On our maiden flight of fantasy

On our maiden flight of fantasy

A naive pair on a bewildering first trip to America, Dr Lalitha Ramakrishnan narrates her experience of reaching her destination after spelling out an address ad nauseam.

travel

The year was 2005 and it was our maiden visit to the USA. Our daughter was expecting her second child. For a first-timer, there would be any number of veterans, pumping in the fear of everything under the American sun, moon and stars. It would begin with your visa application and the subsequent interview. “Hush! Don’t breathe a word about the condition of your daughter. Don’t volunteer more info (this is aimed at me, an indiscreet babbler), pretend you are dying to see their country and the visa is yours,” was the gist of all their golden advice.

Visa was not a cakewalk; we could get it only for one year. Then began another torrent of do’s and don’ts. “Don’t carry this, customs will not clear it, keep the prescriptions ready for the post-delivery ayurvedic medicines in case…” — by the time we boarded the Alitalia from Mumbai, we were already nervous wrecks. We were afraid to open our suitcases, cabin bags, why, even our mouths.

Our stopover at Milan didn’t help either. I almost got locked inside the airport toilet — without my glasses, I couldn’t make out which was the latch. We couldn’t buy coffee or eateries, not because we didn’t have money — we had only dollars but they wanted their currency — we had no idea where or how to get the dollar exchanged. We had a mobile phone but had no idea how to operate it or how to make ISDs. We were a naive pair on a bewildering trip.

On top of it were the sheafs of papers the airhostess kept bringing in, making us fill out this column and that umpteen times. We were exhausted and it was a relief to know that we had finally arrived at our destination. We sighed in relief as we jostled towards the immigration.

But the relief was short-lived. The officer took a disdainful look at the filled in forms, keyed in the information and frowned.

“Where are you going? The address?”

Now this was the question we had been waiting for since we received our visas. My husband had in fact been coached by our daughter and her husband and they had made sure that he knew the address by heart.

My life mate’s face lit up. Parrot-like he started reciting the much-rehearsed address. 

The man’s frown deepened. He tapped the computer hard, again and again. ‘No. There’s no such address here. Can’t find it.’ There was a flurry of papers. But no, we couldn’t come up with another one either. “Sorry. Try to get the correct one. But, no, no calls, please. Next, please.”

Our hearts plummeted. We were almost there; only a wall separated us from our dear ones; but unless we got another valid address, we were doomed. What if we couldn’t? And, did they really have all the information at their fingertips? In that case, would they then know that we were there to attend to our daughter’s delivery? Would they bundle us back to India?

Like two frightened children, we sat there, looking at the emptying immigration hall, trying to conjure up the real address from nowhere.

“Hello! What’s the prob?”

We both turned to look at the man. I had noticed him before and had in fact commented to my husband on his Indian features, contrary to the un-Indian name in his ID tag. We tearfully poured out our predicament.

“Do you have your son-in-law’s number?” He took the paper from us and gestured us to wait. We did.

He came back with a fresh form and gave us a piece of paper with some scribblings on it. “I spoke to your boy just now. Write down this address in this form and present it at the same counter, OK? Have a nice time.” He disappeared with a wave of the hand.

The re-union was ecstatic and tearful, more so for us. ‘What took you so long? We were getting worried.’

“That’s a long story. But didn’t that fellow tell you? There was some confusion about the address you had given and we had to wait till they cleared it. Luckily that officer could call you and…”

“What officer? What call? I didn’t get any call! And what’s this about the address? It’s THE address!!”

PS: Two of our suitcases that went missing were delivered at the original ‘untraceable address’ the next day, that too at midnight!

Machines may fail you, but good human souls never do.

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