Thursday, September 20, 2007

My US Trav(ail)logue!

Bitten by the blogger’s bug and also by my editor (who insisted that I produce at least a couple of copies after the month-long recess from work), here goes my first international travel tale (read travail).

Curiously enough, the start of the story was a sudden bolt from the blue in the form of a call from the US consulate in Chennai. They called up to let me know that I had been invited for a month-long trip to the US by the Bush Government. “ was not even the month of April?” I replied thinking that it was one of my friends trying to play a prank. But the lady at the other end assured me that she was an employee of the USIS and that she wanted my consent for the economic journalists programme immediately. Initially, it was a moment of pride to proclaim myself that I had been invited by the US State Department but later I realised that it was one of their annual event and many journalist colleagues have already been a part of this exercise. (May be I was the only one in Chennai who hadn’t been given an opportunity yet!) I was told that 5 other distinguished journalists from various parts of the country will accompany me and this was an exclusive programme for just the six of us!

My trip to the US started off smoothly with my baggage filled with all vegan kitchen goodies. (“You know how tough it is in the US,” insisted my mom and made sure that I had a bagful of food itemsf). Till now, she doesn’t know that the immigration officials trashed most of them.

The long wait in the check-in queue had a bit of surprise for me. Right in front of me was some familiar old man with an iphone in his hand. He seemed too familiar to me and I started raking my brain to match the face with my familiar list. Lo and Behold!! It was Narayanamurthy! The scion of Infosys! And boy! I have just read about his simplicity but this was very evident in front of me. He was just standing in front of me in the queue like the hundreds of old parents who are on their way to visit their sons and daughters and no airs about it. Thrilled about being with him, I requested for an autograph which he duly refused. “ Sorry, My company bars me from signing any paper,” he politely told me. Though a bit depressed yet determined, I asked him if I can take a picture with him and he readily agreed. And this was the first picture of my US trip at the Chennai airport with the Infy chief mentor. (Man! what a beginning! After that, at the end of the trip I had a count of 1100+ photos in my camera.)

After all the photo-ops with him from various angles, I was all set to the board the plane. Guess what was the first question at the ticket counter? “ Would you want to postpone your travel by a day? You can get 400 euros for that?” What a beginning. Now the business journalist in me started converting how many rupees does that translate into. But, nevertheless, I was determined that I should set aside all such petty pecuniary benefits and proceed with the programme on schedule as this was my first trip.

After much hesitation, I politely refused the offer and proceeded to weigh my luggage. It was one of those good old weighing scales as the electronic one was under repair. When the needle of the machine whirled so vigorously, my heart almost skipped a beat. What if my baggage was in excess, will they throw all the stuff out? Will I have to take out all my sweaters and swanky jackets that I had bought from the Globus sale? Well, thankfully, the needle just stopped at 23 kg and the clerk smiled at me saying,” Don’t worry, this always shows a kilo more”. Grabbing my bags from him, I rushed for my immigration check which went off smoothly and then after an hour long wait I boarded my Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.

It was well past midnight and hence I happily dozed off in the window seat. But was suddenly woken up by a tap on my shoulder when the airhostess insisted that I have something to drink. She was so sweet and nice, she woke me up every hour to enquire if I want something to drink or eat. Thankfully, she took a break for some three hours and I caught up with my sleep for sometime only then. After the pilot’s call that we are about to alight in Frankfurt, the airhostess once again woke me up and asked me to fasten my seat belt. Wide awake by then, and complimenting her for good service, I asked her for a sip of water. Pat came the reply, “ Sorry the service is over”. So much for her hospitality. Furious yet helpless, I quietly got ready to get down at Frankfurt.

Frankfurt is a huge airport and though I had about two hours in between my next flight, by the time I arrived at my correct terminal, I had only 20 minutes left. Shoving my boarding pass into the attendant’s hand, I rushed inside to begin my second leg of journey. This one was mostly uneventful and thankfully the airhostess did not disturb me at all. But the sad part is I was wide awake throughout the 10-hour trip and was eternally feeling thirsty and hungry. The Asian Vegetarian food that they brought me was far more than palatable and I managed to survive on fruit juices and snacks throughout the trip. And finally, after what seemed like eternity, the pilot made an announcement that we were landing in Washington. And yes! America!!! , here I come..!!


Blogger Arattai Ambujammal said...

Nice to see you blogging again..

5:46 AM  
Blogger Dinakaran said...

Nicely written.
What happened later? U wont tell us?

4:37 PM  

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