The baggage has got to be within 20kg. New churidhars, sweets, pickles, dhal powder'Amma was never satisfied that she had done enough. Every hour she seems to come up with something new that might me useful to me while abroad, resulting in a baggage weight of 50kg. The begging and pleading in the checking counter was not quite successful and I had to leave behind one of my suitcases.
Finally, it's the time to say goodbye. With tears rolling and promises being made to take regular oil baths and make phone calls, I reluctantly went on my way to board the plane.
The plane was very cozy. Since this was my first flight trip ever, my nerves were bungled up. To alleviate the butterflies in my stomach, I picked up the newspaper. The headline was about 250 people escaping from a possible plane crash. I closed the newspaper with the same speed. Each seat had an individual television with headphones. I started off my journey by watching 'Cast Away'. Oh dear! Tom Hanks was surviving from a plane crash. Frustrated I switched on a hindi movie channel, where I saw Amisha confiding that she had lost her parents in a plane crash. That was the end of me watching television that day. I looked around to see the plane gracefully gliding through the sea of clouds. Slowly it entered the clear blue sky with a carpet of fluffy cloud beneath. Here I am! Leaving my homeland and flying towards England. Excitement gripped me.
A lovely airhostess was walking around handing out coffees. Somehow the small sachet of milk is never enough for me. Silently she handed out another five milk sachets for me. I suppose she must have come across lots of Indians in this plane.
I had to change flight at the Dubai airport. It is really huge with around 20 gates. I had to run right across the airport to my gate, carrying my 12kg handbag, which was cutting through my hand. Amma had successfully managed stuffing bottles of oil and goodies in the handbag, which is not included in the baggage weight. Even before I reached the counter, they had called my name and apparently the plane was waiting for me. Finally I got the boarding pass and got in. I suppose there are more latecomers like me, because the plane waited for another half an hour before taking off.
A hot eaude cologne cloth was exactly what I needed. By now, I had got quite used to the plane. I even watched two comedy movies. Whenever the plane jerked, I imagined I am traveling in a local bus. Just the fact that the local bus doesn't ride at 45,000ft above the ground. Sitting next to me was a Pakistani mullah who owns a textile shop in Manchester. After a small chat, he handed out his visiting card and went on to read his book.
Blonde airhostesses walked about serving food and drinks. Alas! No chocolates are provided in this plane (grr').
Tasting freedom for the first time, I boldly ordered red wine, but was confused if water or soda is to be added to it. I asked the Pakistani mullah next to me, and with a glare he said that he didn't know.
Finally, we were about to reach Manchester. As the plane plummeted the aerial view of the fields and greenery was superb. What impressed me were the neatly arranged houses with conical rooftops. All houses were just brick colored with no plastering. Many buildings had car parking on big balconies.
Just as we do during the bus journeys in India, just before the plane landed, I got up to take my hand luggage from the rack. A steward promptly rushed to my side and instructed me to stay put in my seat till landing.
After a long run on the runway, the plane finally stopped. But not my journey.
I took hold of the luggage and had to stand in a queue as each of us got down. Then started the long walk ' curse the heavy hand luggage. Why aren't there any staircases in Britian? It is always a stroke of luck to put your feet on the right step on the escalator. This time I couldn't have rolled down as there were lot many people in front of me using the same escalator.
There was yet another queue to collect the main luggage. Little did I know that this was a long series of queues that I had to get used to in Britain.
Nobody checked my bags; God saved my pickles.
Then started the never-ending journey to the railway station. Following the innumerable signboards, God knows how many lefts and rights I turned and how many lifts I went up and down. It was like a treasure hunt.
The trolley laden with the heavy luggage on the smooth polished floor, pulled me along rather than me rolling it. I had a busy time running behind my gliding (rolling) trolley. If I tried to turn the trolley left, it would skid to the far left like a ballet dancer, making me fall over.
After a long hunt, I found out that the railway station was through the third floor of the airport, connected by a long vestibule.
If you think my struggle in the new world ends here, you are wrong. The wonderful train warden, who kept calling me his 'dear', informed me that there is no direct train to Sheffield, which happens to be my final destination. I had to go to Piccadilly, change platforms and then take the train to Sheffield. This meant more escalators and queues.
I finally managed to hurl myself with the baggage into the train. At this point I wholeheartedly thanked the checking officer who had eliminated one of my suitcases to stick to the prescribed weight. Three luggage with two hands would have been unmanageable.
The interior of the train is just classic. Plush cushioned high back seats arranged in fours around each table. People play games or read on them whilst traveling. There were separate luggage stands to hold the luggage. There were hardly many people in the train. A flash image of people clinging on to the Chennai trains crossed my mind.
At the Sheffield station, the ticket collector helped me to carry my luggage down. He is one of the innumerable helpful people in would be meeting along the way.
As I came out of the station, with two heavy luggage, I saw huge buildings everywhere. I couldn't locate which one was the university. There were no boards to identify. Later I came to know that it was the rear end of the university building. In the brochure it was mentioned that I contact 'The Atrium' international office. But no one on the road seemed to know where the atrium is. Finally I met a guy who asked me to climb two stairs (?) to reach the international office. I couldn't possibly carry my heavy luggage up two flights of stairs. It was then a smiling young girl came to my rescue. She is Michelle from Cyprus and she was supposed to greet me. When she exclaimed 'Welcome to Sheffield', my heart started beating normally.
Back in my bed-sit in the accommodation, I started my first day in England. The temperature was below 0oC. I turned the heater on to maximum and also covered myself with three sweaters, gloves, socks and a monkey cap.
Overcome with warmth and a strange contentment I closed my eyes. It was the end of my long journey halfway across the globe. I have embarked my journey as a student in Britain, faraway from my homeland, carrying little but dreams and aspirations.