Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Lost luggage Part II
Went out to baggage section. Watched a belt moving round and round for two hours. My GOD, these Indians don’t carry all THAT kind of stuff all around the world, do they? Yes, they do. At last – CLUNK. The belt stopped. My bag hadn’t appeared. NOT AGAIN! My soul shrieked – not another time in Mumbai without a change of underwear. “My bag has not arrived!” I shouted to the attendant in Hindi (in an African-east London accent). “If you want to complain,” he replied in the correct Mumbai accent, “Go to counter number 43”. By now I was thinking of Arab Airlines and their incestuous relationships with their mothers and sisters. “Name!” asked the babu at counter 43 before I vented my wrath. “Ah, Mr. Singh, your bag arrived hours earlier – by SWISSAIR!” he added, beaming. He was really impressed. My bag had had a much cleaner journey than I had. “Just give me the bag,” I said wearily. “Certainly!” still beaming. “Please to fill in this form” He gave me a form called “Personal Baggage Irregularity Report” – PBIR for short. I had great fun filling in that form. It had lengthy notes (in English and Hindi) on how to fill in the details – and about three dots for the information. The Kaya Chiktsa Exam was easier than that form. At last I was finished and handed him the form. He didn’t even glance at it. He checked my passport, my ticket, my urine, blood pressure, temperature, attitude – made me sign twenty ledgers, declarations, disclaimers, praises and god knows what else. By this time things were starting to look slightly surreal. “All done!” he beamed, - and took me to Customs, where we did the whole thing again – in detail this time. “All done” – the beam again, “Let’s go”. The bag was at another Terminal. I should have known – Swissair would never share a Terminal with Syrianair. We did a half marathon to the next Terminal, then another quarter marathon through progressively dingier corridors until we came to a dead end – and turned OFF it into ANOTHER DEAD END – and came to a closed and locked door that said “NO SPITTING”. You guessed it – it was covered in red spit. “Please to wait here”. Beam.
“I will go and fetch the officer”. He disappeared. Abandoned at the end of the mother of all dead ends. O well, I thought while sniffing delicately at the twenty years old spit reeking of betel nut, katha and tobacco, this is one smell that wasn’t found on the plane. I filed the delicate smell carefully in my olfactory files for future appreciation in times of leisure.
Well, all good things come to an end. My friend eventually returned with a carbon copy (carbon being the operative word). “Here we are!” he shouted. They both beamed. We went through the whole procedure again. This time I had to sign 37 times, but he handed over my bag reluctantly – and beamed. “Customs now” said Babu no 1. “Different Terminal” he explained when he saw the look on my face. This time they examined me AND my bag – false bottom? Quality of stitch, past and present history, diagnosis, prognosis, differential diagnosis etc etc. I had stopped counting the number of signatures, stamps, testimonials, character references, number of people I knew in India and their addresses (in the present AND the past two incarnations). Eventually satisfied, they flung out their arms in outlandish gestures and shouted, “Welcome to Mumbai!” It was pelting down with rain something fierce outside – it is called the Monsoon I am told. The babus beamed incandescently.
I cringed furtively towards the exit gate, reciting the name of the Almighty twenty times per step as freedom came progressively closer. At twenty steps to the exit, a wild hope began to flutter in my breast. Dare I hope? At nine steps to Rama a hand fell on my shoulder. I turned. A babu in white. He beamed. “Anything to declare?” he asked politely. Too politely. I let out a wild cry (in an African-east London accent), put my head down and CHARGED out through the exit, into the pouring monsoon, stumbled and fell into a huge puddle of delightfully ‘clear’ water, thrashed about and giggled hysterically. A small crowd gathered to watch my antics. “PHORINER” (foreigner) one of them said loudly. They all nodded wisely. “ He is enjoying his visit to India”. They all nodded, even more wisely.
Too right, mate! And this is only my first six hours in India. What is going to happen in the next 2494 hours? Only time will tell. Or will it. The crowd looked on at my antics. They beamed.