Sunday, February 05, 2006

My trip home, part 1: the journey

After a year and a half in the US, supposedly studying, I got a chance to go home for a while. The big day was Dec. 17th, which only meant that I had a whole month to buy gifts for people at home. The usual dilemma (or is it?) followed, and I had to figure out something which was unique, useful and thoughtful all at the same time. Somehow I came up with MP3 players, which I hoped were not ubiquitous back at home.

Dad decided to get me tickets from New York to Bangalore, coz flights from anywhere else were booked solid many months back. Duh! This meant a frantic search on Orbitz for some way to get from Denver to NYC. I also wanted to meet my cousin Subhash in NY and I thought it'd be a good idea to check with him first before booking. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get him to answer his phone (I'd find out why later...), and the delay meant I had to settle for a three leg (!) flight.

My prof decided to spice up my visit by getting me to go for a conference that was in Bangalore on the 19th... the morning I land there! This meant I had to figure out how not to snore while I slept through the first day of the conference, even while I was packing... which turned out to be a hasty last-minute thing. My friend Akshay, who is a pathological CD-burner, asked me to get him a DVD writer many months back (when they were still expensive in India), and two minutes before I stepped out the door, I looked at my comp and said "damn, I forgot about the drive!" So I opened it up, pulled out the DVD writer and stuffed it into my suitcase... problem solved! So anyway, I rode the trusty old Shamrock Shuttle to Denver airport, listening to "Back to Bedlam" by James Blunt. Happy happy, joy joy!

I had a long wait at the airport, so for a while I played "Vexed" on my Palm, then I thought I'd call people I know and let them know I'm headed for India. Why this never struck me before I'll never know... called my other cousin John in Salt Lake City. I introduced myself as "your cousin Jim, the one who never calls!" I also spoke to Div for a long time. I dunno, somehow I always associate airports with calling her. Even though I really shouldn't.

The first leg was from Denver to Washington. They showed Little Manhattan on the flight, cute, but I watched the first half with no sound coz I couldn't figure out how to plug in my earphones without waking up the lady in the next seat. Anyway, at Washington I made an interesting observation: almost everyone working at the airport was either Haitian or from the Dominican Republic. This really is strange if you've lived for so long in a small town like Fort Collins! Had a nice hot cappuccino and tried not to fall asleep. Two hours later, I was ready to board this tiny little Canadair jet. I was one of seven people on board, headed for Raleigh. One short hop later, I had a hard time finding my way around the Raleigh/Durham airport, where a lot of construction was going on. I finally found out that I needed to be in the other terminal, and the only way to get there was to walk... and unless I ran, I'd miss the flight! So that's what I did, bags bouncing along behind me. This was another Canadair jet to NYC, but this time it was packed solid. Anyway, at NY, I had lots of time to kill, so I got chatting with a few other passengers who were waiting for the same flight.

Finally, after almost seven hours, I got onto the Air India flight to Bangalore.... woohoo! The guy next to me was a doctor, we spoke for a while but mostly slept through the flight. At the stopover in London, the stoopid Heathrow guys made us get off the plane, go through a security check, then get right back on! It was a 1.5 hr stop, they could've just let us hang around the gate... anyway, that gave me a chance to get some Toblerone :) The second leg of the flight was just as uneventful, slept through most of it. The feeling I got stepping off the plane at Bombay was... depressing. It must be the lights or the humidity, but something about that airport gives it this grubby feel. I mentioned this to my doctor friend, and he seemed offended, he took it to mean that I had somehow become too snobbish after staying in the US. Sigh... The security check at Bombay was a bit funny, too. This guy standing at the entrance to the security plaza with a rifle says something to me in Hindi which I don't understand. When I gave him a puzzled look, he gives me a bunch of luggage tags and sort of grunts. Hmm... anyway, to keep him happy, I put the tags on. When there are so many rather jobless looking people inside the security plaza with apparently nothing else to do, why can't they put the tags on for passengers instead of this slipshod treatment? Anyway, I got on the plane and finally, two hours later, reached Bangalore at 3:00 AM. The customs lady asked me if I have a laptop, pointing to my backpack. I said yes, she wants to know if it's an old one. I nod my head. Then she asks "how many laptops?" Geez, are people that rich these days?

Anyway, I got out of the terminal hoping to see Dad, but nobody was there! Hmm... so I called him from a nearby phone booth, and he says they had a sign up that said my flight was going to arrive at 7:30 AM, so he went back home! Man, these guys can be jackasses! He drove back to the airport and I finally managed to get back home, almost 50 hours after I left my apartment in Fort Collins!

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