Wednesday, February 6, 2008

From the Air to the Strip

This is a journey like no other. A journey which will take you through different worlds and three continents. To some, this will be a travel guide; to others, a funny story to share at parties; for me….this is life.

The night prior to departure, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I got myself into. The next morning I was leaving from London for Mumbai via Kuwait on Kuwait Airways. Usually I wouldn’t consider this air carrier however, owing to my late booking I wasn’t left with much choice. After making the booking, I consulted my brother who reassured me by saying; “It’s not a bad airline, in fact its better then Gulf Air and the movies are pretty good.” I guess these days the quality of an airline is measured by the caliber of movies they present. The fact that my friends couldn’t stop laughing about my choice of airline wasn’t a comfort.

When I arrived at Heathrow at 7.30 am, three hours before departure, there was nothing but long queues. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. In fact, I had to walk to the front of the line with my trolley and followed the line right to its end just to make sure I was seeing right.

While waiting, my thoughts began to wander and I started envisioning what the flight would be like. Would the breakfast menu include ‘shwarmas’ and ‘phalefells’? Would a light come on indicating that passengers can smoke while the air stewards would distribute personal ‘sheeshas’ with a choice of Apple, Strawberry or fat-free Cinnamon flavored tobacco? Did George Lucas get the idea of Darth Vader after seeing an air steward in a ‘burkha’? I can see it now, “Gulf Wars; The Houmus Strikes Back”.

After boarding the flight I was a tad parched and requested for a glass of water. I waited. I asked again. Waited some more. After some time, I finally got a cup. Half way through, I paused and wondered if I ought to hold on to the remaining water for the rest of the journey. “To hell with it,” I threw caution to the wind and gulped the rest.

After a short nap, I noticed that our departure was delayed by almost two hours and we were still at Heathrow! When we were finally in the air, I requested for another drink and was kept waiting once again. Anyone see a pattern here? There is more to this airline - ‘Q-Wait’

While in transit in Kuwait, I took some time out to buy some gifts. I was surprised when I saw the prices, though. A bald friend of mine had assured me that colognes and perfumes would be cheaper at Kuwait, but he was sorely mistaken and unfortunately it was I that had to pay the price, double to be precise.

Once the gate opened to board the onward flight to Mumbai, all the passengers ran to the entrance where they were instructed to not only put their baggage through their X-ray machine but their shoes and belts as well. I walked through the metal detector clutching my jeans and wondered if I should consider this a “Quarter Monty”. Make sure to wear tight trousers when transiting via Kuwait.

Before boarding, the air hostess came out and insisted that they would board according to row numbers, and people not in the mentioned rows would have to wait. I wanted to jump up and scream “HALLELUJAH, Praise the Lord! Can I get an Amen!” For once I was actually boarding a plane to Mumbai without feeling as though I was at Madras train station. Now all I had to worry about was the race to Immigration once we land and the vultures who are waiting to extort whatever they can from NRIs (Non-Resident Indians).

I arrived in India and after managing to make my way out of the airport, I jumped into one of the local cabs. It was then that I realized the evolution of the Indian taxi had reached a pause. The bland Fiat Premier had first started simply with the taxi driver stopping the vehicle to charmingly spit tobacco on to the road. Later on, passengers were provided with Bhajan music albeit at one volume: LOUD. The other option is ‘off’ which is actually my preference. The next step in the progression was the addition of the air conditioner and voila….the ‘Cool Cab’ was born. At this point, cabbies began to wonder what to do next? How could they possibly improve on their service?

Welcome to the new and improved ‘MULTI-PURPOSE CAB!’

On your next trip to Mumbai, you will be pleased to find cabs with a variety of features that is guaranteed to cater to your personal taste. Some will come with a variety of coloured lights while others will have small temples on the dashboard. For those whose tastes are a tad saucier, you may come across a cab with a mirrored roof and a slim shiny pole from the roof to the bottom of the cab which is placed right between the driver and passenger seat. It doesn’t stop there - the cab comes fully fitted with a variety of upholstery, light fittings such as mini chandeliers, and incense sticks to further entice the senses. Welcome to the new and improved ‘Indian Cab’; taxi by day, mobile strip club by night.

One thing to remember, though, is B.Y.O.S. (Bring Your Own Stripper).

Chandru Bhojwani

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