On the morning of Wednesday, April 25, I took a three-hour taxi ride from Pune to Mumbai to pick up my family at the airport. My Jennifer, Aidan, and Kellen!
I’d been worried about this trip for them for more than three weeks. I worried about how they would do during 30 hours of flying, about their negotiating the Amsterdam airport in the middle of the night, about their landing in Mumbai at 11:30 pm the next night, about their getting through the complicated security, customs, and immigration in the Mumbai airport. I knew we might have difficulties communicating with each other, as our iPhones do not work in India. (Ask stingy ATT.) I had an Indian cell phone a friend had given me, but I think Jennifer had arranged it so that our iPhones became inactive on the night that she was arriving.
We arrived in Mumbai, and I checked into the West End Hotel again. The great folks at USIEF got us a family suite. Two huge rooms! The hotel is old, nothing fancy, but our rooms were spacious, with two queen beds and three small balconies. Outside, pigeons, ravens, gray-naped crows, and a few peacocks lived behind the buildings. We had a refrigerator, which would make our eating cheaper and safer. I had brought sets of travel dishes and silverware, along with cereal and some other food. All we needed was milk, yogurt, and a few other perishable items.
Once I checked in, I had nine hours to wait, so I headed out into the heat to do some shopping. It was election day in Mumbai, a holiday, and the streets were full of people. Many families living on the street right in front of the hotel. I passed the Sufi shrine I’d discovered three weeks before. A tiny shop sold boxed milk and juice, and a pharmacy had some energy bars. So, we were good for the basics.
I went back to the room and worked on my writing. I still had hours to wait.
I have a standing commitment to not watch TV in hotel rooms. Whenever I do, it turns out badly. Inane shows come at you one after another, an avalanche of negativity disguised as hilarity. I end up mindlessly surfing the hundreds of channels, always feeling emotionally drained and cheapened afterwards. I hadn’t thought to bring any books, so I spent most of the time on the Internet, working on this blog and reading the news: Salvage crews were searching for dead students’ bodies on the sunken Korean ferry. Russia seemed to be orchestrating a fake popular uprising in Eastern Ukraine, pretense for a take over.
I tried to sleep but was too excited. Too worried. I paced, did yoga, stood on the balcony and watched the birds. Then I heard the Muslim call to prayer. From the balcony and through the trees, I could see men lined up on the sidewalk, kneeling for the prayer. At the appointed moment, they all bowed to the ground, crows, pigeons, peacocks and other mysterious birds joining in the prayer to the Allah, the All Merciful Creator.
Finally, 10:00 came around. I locked my valuables in the hotel safe and met Amit, my young driver. I liked him right away.
Instead of the usual Bollywood-film-like music blaring on the car stereo, he had some slow, sultry, jazz-like Hindi music playing. We drove through the late night busy streets. You’d think that heading from the center of South Mumbai, you’d get on a freeway, and go straight to the airport, and there are stretches of smooth highway driving, but for some reason, you’re always turning off onto surface streets, weaving through the trucks and motor cycles, motor scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, guys pushing carts, cows, goats, dogs and cats out and about in the streets. All the streets in India everywhere are lined with shops. Little groceries, pharmacies, fruit stalls, shops for electronics, plastic-ware, cigarettes, bicycle repair, tailors, sari sellers, etc. All colorful, all a little dirty and run down but vibrant with people, buying and selling. So, among the noise and traffic, the soothing music made a pleasant contrast.
Amit and I arrived at the airport at 11:00, pm, parked, and went down to the reception area, just outside the central glass doors of the airport where all the drivers line up with the names of passengers on their signs. I was so excited to start waving and yelling for my dear ones!
The screen showed that the plane had arrived at 11:16. They landed — safely! Now, any minute they’d come through the doors! We watched and watched. The minutes clicked by as we watched. Traveler after traveler came through the doors. The passengers from the flight from Singapore were easy to spot, the flight attendants in tight-fitting embroidered silk dresses. The tall blonde northern Europeans from a different Amsterdam flight.
Or was that Jennifer’s flight? We stood there sweating, the minutes slowly turned into hours. Soon it was 1:00 o’clock. We were still standing there. I had turned on data roaming, tried to text, to call. No one answered. I left message after message. Maybe her bags had gotten lost? She was at some crazy counter trying to explain the situation to someone speaking broken English. Maybe they had not gotten on the plane at all? How could I find out? How could I contact her. I was despising ATT and its stinginess.
But, finally, at 1:30, there they were! My dear ones! They came out the doors. They boys were awake and energetic! I hugged them to death! We walked to the car.
“The bags took forever to come through,” Jennifer told me. “We got stuck at immigration, because I didn’t have an address for where we were staying. They finally accepted “University of Pune.”
“Oh my God. So typical,” I said.
We got loaded up. Now for the 45 minute drive back to South Mumbai. I showed them the city. I had treats: waters, apple juice, crackers, candies. I was so thrilled they were okay. We were back together. Now, our India adventure together could begin!