Monday, August 25, 2008

Dancing With Shiva, Part 1

A scuffed and battered suitcase circled the clattering carousel a dozen times before someone turned off the switch, and suddenly Bombay's vast and shabby international terminal was as quiet as a cathedral.
We marched without speaking toward a large sign reading "LOST LUGGAGE," beneath which had formed a long line of confused an irritated travelers. Hundreds of bags were piled on luggage carts at the end of the terminal, none of them ours, none worth claiming; broken, splitting suitcases tied fast with baling twine; cardboard boxes wound with duct tape; grimy lingerie bursting from cheap, plastic valises; bashed-in boxes on which had been plastered red and white labels screaming "FRAGILE!"

Mosquitoes floated in the air in front of our faces. I slapped one on the back of my hand. I had Larium pills to prevent malaria, but they were in my suitcase, which was somewhere else on the planet.

We joined the line. The line creeped, the sun crossed the sky. Eventually, one by one, we reached the counter. There was no sign of a computer, not even a typewriter. This was a place of pencils and paperwork, carbon paper, rubber stamps and ink blotters. I was the last of our group to reach the clerk, a boy of about 20 with a wispy mustache who labored over every letter in my name with sloth-like speed.

"Country of origin?" he asked me.
"U.S. Just like the other four people," I snapped impatiently. "We are traveling together. All the information is the same, except for our names."
A little while later the clerk completed the "U" and began his meticulous work on the "S." When he finished his calligraphy, he put his pencil down and looked sleepily at me. "And on which flight did you arrive in Bombay?" he asked.

We had arrived on the only flight that afternoon, but it was senseless to fight this sort of bureaucracy or to try to quicken it. We would learn later that it wasn't just the LOST LUGGAGE counter that was so sluggish and obsessed with triplicate forms and red tape – it was the whole country.

We would need to learn to be patient, either that or go insane. It had taken us 36 hours to reach Bombay from Pittsburgh. We knew that we would eventually be reunited with our luggage. But we didn't know that it would take another seven days.

The Indians have a remedy for this maddening frustration. It is called Yoga.
First lesson: Patience. Breathe.


Brant said...

When I traveled to India back in the '70s, I was fortunate enough to be on a military flight - a long, long military flight, but at least our luggage was never out of our sight. The first thing I saw when we pulled out of the airport near New Delhi was a guy flaying the carcass of a goat, right next to the main road. It was a sign of things to come. I got to see a snake charmer, a person with elephantiasis and more filth than I thought possible. The entire city had a smell that I've never been able to describe but will never forget. Needless to say, I ate pretty much every meal on the grounds of the Embassy. Despite the overwhelmingly filth and poverty, I met some really nice people there.

Anonymous said...

WOW-Thanks for sharing?

How about if you can't say something nice...dont say anything!

Ellipses said...

That was kind of a nice thing to say... reinforcing the inherent "goodness" of people despite deplorable conditions...