After many goodbyes, hugs and tears, it was with extreme sadness that I reached domestic airport in Delhi to get on the flight to Frankfurt. The flight from Chennai to Delhi was delayed by 40 minutes so we were on a tight rope to catch the plane in Delhi.
12:05 A.M.: I get the boarding pass.
12:07 A.M.: I leave for Indira Gandhi International airport(A 20 minute drive).
12:30 A.M.: I fill out my immigration form.
12:35 A.M.: On request, I fill out a 60 year old woman’s immigration form.
12:38 A.M.: I proceed towards the immigration officer’s counter.
(Credit for accurate time goes to the big digital clock in the airport)
And now, a strange conversation ensues:
I.O. (Immigration Officer) (This particular gentleman delayed calling me to his counter since he had one of his colleagues with him. I later discovered both gentlemen were engaged in a rather amusing discussion about their wives’ jobs): Aaja beta.. Kaise ho?
Me: Well sir. Thank you.
I.O.: Akele ho kya?
Me: Yes sir.
(I have lost the will to write in my poor hindi. The following is a loose translation).
I.O.: So how come you are going to Amrica alone? You look so young.
Me(Amused): I am a student, Sir.
The conversation proceeds to what I am specializing in (I.O.: Computer architecture? Woh kya hota hai? Are you an engineer or an architect?!) and how his son refused to do engineering and so on. Halfway through the conversation, I realize that he has not even looked at my passport. He must have realized it too, so he looks at the first page.
I.O.: How old is the photo, beta? You look like a very small girl in this.
Me(Getting impatient at the irrelevance of the talk): It was taken six years ago, Sir.
Then he tells me about his 24 year old daughter who used her 10th grade photograph for a library card! I suppress a yawn. Noticing,
I.O.: You look sleepy. Would you like a cup of Chai?
Me: No thank you, Sir. I might be getting late. My flight is at 1:10 A.M. What time is it now?
I.O.: It is 1:05. But it is ok. I know all the Air India people very well. I will call and ask them to wait. A cup of Chai?
Me(Shocked at the indifference): No Sir, I am good. Maybe I should proceed towards security check. That will take about 5 minutes, right?
I.O.: Yes Yes, you are right. Ok, carry on. (Now he looks at my passport and does whatever he did) Have a safe flight.
Me: Thank you. (And I run)
At security check, a security personnel informs me that I am the last passenger to board. I rush through the security procedures and request him to let me run to the nearest pay phone to make one phone call to my parents. He regretfully apologizes and tells me there is no time to even walk and that I have to run. I whine unstoppably about the irresponsible I.O. and the poor devil lets me use his cell phone to make an STD call as we walk towards the boarding gate(he was instructed to escort the last passenger). As I reach the gate, I thank him and take out a Rs.10 note to pay him for the phone call. He refuses and says “Kya madam, itna bhi nahi karsakte hai hum?”
1:12 A.M.: As the cabin crew head announces into a microphone, “All passengers on board …”, I am already lost in thought. What is this country; where respectable government officers in uniform are willing to put duties aside, where a simple security personnel is willing to do more than his duty; where money and influence can buy time and integrity?