Actually, the fun (I use the term loosely) started the day before I was supposed to leave. My grandmother fell really sick and had to be taken to hospital and my mother went with her, leaving me at home, anxious and panicky, almost nauseous in fact, mostly because I felt worried about my grandmother, partly because I felt rotten leaving for holiday just when she'd fallen so sick, and a little because my mother had left me unattended and I still had to pack.
Min had come over and because she is a lifesaver, helped me pack one suitcase; the other one was packed by midnight and repacked half an hour later by my disgusted mother who told me I was a disorganised disgrace. She has a way with words, she does.
Fell asleep then and was rudely awakened by my alarm clock at five thirty the next morning. After a lot of last minute packing, we left for the airport and we were only half an hour late.
On the way there, Mama kept asking me whether I'd remembered this and that. My glasses? Yes. My contact lense solution? Yes. My camera? Yes. My charger? Yes. Hairbrush? Yes (unusual).
This was making me very nervous because I seemed to have remembered to pack everything. That never happens to me. I always forget. I'd just convinced myself that I'd probably forgotten something major when she asked me if I had my passport.
"Passport?" (Me, repeating her question)
"Passport?" I was stalling for time, you see. Frantically checked my handbag. My wallet was there and so was my ticket but no passport.
"I told you," she said, and her voice was raised slightly but only slightly because she hadn't yet realised I'd left it behind, "to put it somewhere safe,"
"I did put it somewhere safe," I'd emptied out my handbag by now, and gone through the main compartments of my rucksack as well.
"So where is it?"
I shifted away from her so she wouldn't be able to hit me too easily and whispered something.
I won't go into the drama that ensued. Let me just say there was a lot of noise involved but luckily no physical violence.
When we were halfway home, I vaguely remembered a scene from the night before when my mother came into my room and told me to put my passport in a safe place and not in my handbag like I usually do. This is because my handbag isn't really a handbag but a piece of purple cloth fashioned into a mutated, hanging, zip-less basket. I vaguely remembered putting it in that safe place.
So I unzipped my rucksack and checked a tiny compartment in the back and sure enough, my passport was nestled in a safe place, as per Mama's instructions.
So I really don't get why she yelled so much. She should have been happy that I'd decided to take her advice for once. And she should have been happy that we didn't have to go all the way home after all. There's no pleasing some people.
Anyway, got to the airport, had an emotional farewell (because at the end of the day, she does, with good reason, adore me) and got on the plane. Kingfisher was quite nice. They actually served breakfast even though I didn't eat it because I don't like airline food because you never know where it's been. The flight was uneventful despite the usual minor heart attack I had during take off.
It was when we landed in Delhi (that familiar old City of Hell) that the problems started. I had to catch a connecting flight to London which, according to my ticket, was going to take off in thirty five minutes. I wasn't sure where to go so I asked the ground personnel what I had to do.
"No problem," one of the men said and then continued talking into his walkie talkie.
"I'm glad it's not a problem," I said, "but what should I do?"
"Wait here," And then he firmly turned his back on me.
So I waited. And waited. Waited by the plane, on the hot tarmac, under the hot sun, for someone to take me to the plane that would get me to London.
After fifteen minutes, realising that my plane to London was going to take off very soon, and there was a chance it wouldn't wait for me, I marched up to the man and tugged his shirtsleeve.
"Get me to my plane, please. It takes off in twenty minutes."
He suddenly bundled me into a white jeep and drove me through the airfield. It was kind of cool actually. We stopped at a crossroads kind of thing and a plane casually rolled by. I believe it was from Malaysia.
Anyway, I got dropped outside a building and suddenly, all these officious looking people in uniforms surrounded me.
"Civilians not allowed here. What are you doing here? Who brought you here?"
A bit bewildered (I'd expected a more welcoming greeting), I pointed vaguely to the jeep which had now receded into the distance.
"You can't be here,"
I explained to them, as calmly as I could, that it wasn't my fault they were all incompetents and if they didn't get me on my plane, which was taking off in fifteen minutes, I would sue- not Vijay Mallya because I'd lose that lawsuit- but each and every one of them personally for incompetence, unprofessionalism, ignorance and unwillingness to assist a passenger. Or as Kingfisher likes to put it, guest.
And then before I knew it, I was sprinting through the airfield, surrounded by officials on all sides and they were all yelling things and telling me to hurry. I was wearing sneakers so I managed to keep up and they bundled me into the Domestic terminal and pointed to a Kingfisher desk.
I marched up to the lady there, shoved my ticket at her and told her I had a flight to catch.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You're very late,"
I lost it. I lost it completely. I think it must have been airport rage because never in all my life have I done the thing I did next.
I leaned over the counter, grabbed her arm, pulled her forward until her face was inches from mine and yelled into it, telling her that I had to make this flight and I didn't care if it had to fly back to pick me up. It was a life or death situation and I wouldn't let anyone stop me from getting on to that plane.
It would have been awesome if she, at this point, had looked terrified and personally escorted me to the plane. But things never pan out the way I want them to. Instead she looked at me as if I was crazy (which, let's face it, I was. It's called airport rage) and said, "All I meant, Ma'am, was that the shuttle to the international terminal has departed and you'll have to take a pre-paid cab,"
I deflated instantly and apologised for freaking out on her, telling her I was relatively normal most of the time. It was obvious she didn't believe me but she very kindly called a man in a uniform over and told him to get me in a cab. She was even nice enough to call it a "top priority situation".
The man took me to a cab just outside the airport. There were three old Arab women getting into it from their wheelchairs and he put me in the front seat while they were settled into the back. The cab driver was a skinny, scowling sort of bloke who kept muttering rude things about the Arabs under his breath. And then we were off.
I really didn't think I'd survive the journey to the International Terminal. The driver was insane. He drove like a maniac, talked to himself and when I told him to take me to Terminal 2, the international section, he said (in Hindi), "Yeah, yeah. Chup kar."
I was so taken aback I didn't even tell him off.
We reached the airport five minutes before my flight was about to take off and I shamelessly jumped out of the car leaving the poor Arab ladies sitting there with the driver and ran into the airport. I was detained by a security guard who, after glancing at my ticket, told me I was very late.
I explained to him, as patiently as I could, that it was the fault of Delhi Airport, not mine. He told me I needed to have more control over situations. I fought the temptation to flip him the middle finger and ran into the airport. Skidded to the Kingfisher desk, yelled at the lady when she asked me why I was late. She filled out my immigration form for me. While I was standing there (and this really is very funny), a phone call came through. Apparently three elderly ladies in wheelchairs were missing. I was happy to help them out so I told them to look outside the airport for a cab with a mad driver who was probably spitting on the road and they'd find the women sitting in the backseat. The lady at the desk thanked me and then called an official who whizzed me through immigration, security and escorted me onto the plane. I was the last passenger to arrive.
The flight was uneventful. Not much sleep because I can never sleep unless I'm by the window and I had an aisle seat this time. The food was okay and I watched lots of movies.
I love landing in England. There’s always this moment when the plane shifts from an expanse of cloudless, blue, sunny sky, through a misty blanket to a sky that is grey and gloomy. Patchworks of green and yellow fields cover the earth’s surface and they are dotted with the occasional farm and country house. I would feel cheated if I landed in a sunny England but it’s never happened yet.
The line at immigration was long and I usually hate long lines but this I didn’t mind because it was a great place for people watching. The people who were in groups were talking to each other- the American accent dominating everyone else’s- and the people who were alone, were fiddling with their phones. The man at immigration wasn’t very nice.
“Where are you from?” he said brusquely.
I refrained from pointing out that he was holding my Indian passport in his hand and said I was from India.
“What are you doing here?”
I was tempted to tell him I was here to blow up Victoria but he didn’t seem like he had a sense of humour so I told him I was on holiday.
“When are you leaving? Who are you staying with? What do they do? Are you sure you’re leaving in a month? Go through please. No, not that way. This way.”
Getting my luggage was another traumatising experience. I kept taking the wrong suitcases off the baggage carousel. This happened to me at least three times and I was on the verge of a meltdown because there were people standing around watching me drag suitcases off and then shoving them back on, evidently thinking I was slightly mentally retarded. After twenty minutes, I saw a pile of suitcases six feet to my left. My bags were among them. Checked the name tags, they matched, put them on the trolley and practically ran towards the exit, almost knocking over a gaggle of toddlers on the way.
Sue was waiting for me. It was strange not having Pria there but it was so good to see her. She told me how worried she’d been because she’d been an hour late thanks to some roundabout getting blocked up but as I pointed out to her, she can always count on me being later than everyone else.
The car ride home was familiar and uneventful and when we entered the house, Pepsi walked straight up to me and purred, rubbing herself against my legs. This was very pleasant because usually she bites me. The wonderful dinner was marred a bit because I wouldn’t stop sneezing but I didn’t think it was anything important. Then. A nice long bubble bath (my first in a year and a half), an annoying conversation with A.O. who is absolutely usless over the phone, and bed.
I mentally prepared myself for a long, relaxing holiday, filled with no events that were capable of causing me any anguish or trauma whatsoever.
I was, as usual, wrong.