Saturday, November 22, 2008

Back to India - Kuchh Chai Paani saab...

My Shanghai trip ends now. Woke up early in the morning and left for the Pudong International airport at around 7. The Check-in was smooth and the immigration was smoother than I thought. In fact, I had suspected this Communist nation to create some unnecessary fuss with foreigners. But as rightly said by Shrek (the Ogre), you must not judge people before you know them. Not only was the immigration smooth, the person responsible behaved in a very warm manner and there was actually an electronic machine with emoticons to be pressed by passengers in repsonse to the service of the immigration officer. i happily pressed the most smiling icon which said "higly satisfied".

I tried buying some stuff from the shopping counters, but as usual it did not turn out to be my cup of tea. I decided to go to the executive lounge and have free breakfast. After all, I was travelling business class, you see. The flight took off at 10 and the five hours in Malaysia Airlines business class were more than just luxury. With a free peg of Balck Label, a good meal and some English movies on my LCD, I reached Kuala Lumpur at 3:30pm. (time in Malaysia and China are exactly same, no lag.) I was now feeling a little uneasy. In the haste of rushing to the airport, I didn't get time to take a shower and I desperately felt like having one. And I cursed myself for feeling that way, because it would not before reaching Jim Corbett tomorrow that I shall be able to have a shower and that was many miles and more than 24 hours away.

I headed to the executive lounge and to my pleasant surprise, the washrooms actually had shower chambers and we were provided with towels and toiletries on request. I jumped on it. The shower at Malyisan airport was more than just washing myself. It happened at a time when I was least expecting it and desperately wanting it. And with an overhead shower with a circumference bigger than my bald head, it felt great. There was a SPA as well, in the lounge, but I satiated myself with the shower itself. Had a good meal. Again. Flew from KL at 8 pm.

The five hour from KL to Mumbai were equally luxurios. This time a champagne while boarding and a Chivas Regal with starters made it more pleasant. Plus, there was Indian food on board after so long. Chicken Biryani with dahi and mango chutney and followed by a BIG gulab jamun. Good. Watched "Wall E" on the LCD. Cute flick. Reached Mumbai at 12:30 am (Malaysia/China time) or 10:00 pm IST.

The first reaction at Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport was Hot and Dirty. I consoled myself that work is in progress and very soon the airport will be as magnificient as the Pudong or the KLIA. I moved to the immigration where the officer either felt from constipation or had a very bad marriage. He refused to smile, or probably was not even aware of how to do that. Neverthelss, proceeded to Customs and the constipation/bad marriage- hence no smile- syondrome followed. In fact, the customs officer appeared more stern than the immigration ones. I felt a little intimidated, but then I kept shut.

Just when I was done with all the hurdles and asked a Police Constable about the way to the Domestic Airport, he asked for my customs reciept. I handed over to him and started walking towards the shuttle coach point. He stopped my trolley and pulled it to the side. I gave him a surprised look and asked what he wanted to check. I assumed that he just wanted to second check my passprt or the immigration check, may be. He sopke in a very light voice. Quite low vloume. I am anyways used to hearing loud voices and have often been complained by family and friends that I must get my ears cleaned because I can't listen to soft voices. I begged his pardon and he said to me the most famous and notoroius phrases. "Kuchh Chai Paani" (some tea and water). Well the literal meaning is not what he meant. It was neither tea, nor water that he demanded or offered. He was actually asking for some money as a tip (or a bribe, if i may dare to call it so). I just couldn't dare to decline the offer. As an obedient Indian (especially being born in Bihahr), I was taught to respect the police and never to enter an arguement with them.

I politely took my walet out and discovered that I only had 500-rupee notes and didn't have a smaller currency note to give for 'chai-paani'. By the way, water in India is still mostly available free of cost (except for the bottled ones) and chai can still be availed in 5 rupees at a road side stall. I was not thinking of giving more than 50 bucks, which was to my mind, an exaggeration as I had accounted for the premiumness of the constable for being psoted at an airport. Had he been at a railway station or a traffic light, he would not have deserved more than 20 bucks, may be. I, with all the humility I have, pleaded to the 'public servant' that i am not carrying any change and hence won;t be able to pay his much deserved due. I even went on to explain how I have been out of India for a month and hence am not carryin enough Indian currency. I must say, the khaki-clad gentleman wasn't disturbed and gave me an immediate solution. He said, he shall provide me with the change. He suggested that I give him 500 rupees and he shall return me 300.

Did that mean he expected 200 rupees for chai-paani. He must be having his tea parties at Taj Presidential, which is something that the government for which he works, must not have encouraged. I sighed in exasperation and realizing the huge cost of the 'chai-paani' I decided to deny the payment. I politely asked why should I pay him such a huge amount. He looked surprised as if asking me, "Naya aaya hai kya?" (are you new here?). Well I wasn't new altogether, but I had been asked for such a bribe at an airport for the first time and I might not have been right in assessing the right cost. Well, I was in no mind of paying him 200 rupees, especially when I knew that my customs clearance had happened smoothly and there was nothing that this old man could have done wrong with me.

I denied giving any money and walked on. I had to actually shake the strolley to let loose his hold over it. He shouted from back, in a threatening way, i suppose, "abhi wapas aana padega..dekhna" (you will have to return will see). I looked at him in both amazement, frustration and amusement. I was a liitle sad too. What if I was not an Indian but a foreigner. Would he still have asked for the tip/bribe. What would I have thought if such an incident happened with me at Shanghai airport or Malaysian airport. I would have gone around singing bad names for those countries of how corrupt they were and how they don't deserve to be visited by an foreigner. I am very sure I would have made a huge fuss about it. But here in India, i felt threatened. I actually thought for a moment that the constable can put an obstacle in me getting out of the airport. What would have a foreigner thought about India, if s/he faced such a scene. I just pray that a foreigner never experiences this in India. I would feel ashamed.

Anyways, I got to the shuttle coach that would take me to the domestic airport where I am supposed to catch the morning flight to Delhi. The crew of the coach appeared very hospitable and they readily helped me put my luggage up the bus and getting me a comfortable seat. I had, by now, forgotten the chai-paani incident. Within fifteen minutes, we were at the domestic terminal. The crea again helped me take out the luggage of the bus. And when I was about to go, they smiled and said, "Sir kuchh bakshish". Well, bakshish is one of the many synonymns of tip in India and it meant these people also wanted some chai-paani. I felt disgusted and emabarassed. I could not just walk away rudely. They had been really nice. How do I deny them. i politley tell them that I do not have a change. One of them happily offers me five 100-rupee notes in exchange for my 500-ruppe note. After that gesture, it felt a little weird in not tipping them. I had the option of putting the five 100-rupee notes back in my wallet and walk away. Nothing would have happened. But I felt an urge not to do such a cheap act. After all, it wasn't a bribe, it was just a tip. (We always rationalize with a logic whenever we do something that might look immoral).

I handed a 100-rupee note to them and they smilingly pointed that they were fove of them and 100 is really less. Well, I knew there was a global financial crunch, but I am fully confident that it had no effect in them demanding more money. I gave them another 100 rupee and they happily led me to the departure hall. The 200 that I saved from the constable got wasted here. i think his "shraap" acted, though in a different way.

Now it's 2 am here and my flight is at 6 in the morning. Four more hours to be passed, awake. You can't sleep with your luggage. It can get lost, you see. (One of the other things that I have grown being taught). Let's see how Jim Corbett turns out tomorrow.


Sleepwalker said...

too much man ... he asked you for money for no reason at the airport? why did you even think of paying?

Abhishek Tripathi said...

Hi CMT myself abhishek from iitk..i am a regular reader of your blogs and have read almost all your writings..
I also felt the same way when i was back from austria from my summer internship this year..i really praise those foreigners who had courage to come to india