Chalo India

Working outside of India over the last few months (being a good, wage earning wife for once) has meant I’ve travelled in the company of Indians a lot. Its struck me that even journeying to India is good preparation for living in the country itself. Indians in transit are fascinating.

After Italians, I am convinced Indians must rank up there for most likely to be on the phone, constantly. In airport lounges around the world, you will find Indians holding loud conversations. Maybe not quite as loud as the Chinese but almost. And even better, their conversations are largely in English and almost always apolcalyptic which makes them great for eavesdropping (Bollywood films are a reflection of a national tendancy for high drama, I’m sure of it). For example, “I don’t care Manoj! We must get the system booted up again before we have a global disaster on our hands. Do it now!!!” (overheard in Singapore).

Indian travellers are expert packers. They will pack absolutely anything into the most creative packages imagineable and trust the system to deliver them more or less in one piece. This is what years of dealing with British inspired bureaucracy has left behind. There is the ubiquitous cardboard box with copious string/parcel tape/rope, tartan plastic shopping bags, sportsbags, and ancient suitcases. Unless you are a Bollywood superstar and then it is Louis Vuitton all the way (stand up SRK you’ve been spotted).

Mr B and I have also spent many an amusing hour watching the number of wheelchairs in use on India-bound flights. Fair enough for elderly people travelling to see their loved ones over long distances or the truly sick, but take a look next time you’re at an airport. Some of these people are just doing it as an optional extra, just for the fun of it. There is a lesson for us all here. Can’t be bothered to trek from one end of Terminal 5 to the other? Ask for a wheelchair. Want to be first on the plane? Ask for a wheelchair. Want to whizz through security and passport control? You catch my drift. On a recent visit back to Mumbai, I counted a staggering 13 wheelchairs at the ready. If someone is offering a free service, Indians will find a way to benefit.

In airport lounges, Indians invariably end up surrounded by huge amounts of crockery. Indians love a free meal. They will sample absolutely everything on offer because it is free. This is a life skill that the rest of us forget once we stop being students/interns. This is a life skill honed to perfection at Indian weddings.

And if nothing on the menu takes their fancy, or they are not able to get into an airport lounge, there is always the handy tiffin, filled to the brim with delicious home-cooked treats.

In-flight meals are a minefield for Indians, though, and here I truly sympathize as a fellow vegetarian. I was seated next to an irate party of 4 male family members recently. They were rightly upset that the veg meal they had ordered did not turn up. After trying to placate them with fruit plates and copious bread, the Purser was duly summoned (another Indian survival skill: always go up the hierarchy if you want anything done).

After much loud complaining about violation of religious rights and poor customer service, a deal was struck that satisfied all parties. A complimentary gift was offered to smooth the waters, allowing everyone to move on (metaphorically speaking here but in Mumbai, a handy tip for dealing with the traffic police claiming traffic “violations”).

The price? A pack of Singapore Airlines playing cards for each of them.

Chalo India!

Wife School Lesson for the Day: In India, stain remover = neat bleach = ruined shirts.

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