs officer that he would pour out the whiskey in the drain himself, as he didn’t want to break any rules. The officer insisted he leave the bottle behind, but my brother was persistent. Eventually, the public official got flabbergasted and let him go.
But this time around, at immigrations in Bombay, I had a heart-wrenching experience. My immigration form, with “writer” under the occupation field, caught the fancy of the officer behind the counter. He started chatting me up. He wanted to know what kind of writing I pursued and if I had any books out. I was unsure of the amount of sharing, so I took the extra conservative route. He stayed quiet for a few seconds and then confirmed the name of my latest book release. I was bewildered. Where was he getting this information? He looked at my passport and said, “Madam, will you only write for USA or something for India also?” In a defensive (almost guilty) tone I said, “Next year I have a fiction novel coming out in India. Yes, yes, book in India.” He shook his head like a pendulum. The woman standing at the counter next to me wasn’t shy to eavesdrop into our banter. Instead of answering questions asked by another officer holding her passport, she chose to pump up my ego. With my American passport and Indian heart in hand, I smiled at the unanticipated interaction.
The excruciatingly long flight offered me the opportunity to reflect on what had transpired. Is it true that the Indian line of questioning can make you feel wanted? (Whether it’s in a good or a bad way, is a matter of perspective or the situation you are in.) Is that why people are in each other’s business because they really care or am I traversing through the path of biased understanding because I want to believe that?
More until next time,
Copyright © 09.26.2010
“There's nothing like an airport for bringing you down to earth” ~ Richard Gordon