Saturday, May 23, 2009

Back in India

I am back in India after a considerably long time - 7 weeks! Considering that I travelled almost 129 days in last six months, seven weeks at home was a really long time. I was enjoying the wonderfully summer, and almost getting back to normal - all appliances in my house was back functioning, I was picking up the post the day it is delivered, reading the current magazines, driving the car - I probably have not lived like that since June 2007!

As if I was becoming too happy! My nightmare indeed started the moment I landed in the Kolkata airport. I almost concluded that Emirates Airlines will soon lose its edge with the rest of Dubai, and even toyed with the idea of flying Jet Airways between Heathrow and Mumbai this time. But then the relative ease of getting to Gatwick won the day and I decided to give Emirates a try. I was proved wrong - the flight was unbelievably busy - and right, because it did seem that Emirates is losing its touch.

The Emirates flights between Dubai and Kolkata are always a bit of nightmare. Somehow, Dubai to Gatwick is a completely different experience. But step into the Kolkata flight and you encounter an uncomfortable seat, rude staff and significantly different environment overall. I would think Emirates makes compromises to keep their prices low between Dubai and Kolkata, but even for a value-conscious client like me, the level of compromise is unacceptable. Possibly, the rude and difficult passengers drive the cabin crew mad, but I guess they need assessment and training on patience, good behaviour and tolerance. The point is that the crew has no business being rude, even if they are dealing with someone who can not read or write. I do find the cabin crew in this particular flight patronizing, to all passengers indeed.

But my nightmare started when my bag failed to arrive. Indeed, this is quite usual, and happened to me before. And, I find Emirates quite good with baggage - they eventually find it and do deliver. [I shall prove to be right - they have found my bag and I am told that it is on its way to my home now] However, my general irritation accumulated during the flight reached an absolute breaking point when I realized the bag isn't coming - a small disaster considering I had important paperwork and I was to catch a flight to Hyderabad before the bag can possibly be delivered - and was told that I should not mind because 'Sourav Ganguly's bag is also missing'. Yes, the former India Cricket Captain [and the biggest celebrity draw in Kolkata] was there in the same flight and his bag did not come either! But that was no consolation for me, I was absolutely frenetic realizing that some of the presentations and contracts I prepared was in my bag, and I was mad at the fumbling lady at the missing baggage desk who made this consoling suggestion.

But, anyway, that was as inauspicious a start as I could get to my tour of India. This will be followed up by a day today when a meeting will be arranged at 11am, and I shall fly in to Hyderabad early morning to attend it, only to be kept waiting for the whole day. Every time I called to enquire, I was told that the people I am supposed to meet are on the way but being delayed by traffic congestion! I stopped calling after 4pm, and left office without leaving a message at 7pm, and currently, at 9:30 in the evening, wondering whether they have reached by now.

That's India, surely. Our Operations Manager kindly reminded me that, and said that I can not expect to finish things quickly here. It will happen - and I should be patient. Surely, I am as Indian as anyone else, but I made a mental note to think, and write, about the Indian views of time sometime soon. I know every traveller will have some stories to tell here, but I am not really looking for a sympathiser. But I am tempted to make the generalization that some part of it must be a culture thing rather than a person thing, and that indeed needs a closer examination.

I am also stricken by the heat - India is having an usually hot summer. I am rather naive to believe that I still have the energy and the ability of a twenty year old, and this made me commit a cardinal sin - walking in the sun with a heavy backpack on my back - which eventually ended in a heatstroke and temporary incapacity. While most people were fairly helpful and couple of them helped me to find a place to sit and later, some water, I managed to lose my mobile phone in the midst of all that chaos. I am not sure whether I dropped it somewhere or someone picked it up from my bag, but since it was inside my backpack, the latter seems to be a stronger possibility.

And, if the reality check is not complete, I received a call from the person who made me wait all day Saturday apologising for the inconvenience and setting up another appointment on Wednesday. Of course, my expectations were low and I was not unduly surprised when they failed to turn up on Wednesday also. They obviously called on Thursday morning to say that they will come on Friday - and didn't. Given that this is a fairly large business group and we are talking about their Chief Executive here, I am slightly surprised, but not losing my pants on this and getting used to the patience that one must have to do business in India.

I am going back tomorrow to England, and I have set myself a watershed date of 2ND June, when my lifestyle and the way I conduct myself must change. This close encounter with India is certainly very helpful, and though I have not been able to enjoy most of it this time, I am sure this will allow me enough perspective to plan my future.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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