Waiting in Mumbai international airport's departure lounge on a cold rainy morning, thinking about what I am leaving behind, about why I am going where I am going. It hadn't really registered when I was doing the good bye rounds, now, alone, looking out at rain falling on tarmac, the one thing I want desperately is to be back home, sipping tea, eating breakfast.
Amit Kapoor, a fellow student at Cranfield School of Management is taking the same flight out of Mumbai into Heathrow, we sit together, talk of this and that.
Pilots affording their passengers a smooth take off have become a thing one reads sometimes in novels. Long after you have waved goodbye to your bags, went through security checks where trained guards frisk you, you enter the aeroplane, walk into the sitting area actually, find your seat, stow away the cabin bag, the fasten your seatbelts sign lights up. The pilot speaks to you, the aircraft crew fuss about. The aircraft gathers speed, seemes poised to take off, a bump, possibly we are half airborne, another bigger bump, you can almost feel the wheels trying to tear themselves away from the ground, the aeroplane tilts back, reminds you of riding a horse, you give the reins a sharp tug and dig your heels, the horse rears up, another bump, you feel yourselves lifting, and there you are, sitting in a flying aluminium tube, no longer with any contact with the ground, and the tube is turning, you lean to one side, there is a pop in your ears, more tilting, more pops, and with another bump, you are no longer leaning back, finally. Looking out, my last view of Mumbai and India is a brown sea and a city that looks like a jumble. Flying over Asia and Western Europe, the aircraft crosses many unknown places which have their populations firmly on the ground, while you hurtle towards unseen places through unsniffed air at speeds you have never had the opportunity of travelling at when you were nearer to the ground.
For a few hours, I slept, had something to eat, tried to read the magazines provided, tried to look at the Friends episode, slept again, sipped some water, talked to Amit, looked out of the small windows at a gray sky or green and brown lands or tiny cones of mountains which, had I been down there, would have tempted me into climbing up to their peaks and there goes the fasten your seatbelts sign again. Looking out, my first glimpse of England is a green land, with wide open spaces. And I thought England with the centuries of industrial revolution would be more densely populated. That is a recurring theme, the vast open green spaces, but I am getting a bit ahead of the plot.
Amit and I walk to the immigration counter, where, as we look healthy and fit but have travelled out of a far away land, we are asked if we have a chest X-ray. Ofcourse, we don't, so we are sent to the nurse station where they do take a chest X-ray, stamp some card, which we show to the nice man at another counter, and he doesnt smile but tells us to walk through. Simple. Tell me, if someone did have Tuberculosis, wouldnt that person carry someone elses chest X-ray? We walk towards our bags, fetch them and try to find out where we have to go. Finally, the signs! We walk through a maze at the end of which, there is a customs desk where we can be asked to open our bags. Guess what? There is a desk, but no one at it! How I rue the decision not to carry that bag of spices.
More waiting, this time for the driver from Cranfield University. Actually, we are waiting because we got through the process early. Peter arrives on time, we take our bags and drive through the dark night and big roads and vehicles which I had earlier seen only on the internet, then through more open spaces and we turn into Cranfield university, more empty spaces and we are turning into the driveway of Mitchell hall.
We collect our keys, Amit is staying at Mitchell hall, I am at 5 The Drive. It is night, I dont feel like unpacking, just the right time to lie on the bed and say a silent good night to family and friends and everyone of the 1.2 billion people back home in India. God bless and all that, today, 30 September 2006 is my first night out of India.