A Cargo of Knives

You go to sleep in the afternoon, wake up late in the evening and think it is morning.  In the misty transition between dream and wakefulness, you would be dangling between belief and disbelief.

My wife who was a player in one such happening is no more to unscramble my dilemma. The period was May 1990 and the locale was foreign. Now I will let you into the details of the fact/fiction: Our flight to India takes off at 0800 pm. My wife and I leave New Providence at 03.00 pm. There was no Liberty International airport at Newark at that time. We got on to 78 West. The long drive to JFK, the check-in, customs and immigration and the wait at the boarding counter compel us to leave so early. My son-in-law dropped us at Air India terminal at JFK and left us to put the car in the parking lot.  We entered a verandah not protected from the temperatures raised by the western sun.
Some airlines’ busybody materialized suddenly asking the passengers to open their trunks and suitcases so tightly packed that once unpacked they cannot be repacked. I was wondering if this was a kind of mobile check-in. That is why I don’t remember if we had checked in at the regular counter. We are still some distance away from the heart of the story because immigration remains to be gone through. The story raises its head when at the customs a random check revealed a couple of kitchen knives in our carry bag. This happened a decade before the destruction of the ITC twin towers and the US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We could not put the knives in check-in baggage because they had already traveled to the aircraft hold on the moving carousel.

‘What do you want us to do now,” I ask the customs man.

‘You should hand them over to the stewardess, who will hand them over to the ground staff at Mumbai. When the plane stops at Mumbai for you to collect boarding passes to Hyderabad, they will be delivered to you on production of this receipt,’ he says, writes down the receipt and gives it back to us. We collect the document and get into the fully occupied plane, eat  the airlines’ smelly food, and sleep without a nightmare. I didn’t check with my wife if she had any. With a halt in London we fly over the seven seas and arrive at the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. After the aerobridge moves into place to align with the plane’s boarding door we troop out pushing each other and trampling upon shod feet and form a quick line to collect boarding passes for two for Hyderabad. That done, we go on checking with airport busybodies to know where we might collect the knives. The twelfth busybody did us great favor by telling us where to go. We go to the kiosk we were told to go to collect the things and stand before the counter waiting to be addressed to. Five minutes pass without the man looking at us. Then I shouted at him in Queen’s English. Like an obedient colonial poodle he asks us ‘yes.’
I show him the receipt. No sir, we haven’t received any knives, the kiosk man says.

‘What do we do now,’ I ask him.

‘You may check with Air India cargo during working hours,’ he tells us.

Next day we call the cargo office several times. No response. We ask a cousin of ours if he has friends in Air India. He has. We give him the receipt. Days pass without anything happening.
We didn’t bring any knives from the US. We thought we would but we didn’t.


More by :  Krishnamoorty Dasu

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