2006: India Trip – The Journey

Yesterday didn’t end till early hours of today and it was about 2.30 am when I got done with few last minute things – checking seating for first leg of the journey in CMX, having my carry-on luggage weighed, packing and re-packing, making sure that I had all the required documents, visiting Quincy Mine (and walking back from there to Heights), handing over keys to Kyle for system maintenance and writing a cron-job to gracefully shut down my server on 20th August (I couldn’t get apcupsd to work – my APS doesn’t seem to have a USB port, or I couldn’t find it), and such…

Part Uno: Houghton, MI – Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

I got up around 4.45ish and Wil (Slough) was at my place sharp 5.20 (as he promised) to pick me up 🙂 Owing to the now well-known incident in UK, NWA computer/system thought yours-truly needed a bit more elaborate, extra caring (a.k.a. security check). But having spoken to CMX officials yesterday and having known some of the TSA officials, made the extra caring process very smooth. Detailed carry-on luggage checking thing delayed the take off by nearly 40 minutes. However, this delay didn’t affect me as I had a pretty long layover in Minneapolis. It was after a long time that I napped much of the air-time, mostly because of 21+ hours/day work for much of the week.

Waiting for the next flight, coupled with 40lbs hanging on my back and lack of timely food & enough food made it pretty difficult for me to spend 6+ hours of layover in MSP. Added to this, I don’t remember fighting this hard to avoid sleep as well as to connect to WiFi. I guess I attempted at least 20 times and not once did the connectivity last more than 90 seconds 🙁

Part Dos: Minneapolis/St. Paul, USA – Amsterdam, Netherlands

The journey started almost on time (15 minutes delay for an international flight is nothing). After another change of seats (originally I had in row 26; Tom in CMX had put me in exit row 29 and finally I sat in exit row 10) and feeling ashamed (for refusing to give up my exit row seat in 29), and some head-ache in association with throwing up feeling, I thoroughly enjoyed rest of the journey – part in sleep, part in eating, part in watching Mission Impossible III and part, as usual, in talking to flight attendants and fellow passenger. While catching up on some sleep, I missed the dinner but the flight attendants were pretty cool – they brought me food, fed me well and, were very helpful through out. I also read a part of Work and Its Secret, excerpts from Swami Vivekananda’s 1900 Los Angeles lecture. In parts that I read, he talks about working with a smile on face and expecting no return – as soon as mind wonders/wanders as to how one would accomplish this (he does talk about it too), I see these flight attendants as the classic working example of this book’s essence. There have been others who have (been) living, probably without their very own notice, similar such life styles.

Just minutes before landing in Amsterdam, I started talking to my next-seat passenger and (begin whispering) I may have met my prospective employer, for after graduation work (end whispering). Nothing’s certain yet and my resumé needs lot more reworking/refining if it has to get me a job.

Call it accident/co-incidence/luck/funny/crazy (and/or yours truly’s planning), I was in the same airport, at around the same time, four years ago by date – before embarking on my first ever trans-atlantic flight. Schiphol was the biggest airport I had ever seen till that day (11th Aug 2002) but it didn’t feel intimidating this time around, though much of the it looked the same (including the rainy weather conditions).

Just like last time, I had about 4 hours of layover and knowing my way around here saved me quite a bit of time. WiFi connection was lot better and reliable, compared to Minneapolis. For a while, I was running around the airport and wanted to see a museum (first of its kind – at least they claim it so) but since NWA officials had mentioned that I started walking towards terminal E6 (searching it was a no brainer, MSP-AMS flight had arrived in E8) and finding / confirming that it was the right terminal couldn’t have been any easier. E6 looked like a mini-India — with people from different regions flocking together, talking in their respective languages, sharing/eating food items characteristic of their local geography, most of them not caring to smile or return it when offered and about a handful of foreigners (it’s ironic – but true from the mini-India perspective) spread around, probably wondering if they had already reached India even before they boarded the flight 🙂

Part Tres: Amsterdam, Netherlands – Mumbai, India

Due to heightened security measures, boarding didn’t begin until few minutes before the scheduled take off time. I got to know couple of German/Swedish people, who are also coming to Bangalore en-route to attending a Sourashtrian wedding in Madhurai and later managed to get an exit row seat (yes, again). My discussions, on varied topics, were restricted to my next-seat neighbor – that being the one of the many differences. What else was different, you ask?. Lot of things – actually, I never thought they were so many until midway through the flight.

First off, the carrier itself was different – much smaller, less hi-tech. Instead of each seat equipped with its own LCD screen (with remote control), there was one big screen in each of the sections – much like a theater. So, everybody is forced to see the same damned thing, whether they like (and/or understand) it. Added to this, not everybody (whoever wants to see) can see this and the headphone socket doesn’t accept anything but in-flight-issued headphones. Guess you are going Huh, that’s it? Why am I being a b!@#$ about it??. I am not done reciting the missing things list. Food was just crappy – utterly tasteless. I was surprised that the so-called desi food was better in Part Dos than here – this one being more of a To India flight (How did I get that smart to understand this? For one, 80% of the passengers are desis; every announcement is trans-repeated in Hindi. The person who trans-repeated had one of the finest and smoothest accents I have ever heard – that was the only saving grace part of all this). I guess the flight attendants did not bring the Concept of Customer Care with them for this flight. Either they forgot to pack it or it might have been too heavy to check in. There was none with a smile (on their face) to greet people into the flight and guide to their seat (reminds me of Tech’s PH1100 Learning by Discovery labs). Anything I requested either took a very very long time (30+ minutes ETA) or never came. On couple occasions, I had to go and fetch them myself. First, it was a piece of wet-cloth I asked for, to clean the dirty/filthy food tray. 20+ minutes later, I went and got it myself. Then, after managing to eat part of the crappy food they served (partly out of desperation to avoid head-aches and partly out of the usual respect for food – people who grew it, cooked it and paid for it), I waited another 20+ minutes after which I took the tray myself to their food-serving compartments. Pressing the button & hoping that an attendant would show up and/or frequent beverage servings with a pleasant smile were just too much ask for!!

Then, a short nap later, I decide to refresh the blood circulation in my feet and check on German/Swedish friends (seated way back in the cabin) and what I saw was pretty much utterly hopeless. Not all seats were taken or there was some seat adjustment that took place, I kept seeing people occupying multiple seats – sometimes to put their stuff, often to make it serve like a bed and doze off. Every other step, I kept bumping into garbage – yes, literally garbage – news paper, plastic beverage cups, dirty/filthy paper napkins, clothes, shoes, sandals, …. decorating either aisles in the 2-5-2 arrangement. If it wasn’t a federal/aviation violation, I would have loved to shoot some pics of it and post them here! First, I thought it might have been an accident. But situation was even worse when I went for my second such walk, after another nap-break. About 3 hours of flying time was still left when I wrote this segment of the blog and I must say, I felt like I was traveling in a 3rd class, unreserved compartment of an Indian train (June 12, 2000 to be precise – from Chennai to Bangalore).

Well, some/all such things might have forced the flight attendants not to pack their usual smile and caring Nature OR people (I mean the travellers) act in a weird way because they don’t receive the usual services – I am not sure which one’s the hen and which one’s the egg. But I am willing, from personal experience (of not-all, but most fellow desis’ behavior in a group. This behavior can be utterly different depending on the nationality of others in the group – cricket crowds are a classic example for this) to bet that travelers’ shitty behavior is the cause and missing customer care is the effect.

As of writing this segment, I had the feeling that booking my dates only for four weeks was a pretty good idea (I had been feeling that this duration might not be sufficient to do everything in detail that I had in my to-do list) and that I can’t wait to be back in Amsterdam (for return journey to US). Experience with customs might only add to this feeling but fellow passengers (and many friends) have convinced me that the desi customs security check in should be simple (and straightforward) as long as I stick to the green line. I am hoping that these fellas are right and that I will start feeling that staying four weeks was an OK idea, if not good or great. And with only 20 minutes of battery left in my Mac, I guess I will stop here for the moment and use it to write about the straight-forwardness of green line thing.

(9 hours later…) Well, the flight reached Mumbai about an hour late (it’s a Northwest policy, I heard) and for a change, all my luggage came in the same flight too. Immigration check was a breeze; I was surprised to see my stuff on the carousel in less than 15 minutes (this is the all time fastest) and customs check was a whirlwind (trust me, if I say it’s superfast, it’s really really fast).

Part Cuatro: Mumbai, India – Bangalore, India

My checked in luggage was checked in again to Bangalore with Jet Airways and a few minutes later, I (along with a couple new friends from Germany/Sweden) reached the local airport via AAI Shuttle. We had some chai together and some basic Hindi lessons (for Ida) & a short shuttle later, I was sitting in Jet Airways carrier headed for Bangalore. I was pretty pleased to see young/educated/understanding personnel at various counters along the check in process and they made it a cakewalk for Barstian and Ida to carry their glassware gift from Sweden 🙂

I was pretty surprised to see about a third of passengers being foreign nationals – signs of grow(n)ing times I suppose. Journey was again pretty smooth, food was great too – the menu offered a choice between North/South Indian delicacies and food was actually served in porceline dishes with steel silverware (isn’t this a misnomer?). The in-flight magazine, Jet Winger, was pretty informative too – covering not-often talked about places and their specialties. About an hour left in the journey, of all the passengers in the flight, one of the attendants asked me to provide feedback about their service. Honestly, I was shocked, as yours truly is only used to being selected, of all passengers, for extra scrutiny/security checks! Unlike many other desis from US, I wasn’t even wearing any clothing that explicitly gave away information about where I came from!! I filled in appropriate & honest details where applicable and their wash-room/toilets got a Poor (there was no very poor option).

Honestly, my mind/heart is a bag of mixed feelings right now – a tiny bit of excitement (thinking about 20+ years I spent here in a matter of minutes) I had when the carrier landed in Mumbai is long gone and for some reason, /me feels like I have reached in some sub-urban NYC airport…

8 Replies to “2006: India Trip – The Journey”

  1. Yea service on international flights isn’t the greatest these days. I recall the exact same things flying to and from Japan. The service was a bit better than you described but nothing to write home about. Hopefully this will be the worst part of your trip and its already over. I expect lots of pictures from India and I know you’ll satiate my needs rather well. Have fun!

  2. Gowthama,
    Much of what you described reminds me of my journeys back home! NW is known for its non-friendly, KSRTC-type of inflight-service. When coming back, get a massage at Amsterdam airport by some hot european chic! btw, loved the picture of the cuppa-joe..you havent written about how amma and thangi reacted at the airport..avella strictly censored eh? Your mom must have been on seventh heaven..

    Maja maadu..kannada kelbeku andre nanage phone maadu! hehe! Ninna vairagyna salpa badigothi normal prani thara idly,dose yella channag meyi..lokabhiraamavaagi othla hodi..ensaiiiiiii..

  3. @MarwaDi and @Soumya,
    will keep your words in mind – Kerala (Cochin) is definitely a welcome getaway from Bangalore, at least for now. KannaDadalli prashne kELidre jana shock-aagi mukha nODthaare… enu daridra bantho, raaaamaaa…

  4. Agreed…That was an arduous journey…But hey…U may have met ur prospective employer…That’s great!!…Nice pictures though…
    Don’t think too much about how sick Bangalore is and all that…There’s no reason to get judgemental…4 yrs is a long time, B’lore has changed…So have u!! Remember, it is just a vacation…Focus on the people…Meet with all the people who care about u…Ur mom must be very happy to see u…Chill out…Enjoy!!
    U can crib & complain all u want when u get back here…For now, have a blast!! Don’t ruin ur vacation…I’m sure everything’ll be ok…

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