Sunday, September 28, 2014

Travel - An Ordeal

Travel does not have to be all happy and pleasant always. Though there are those weariness of long journey and waiting time; they don't count as an ordeal.

I had to make a short business trip to the United States 2 weeks ago. I knew it was going to be a hectic schedule. I had to visit 2 offices located in different states and meet up with many people. Count the long flying time and jet lag. I was prepared for it and just wanted to finish the trip off. But few incidents that occurred was entirely out of my control and everything that could go wrong; happened in this trip.

To start with; I was pulled aside for secondary screening at the port of entry in Boston. The officer at the counter seemed terse; it was unlike all my previous experience in the US. But I thought it was just a trivial thing. After going over my documents, asking "stupid" questions, picked on my job profile and allegedly telling I came for job purpose...He scanned my finger prints; he mentioned I was to go through one more screening. I said ok and reached out for my passport. He didn't give it to me; just said "Just stand against that wall"

Now - it didn't feel good at all. How much ever they claim its a routine random check; being sided when others just walk is a bad feeling. Another office asked me to go with him and he took my passport  along. We went one floor down towards secondary screening room. A door of thick steel that opens with combination of numbers - now I've read about such security systems in lot of Fredrick Forsyth's novel.

Anyway; I was made to sit and there were few others - Africans, Asians, Muslims. In no time; another office called out my name and I went towards him. Seated behind a desk; hidden by a monitor; he started asking me questions after questions. Very rude! There is nothing called as humanity. Twisting and turning; repeating the same questions over and over again, trying to pick on even simple words like "live", "stay"....Threatened me a few times that he will have to put me on a flight back to India and that I am making it difficult for him and myself.

I was then told to bring my bags. I went out and brought my bags and the door was not opened for 5 minutes. When it was finally opened; that guy took me into another room and made me sit on an old wooden chair. He was particular I sit on that chair. Frisked my bags - everything that was in there; right from my panties and brasseries and sanitary pads. Not only such things are humiliating; it makes you wonder what these folks gain out of all these?

Heights of cruelty; not giving a thought that someone has flew long hours and probably its their sleeping time. The questions continued. He alleged that I was giving different answers. At one point I lost it and said "Look, if you want specifics; please ask me specific questions. You keep repeating the same questions over and over again and it doesn't help". To which he said that was his job.

I was made to share phone numbers of folks who I'll be reporting to. Asked more about my company and why I was here after so many years. What would've happened to the project without me traveling there; aren't there folks who can do what I do here? They did end up talking to a couple of my peers and then concluded I am not a "suspect"

By then, I was so tired and bored that I started to read my book. Oh! few questions were so silly - 9 days but you've got 3 books with you! just 9 days and you have a woollen cap with you. Why the umbrella? Why via Boston? No direct flight to Raleigh from Paris? After around an hour; my passport was stamped and I was told I can stay for the meetings. I didn't even acknowledge; I just walked out.

There was an old Europen couple and the man asked "why are we being detained?" To which - an officer said "You have entered the United States". The behaviour was notorious and it was like they are above the law and can frisk and question anybody who've entered their territory. At the moment; I wanted to say "Thanks! But I have made up my mind not to be here anymore. Please put me on any flight back home". That would've made about that officer, isn't it?

I am angry, humiliated and insulted. At the same time; I pitied them - all in the name of freedom? Whose freedom? What freedom are you talking about?

So this was while going to US. The stay was hectic; had to meet so many folks and there was no time. Overall it was fruitful. While coming back; it was another kind of an ordeal.

The flight from Pittsburgh to Paris was Delta that code shared with Air France. After flying for 4 hours into the Atlantic; they decided to deviate to the nearest airport at Gander, Canada due to a medical emergency. A person passed out and he was in pain. Unfortunate incident; for the rest of us it was going to be delayed landing, missed connections and so on.

After getting the sick person off and refuelling; the flight resumed. 7 hrs became 12 hrs and my connection to Bangalore from Paris had just 2 hrs time. Obviously; I missed my connection having landed in Paris 3 hrs into my flight take off. After going through the wait; got allotted a Jet Airways that was flying 9 hrs later. Loitered around the airport for a good hour and settled at a place sitting Chai Latte. The sight at the airport was nice. A bright cherry red piano on which few folks played, a group of Jews praying before boarding to a Tel Aviv flight.

So yeah; stranded and finally boarded the Jet Airways flight to Mumbai and from there on to Bangalore. I checked many times and they assured me of safe arrival of my baggage. However; in Mumbai the baggages didn't arrive with the flight. Complaints raised, by then I was tired and sick of all this. Took the flight to Bangalore.

The baggages arrived 2 days later; I wasn't convinced when they promised but all that ends well, is well.

Hmmm...what else is remaining to go through during a travel?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why I Travel

Travel - It lightens me up. Anyone who has interacted with me face to face will notice my eyes twinkling and a slight smile at the mere mention of travel. My mind races, my heart skips a beat, I get the sensation of falling in love. Travel! that is orgasmic!

I have good set of contacts on Facebook; those include few of my peers. Some of them are meeting me after a couple of years. I am to discuss with them on important projects and the next steps. Instead; what we ended up talking is about my travel sojourns. I am told "Oh! are you wondering why I am not bringing in work related talks? Don't worry, we talk about it all the time. We can chat over phone as well. But this one! I want to hear from you" I was prodded "Oh tell me more about it". An array of questions and exclamations...

The places you go are unusual.

Don't you get scared?

How do you choose them?

Do you travel alone or groups?

Package tour?

But isn't travelling expensive?

Do you like architecture?

What kind of places do you like to visit?

Whats the best place you've been to?

Please share the snaps....

Folks are in awe and they exclaim how they want to be like me. And hearing me, they feel what are they doing sitting in an office and going back home day to day. They feel that I am the chosen one! that awe that surrounds me when I speak about my travels. They feel its not something everybody can do. It does make me feel blessed; to be having that mad guts to go extremes and plunge into traveling the way others could only dream of.

If you ask me; this is no big deal. You just have to start. I tell them how its not expensive. They have their opinions which I agree. In our Indian culture; travel has never been considered an educational experience. Its been luxurious indulgence - the best king side bed, princely breakfast, chauffeur driven vehicles and selective places to sight see with that familiar set of people whom you have been comfortable with. Always on the guard, not talking to any other unknown folks, not wanting to tread the unknown - be it the food, exploring a city or talking to locals. A colleague mentioned an interesting phrase for that kind of tours which I refrain from mentioning here since it could be racial. I've met young kids who take 6 to an year break; go travel and earn their own money doing odd jobs to fund travel before they get to university. Isn't that the greatest experience in life? Well, we haven't been brought up that way. We are supposed to be preparing for IITs and JEEs and SATs. Thats what gives us bread and butter; not this damn travel.

And when I start telling about my travel styles and why I do it that way; people think I am crazy ; they exclaim "Something is unusual". I smile. But I know they just want to do that - what I do but can't gather that guts. Then finally, the veil drops - like the way a bride's would. They admit they just want to do my way but for some reason they couldn't.

Financial burden - one says. I say traveling is not expensive. Another says its not safe to travel the way you do - local transport; unplanned, unreliable. I say thats how I get to feel the place, interact with locals and hear their views. What use to get shielded in a cozy limo and watch things behind a glass curtain? What use eating the familiar idly-vada and looking at things the way a horse is masked?

Isn't it unsafe? How about the language? Don't you get scared? I say - just leave it to the world; and the world will take care of you. That curtains drop once you talk to people. You realise they are just like you; they want to talk to you and help you as much as you want to talk to them. Seek help. To me - being helpless in a foreign land - be it with transport, food, language - makes me seek out. That makes me realise how trivial I am. It humbles me and shows how insignificant I am and what use the knowledge I have? It tears my ego apart. Its a spiritual experience - an addiction.

The world is vast, you know none. And yet how much we feel great about ourselves? Looking at those eons old architecural wonders makes me realise how intelligent and far more superior folks were before our time. Yet; most can only see dirt and rocks. Seeing those mountains, volcanoes, forests, deserts, seas - how powerful nature is. Yet how foolish we try to "conquer" it. What is so tough in living in harmony with nature; because man can never ever win over the all powerful nature. I do feel funny with those organisations with good noble intentions. "Save the world", "Go Green". Man! how proud are you! How very egoistic are you. You go save yourself man! The world knows how to save and sustain itself. Its you who came much later and will be wiped out sooner. Earth knows to sustain, to destroy you when you abuse her and to reclaim her rightful spot.

My favourite question that I can't find answer to - "Which is your favourite place?" Oh! what should I say? I have only traveled so little compared to you Sir! and I don't have a favourite. Each one is unique and beautiful. I will be foolish to compare one to another and in the process undermine the experience and learning I gained. Doesn't it make you feel awesome? It does - to me. I feel blessed. I feel wonderful. I feel so blessed not because I have the financial capability but because I can take that path - road less traveled.

I feel blessed because I have been accepted by that place, by the ecosystem, by those tiny creatures, trees, people, birds..They have let me share their home, their environment, their best with me. They have let me earn experience

After hearing all this - few admit their defeat. They can't do what I do. Few go with a hope that they could do what I do at least once in their lifetime. Few request me to let them know when I travel next; but thats that.  A colleague whom I've known from my previous company pinged me and said thus

Hi Bindu, how are you doing? Just saw your posts on Facebook. And wanted to check if you are in Sunnyvale 

Fall colors in Raleigh?.. I think you are a month early.

Enjoy your trip.

Hum.. I shouldn't have said that. You do live your life to the fullest. I am happy for you.

:-) Made my day. Now when did I learn this and what triggered me to discover the joys of exploration? I don't know. I do know that life is limited and there are lot of good things here one could just miss if you don't pause

Monday, September 15, 2014

Everything I Do...

I Do It For You.....

Got reminded of the Bryan Adams song. Only this time the YOU is not a human being but a pehnomenon that is Facebook. And of course others lurking behind like Twitter, Instagram and now in buried in a grave - the Orkut.

Met up with a colleague/friend yesterday and over a cup of Chai Latte, our discussion went from one topic to another like rolling waves. Totally unrelated topic being discussed at ease with this lady whom I have not spoken beyond a "Hi" back at Bangalore office. Amazed by her ability to put anybody at ease; especially an introvert like me.

Yeah; I dont recall why I said what I said. This is what I said "Most people these days can't have a normal face to face conversation beyond 5 minutes. They are loss for words; they don't know how to present themselves and aren't comfortable seeing eye to eye. But are so comfortable talking their hearts out hiding behind a computer or a phone. It does seem people have lost the art of socialising due to these so called social networks"

Thats when she said - I am out of Facebook. And I "Oh! Is that so?" And to hear more on her thoughts was so relieving because it cleared off some of the doubts I had myself. "People update what  they ate; where they peed and pooped. Why would someone want to know where they peed and pooped?"

"Any special occasions are made a big deal. If you are feeling so blessed about having a great father; why sit in another corner of the world and show it all on Facebook? Be physically there with your dad! Yes! people have started making decisions based on social sites these days."

I always ask my spouse - "Everybody seems to put up their "happy-all-time" picture. We haven't taken one. And then it seems awkward to me to be showing that affection for the sake of publicising it.  Are we normal?"

Hell! yes! we are normal and thats why we haven't done that yet. If everyone is so happy happy, cuddly cuddly and mushy mushy; why is the world a crappy place? Where is the real you? Just think the reason behind the popularity of these websites. People want to know what others are doing and then in turn want to mimic them - Peer pleasure.

An entire world of business is based on this. And those corporations are getting richer at the expense of YOU - YOU think what you see on the WALL is the real life.  No wonder people can't smile anymore unless there is a camera phone trying to capture a photo. They can't

Alas! the happiness does not lie within. It lies on the wall.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Relearning Phase

I'm in the US after 4 years. And it does seem like nothing has changed.
Being I am working with the same set of people; well almost.

Everything is organised and predictable; which is boring to me.  Most of the countries I've visited so far have been rustic and exotic in different ways. You can just chat up with people; form a group in the middle of a street and get along on some common themes even if you don't speak the same language.

Like cheering up for Read Madrid with Moroccans in Fez over a cup of mint tea! Neither knew Arabic nor French but we felt happy and shared that passion for the game. No one gave a second look at the odd brown skinned people who spoke none of their language and didn't swig mint tea by jugs!

Or like trying to understand the price of a chicken satay on the streets of Mailoboro in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. And the giggles that came from other women when we pulled out a 100000 note instead of 1000 Rupiah! Blame it on inflation there.

Very freely striking up a conversation with a former army personnel of Sri Lanka and exchanging opinions on civil wars without being worried about too much and at the same time respecting the country.

There are many more...these kind of things are not possible in few countries I suppose. For one; I have never been in Europe.  I have done decent Asia and a tiny bit of Africa and Middle East. Middle East is another story - women alone are like species. Anyway; here there is no scope of spontaneity and mistakes. I don't want to expand more on this :)

I am relearning stuff again.

On the right side of the road!

Metric? Whats that? In pounds, ounces and Fahrenheit

The fridge door is not opening! The knobs are stuck. The light switches are on but the lights are off...Well yeah you have to do the opposite way! But thank God! the grills and ovens open the right way only.

I have to exchange pleasantries and say Excuse Me! and Sorry! even if my shadow bumps into another person.

Start feeling good when shopping for clothes since I now have to look for 2 sizes less; so I am not "fat" while I am here ;-)

A friend of mine today was repeating every time I got into the car "Other side"

Well for few days though. I have to unlearn everything soon!