When you enter India

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When you enter India, make sure you are equipped with a pen or a pencil. You are asked to fill an arrival card that is quite often provided to you by the flight attendants. You check your handbag or pockets for a pen, you don’t find and you shamelessly request your co-passengers if they could lend theirs for a moment. The co-passenger hands over the pen with a hope that you will return it. A child seated behind you asks its mother whether she is filling some crossword puzzle. You are eager to fill the form if you have been bored from the long journey although you are not sure about some questions.

Once you land, you see that the patience amongst your co-passengers has gone down and they are all desperate to get off the plane. Mannerisms and discipline that you witnessed when you boarded the plane in a foreign land seems to have disappeared in the native land; some switch on their cell-phone and start talking, confirming the landing as if the person on the other side has been tracking the flight for hours.

You follow rest of the passengers towards the immigration control. You have airport attendants rudely instructing you in their sleepy red eyes which queue you must be standing in and which immigration officer you should approach. You stand before the immigration officer, say hello, he doesn’t seem bothered to respond, yet you hear ‘hmm’ from him. He yawns right on your face like a lion while collecting your passport and the filled-in arrival card. There is a gush of air that smells of panparag or gutka as the immigration officer goes through your documents. You think of crushed arecanut mixed with different flavours and wonder if there is any alcohol infused in it, you stand still until you hear a short hiccup that involves a bit of bureaucratic power component in it.

You look at the immigration officer; he fulfills his duty of asking you a couple of questions that might seem irrelevant to you. You wonder if he is really supposed to ask some of those questions that seem rather nosy than official. He seems satisfied with your answers like a teacher conducting a viva voce. He uses your own passport to press the arrival card so that he could maintain symmetry and tears off a section that you need to take with you. He finally stamps your passport and you feel a sigh of relief. This relief is not because you have committed any mistake and are scared, but simply because you don’t wish to spend more time in front of a soul that has seen hundreds of people for the past few hours, and appears hopelessly demotivated. You need to save your energy for the relatives eagerly waiting outside.

You really are not aware where you need to hand over the small piece of paper that a while ago was a part of the arrival card you filled in. You then notice another tired soul collecting those papers and has a bunch of those and few more clustered with the help of rubber bands. The person collecting those slips assumes that you know the procedure and is shocked and angry to realise that you have handed over the passport together with the slip. The person shouts at you asking to hand over only the slip and not the passport, you reply by saying “please don’t get angry, last time the one who stood here checked even the passport”. Now the slip collector is a bit perplexed pondering if there is any task missing from the way things have been done for the last few hours. Everyone seems to be angry and you don’t understand why. Are they tired of their jobs or are they annoyed that you have seen more of the planet than they have? The mannerisms somehow do not align with the sophisticated renovations of the airport building and the sophisticated renovations are perhaps not so compatible with the local climatic conditions.

Now it is time for security check, you strip off with Salman Khan’s rigor showing the customs officer dressed in white uniform that you are transparent and have nothing to hide. You walk through the security scanner and when you are done you stare at the customs officer like Ajay Devgan, only eyes do the talking, he confirms you are clean. When you look around, you notice that a lady has been summoned to a corner and her bag is investigated for carrying some extra gold than allowed.

When you enter India, you have to have an imaginary storage tank of positive energy over your head. It is bound to deplete within the next few minutes when you wait for your baggage at the belt. You see your co-passengers pushing you from behind, maneuvering their trollies, you see kids behaving insanely and standing close to the belt despite parents’ instructions not to do so, and you have airport porters offering you unsought help. You remember what your uncle had once said “never trust if someone offers you an unsought help, not in the airport and railway stations”. You are tired struggling for your baggage, the belt stops twice, and thrice because of the load shedding.

This is Karma Bhoomi, you slowly start realising that you are here to dissipate your karmas or perhaps it is too unscientific to bring karma into the context. Might be that the State has been unsuccessful to make you feel at peace, might be that the governance failure compels you to make struggle a habit, so why blame Karma. You wonder why this restlessness and why the urge to compete even if it is proven to be inefficient. Nevertheless, you slowly start feeling the energy of the land; there is something homely about India, even to a Westerner friend who had claimed that he sensed a completely different air of spiritual recharge. But does that justify the chaos?

When you are moving towards the exit, you see through the glass facade your parents and relatives eagerly waiting for you. You are happy all again until a relative makes a comment as if she is at a meat market “you have lost weight or gained it or you look pale or you have tanned”. The body diagnosis has started. You step into the car and you watch the city, you are so engrossed. Mother keeps asking “what did you eat in the plane?” When you break your silence and are about to reply, father shoots another question “how was the weather when you left?” You have a pre-recorded reply now as there is no specific interest in the reply as much as in the questions. You still are desperate to share your stories, so you bring up a topic and are about to explain it when one of the relatives find apparently relevant information in an imaginary mental archive and is eager to exhibit the hoarded knowledge regarding the topic. You realise that knowledge dissemination is one way here and there is no knowledge exchange whatsoever let alone analysis because people are not interested in listening.

You notice a hoarding publicising a temple’s renovation work. Construction is booming. Where there used to be neighborhood green space often named after their owners, such as Omakka’s forest or Bhat’s backyard garden now stands towers and structures of well-known builders, vacant and meaningless, seemed nothing but the tombs of their desires, some rooms lit in the night only to display existence, clothes hanging in the balcony to promise you that there is a vertical neighborhood. When you reach home, dogs come running to embrace you and cats seem to be least interested, little cousins flock around a bit and then go to their tablets and iphones. However, the TV is not disturbed by your arrival even a bit, the never ending Ekta Kapoor type episodes need to be attended by all who came to receive you at the airport. The stories around Ekta’s characters are more important than yours.

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  1. Well written, facts laced with humour !!!! Indeed what most of experience when we land in India. The writer was spot on when referring to us as a nation of non listeners,

  2. Thanks very much for sharing your personal viewpoints on all the “nine yards” of anxieties, frustrations, inconveniences as well as the experiences that one goes thru while coming back to India and going thru all the Immigration and Customs formalities. All said and done, you have not mentioned about the magnificent International Airport complex in Mumbai that you witnessed upon your arrival. Perhaps your article was written before the new Airport in Mumbai was established. All said and done, you have all the valid points to share the real experiences of “life” while returning to India which is not a “Karma Bhoomy” but it is truly a “Maathra Bhoomy”.

    We have been frequently travelling back to India for the past 58 years, and our experiences have been pleasantly favorable indeed. We go thru all the situations that you have gone thru, Mr. Uttam, but coming back home is always a joy that money cannot substitute. For the past 58 years ever since we left India for the first time, India has produced nearly a billion additional people. A billion people more in India is more than three times the size of American population today !! A billion additional people to feed, cloth, shelter and protect is in itself a burden that we cannot comprehend even today after forty plus years of Education. Coming back to India and seeing the gigantic progress all over in spite of all the odds and abnormal situations is fully anticipated. People are people – wherever you go and whatever you do, but to come back home and witness the remarkable progress all over is always an opportunity that we would like to embrace despite all other inconveniences. God is indeed kind and merciful in our “Maathra Bhoomy”, and the kindness and mercy pours out of all the people from India – whether it is the Immigration or Customs, whether it is the airport baggage handlers or the taxis, whether it is the hotel receptionists or tourist guides. There is a warm and friendly attitude from most of our hitherto existences, and we have always remained grateful to our “Maathra Bhoomy” that has displayed more courtesies and more hospitalities than many other dozens of countries that we have visited for the past fifty eight years. “Dhanyawadh” and God bless.

    • Smell the coffee from coffee bean outlet (sic) – Dronu Sugam speaking to himself

      Like your Pradhana Sevaka is smelling the aroma of coffee from the Sushmataji/Lalitha Modi outlet? Certified ignoramuses like Origi can take a whiff or two, too! 🙂

  3. Very interesting reality of our trips to the beloved motherland. Last time when I went to India, I kept some pens with me, when I saw the pen borrowing commotion as the author has indicated, I started giving them a pen each, they looked at me as if I gave them an ounce of gold.

    How classical explanation was that of the custom officer, 100% correct. They are looking at the tired passengers like international smugglers. The Customs officers used to be too hard-headed but now they are a lot milder towards the passengers from some countries. Two months before the travel to India, in the olden days, we were constantly bombarded with the tormenting examination before the customs officers who are degree holders in the ” trick of smuggling”.

    Finally comes the questions from the parents and relatives, sometimes we need to narrate from the boarding to the landing episode including the dietary details. The relatives will be looking for the magic inside the luggage. If the distribution of gifts is not fairly satisfactory, we can watch devil’s incarnation in their faces; even after giving everything to please them, still they won’t say a thank you but will find some quality defect of the goods. What a wonderful new world?

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