4 November 2011

I don't believe it!

Those of you who know me will recognise the circumstances that I find difficult to cope with. Situations that send me out of control, things that I try to avoid at all costs.

I could give you a list, but that would take too much blog space. Let's concentrate on two of my worst phobias.

The first one, I'll skip over. Let's just say that I don't like using public toilets. Couple that with a lot of travelling around Mumbai which has 300 public toilets against a requirement of 50,000 and the almost inevitable looseness associated with a visit to the sub-continent, you might appreciate my trepidation when planning this trip.

The second involves the anxiety that catching a plane puts me through. I normally arrive several hours before the recommended check-in time. The night before would actually suit me better.

Today, I had to catch a flight from Mumbai to Kerala. The flight was due to depart at 10:30 am, I had already checked in on-line so an hour to drop my bag and get through security seemed reasonable. The Mumbai traffic is pretty bad, especially at that time of day, so I allowed an hour for what should be a half hour journey.

My friend booked a taxi to pick me up at 8:00 am and take me to the domestic airport. I looked at my tickets when I got back to my hotel and they said that I departed from the international airport. These two airports are on the opposite sides of Mumbai. They are not close together at all. The importance of this information will become clear in a moment.

I rang Kingfisher and asked them which airport I should fly from. The nice man confirmed it was the international one. I worried that I might get a driver who didn't speak English and would insist on taking me to the wrong airport so I rang the taxi company and changed the booking, just to be on the safe side.

Bear with me, this is actually leading to some interesting personal issues.

I woke early, packed quickly, went for breakfast and was standing with the concierge waiting for the cab at 7:45.

At 8:00, the concierge rang the cab firm who assured him that their cab was at the entrance waiting to pass through security. This normally takes about five minutes, they search the car for bombs, take swabs, analyse these for explosive residues and poke around under the car with a mirror. On the way in, there had been two cars in front of my taxi so it took ten or fifteen minutes to get through.

At 8:30 I was still waiting, I was informed that there was a big convention on and a queue for security. I watched myself tensing up, smiled at the all to familiar feeling and let it go.

Just before 9, the cab arrived. Ah well, half an hour to get there, should still be there in plenty of time. The traffic was merciless. I remained mildly amused at the state I was trying to revert to. There was none of that stomach sinking panic that I always get on the way to catch a plane.

My equanimity was rewarded by the traffic clearing enough for us to get to the international airport with just over an hour to go before the plane took off. Deep joy.

I paid the cab driver and showed an old soldier my passport so that he let me into the terminal. I asked a Kingfisher rep where to drop my suitcase and she looked at my ticket.
"Look" she pointed "it says Terminal 1A. That's at the domestic airport. You need to go there."
"But" I started to complain that a man at Kingfisher had told me the wrong airport and that I had ignored the advice of my friend, who after all should know as he has a home in Kerala. Instead I thanked her politely and went back to the old soldier on the door.
"I need to go to the domestic airport" I'm not sure what I expected him to do about it, but he seemed helpful enough.
"OK, show me you passport."
I gave him my passport and he spent valuable minutes examining it closely.
"You can go." He passed it back to me and went about his business.

After several abortive tries, I located a taxi and asked him to take me to the domestic airport. These were the only two words of English he understood, unless you include his reply of "200 rupees" which I don't.

"Please hurry" I said.

He shrugged at each exhortation then began to weave his way slowly through the traffic jams until he join the longest queue I have seen at a petrol station since the tanker drivers went on strike. The amazing thing about this all was that I felt great. No gnashing or snarling or Fawlty-like histrionics. It wasn't the taxi driver's problem, it was entirely of my own making.

What a wonderfully liberating experience!

Anyway, that's what this trip is all about, I guess.

Next time I'll describe the Mumbai slums and my reaction to them. That was another big worry for me.