Tuesday, October 30, 2007

getting here

Getting to India was surprisingly straightforward. I caught a direct flight from JFK to Mumbai which was ~14 hours (which, for the record, is about how long it takes to get to Korea if you go the other direction) and meant no worrying about missed connections. The flight was totally full (11 stand-bys didn’t make it) and Delta had to pull the “we’re overbooked and need a volunteer to give up their seat" game. I ended up sitting next to what I hope was a newly married couple – an Indian man and a white woman who looked like Alf Mushpie from Bloom County, except that she was overly reverential to her husband (e.g. unwrapping his food and feeding him) for the entire flight. This weirded me out and I was in the window seat so it was all napping, New Yorker, and seat-back video entertainment for me.

Baggage claim reminded me how atypical an Indian tourist I am. Neither a returning native, nor a dedicated tourist, I was the owner of the sole bag on the conveyor belt not stuffed to the point of bursting. I probably could have survived with a single carry on if I'd wanted to, but I'd been warned that I would need room for bringing things back. Failing to fall in a typical classification felt a bit weird and led to some short lived introspection, but at least it made it easy to pick out my one gaunt bag from the other black suitcases labeled "PATIL."

Mumbai's airport has undergone major renovations recently and the finished product is much cleaner and tourist friendly than the the old airport, which was beige, green, and brown and patrolled by soldiers who assumed you spoke Hindi and were casually armed with assault rifles. Customs were unexpectedly easy -- in the past I've entered India with my mom who always has 2 bags full of gifts and pockets full of gold (to be made into jewellery), but this time I was alone and carrying nothing but clothes and some books. There was also some guy arguing with the x-ray machine operator (something about how tax payer's are either harrassed too much or too little, I wasn't quite sure) so I don't think he even looked at my stuff. Between exiting the plane and finding my parents outside, the only words I exchanged with anyone were "Thank you" to the passport control guy.

As I made my way out the airport, I started to wonder if some how India had transformed since my last visit three years ago. Maybe Mumbai, like its airport, was now cleaner, friendlier, and less scary. Then I walked outside and realized India hadn't changed... it was just how I remembered it: hot, humid, utterly confusing and overflowing with people.

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