A Passage to India – Reflections on my first visit to India – Part 1

As I sat on the plane heading towards Mumbai in November 2017, I found myself reflecting on what I was doing travelling 5000 miles to somewhere I had never wished to visit? What had brought me to this place? What would I be experiencing, and would I survive it in one piece?

The delights of Immigration

After six attempts the plane managed to skid to a halt on the hot tarmac of Mumbai runway. Three hours standing in a queue with my fellow travellers at Immigration, weary, hot and thirsty, only to eventually be ushered to the desk by a rather severe looking lady sitting behind it waving her finger at me. “How rude!” I thought, and only thought it for fear that had I given my thoughts a voice I may well have been putting on my list of “experiences in India” a visit to a Mumbai prison cell.

The fingerprint scanner

It very quickly dawned on me that I was to present my finger onto the fingerprint scanner. Now, it may have been dehydration which caused my slowness to detect which finger was required as, each time I thought I had the correct one, I was causing this nice officer some distress which, in turn, was causing me distress. After my fourth attempt she appeared to have had enough of me. “This finger, this finger!” she fired at me. “I’ve tried that finger,” I replied “I do not understand”.

How many fingers did I have on my right hand and why were none of them registering on her wretched machine? “You are English, and you do not understand English?” she blasted out. To which, and to my shame, I replied, “I understand English, but not your English.”

Having no more sweaty fingers to try, I re-presented my index finger and amazingly it worked … much to the amusement of my friends who had successfully passed this first test and were patiently waiting for me – by then our six hour wait before our next flight to Kolkata – the City of Joy – was reduced to only three!

Kolkata – the City of Joy

It was indeed a joy to see our friend and partner waiting for us all smiles at the gates of Kolkata Airport. He escorted us safely to the car park from where we were to travel to our hotel by taxi. How the driver managed a to strap a cargo of four suitcases to the roof of the vehicle escapes me to this day.

Fascination, shock and excitement

India traffic jam

I quickly discovered that India filled my senses with fascination, shock and excitement. India is a country of extremes where I saw the whole spectacle of life played out before my eyes, uncut, uncensored, and unashamed, all in the first day. Its penetrating smells and colours fascinated me, as did its intensity of life, its people and its many gods and temples. It shocked me with its poverty, street beggars especially the begging children, open sewers, the honking of motorised vehicles which I’m sure is India’s national past time, in fact it’s written on the back of most trucks and cars “Blow Horn”, and its chaotic traffic which is a game of chicken with everything else that’s on the road; cows, carts, pigs, goats, dogs, monkeys, people big and small, rickshaws, tuk-tuk’s, motorcycles, bicycles, taxis, cars and trucks.

So, what was the answer to my first question, “What had brought me to this place?” You can read the answer in Part 2 entitled “I want to go Home!” should you so wish.