When I was in grad school more than a decade ago, a trip to India meant packing your suitcases at the eleventh hour. Now with a family of four, it is a full blown project with timelines, resource allocation, division of labor and advance planning to buy gifts for the uncle's brother-in-law's kids!
We got to Chicago about 4 hours prior to the flight'.after the 9/11 incident, we wanted to go and camp there the previous night to avoid long queues! We reached the airport so early that there was no one at the Lufthansa counter and we had to wait a full half hour before someone showed up to check in our baggage. Just when you thought all the bags were checked in and you could be hands free, you turned around to find out that you still had half a dozen small carry-on's plus the stroller! That's when you looked at the single guys carrying a laptop all the way to Mumbai and envied them'Koi lauta de mere beete hue din. The flight was uneventful, thankfully and of course the pilot could not afford to feel uneasy flying with so many desi passengers! After a fairly long layover in Frankfort, as soon as the announcements were heard for the second leg, obviously there was a mad rush at the gate to board the flight!
As the flight got ready to land in Mumbai, I was picturing the last time (5 years ago) when I was harassed by touts at the baggage claim. Needless to say, it was d'j' vu all over again and an uniformed loader approached me to ask if I needed help. All of a sudden a couple of touts materialized and started handling my baggage. In spite of repeatedly telling them to get lost politely, I finally had to resort to their language'Dimag pakao mat yaar, already garam ho gayela hain, and they then magically disappeared.
Tired and exhausted, I ambled towards the green channel. As I was loading the baggage on to the X- ray equipment, a senior customs official came running and pointing to a box asked me what it contained. I replied 'Baby diapers and food'. Extremely satisfied, he nodded and walked away.
Now it was the turn of the junior guy manning the equipment, to ask, 'What is the value of these'..all these baggage?' Not expecting such a question I said, 'How can I give you a value'. He said, 'Ok then give me your passport'. I handed him my passports and he asked what my name was! 'Subramaniam', I replied. Then in a genuine accent, I added, 'Kay saheb, problem zaala ka?'. The countenance on his face changed and flashing his tobacco stained teeth, in an excited tone he stammered, 'Arre Subramaniam,Marathi boltoy'. I wanted to reply, 'Yes Sir, I have just landed from Mars, where the official language is Marathi'. He said, 'No, no, you see, I was only doing my duty, here is your passport.'