Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The ice man

The rooster cries, birds sing and my alarm clock beeps, all at a time as i lay wide awake on my bed with excitement of visiting another country for the first time. I had packed all my stuff the previous day leaving nothing for the last minute. The day started with excitement since it is my first air travel. It was mid January 2005 and was feeling a bit cold when i opened the main door in the early hours and i had no idea what Newcastle is about to offer during early morning hours as i will be in this place the same time next day.

As soon as i reached the airport i was wondering how the interior of an aircraft look like. Having watched a few Hollywood movies, i was under an impression that everyone is given a luxurious seat for travel. As soon as i entered the Air India flight to Mumbai, my smiles faded as i went past the 'best air hostess of the flight' standing like a 'Naidu hall' doll welcoming everyone entering the flight. It was sickening to see seats that are as ordinary as a 'Thiruvalluvar' bus as i made my way to the last seat.

The flight slowly made its way to the runway while i was watching the terminal through the window. Suddenly, the engines were roaring and the flight started accelerating rapidly in the runway. I was not sure, at that time, whether there was a problem with the flight or it is the normal procedure for a take off. As it took off, i was frightened to see the streets and houses becoming smaller and smaller. I closed my eyes and tried not to look out of the window for a while when the flight was stuck with turbulence. Since i was seated in the tail end , i was feeling the turbulence even more. I was stuck with panic and was feeling sick to my stomach while everyone in the flight was calm and doing their stuff. Everyone, except me of course. It almost took ten hours for me to actually spend two hours in the flight.

While boarding the flight to London in Mumbai, when i saw the Boeing 747 jumbo jet that is about to carry us, i was wondering how an object of this size can actually fly and stay afloat for hours together. Again, seated in the tail, i closed my eyes tightly and prayed that everything is just fine. Flying in bigger jets is fine since it is not caught by turbulence too often. When landed in London Heathrow, i felt like i had reached my destination at last. Totally unhurt.

There was a mountain of difference with British Airways crew when compared with their Air India counterparts when it comes to customer service. I was greeted with smiles all around before the flight, on board and after the flight. It was an enjoyable flight for just about an hour. ' Weather in Newcastle is -1 degrees with a bit of low clouds and strong breeze... Not too bad for this time of the year' announced the pilot as we were about to descent. 'What?!' was my first reaction as i reached for my jacket. True to his words, a chill ran down my spine as soon as i got off the plane. A Leather jerkin, a pair of gloves were not enough to control myself from shivering. Chillness was penetrating the trousers and then little muscles and straight into the leg bones.

I took a taxi to go to the Bed and Breakfast not sure how much it will cost me, not sure whether taxi drivers in this country are cheats, not sure how much time it takes to reach the destination, not sure whether my English can be understood by him. I had a look at my watch, it was 4PM and it was raining and it was pinch dark. I was thinking that either my watch or my brain is faulty. But neither is. Crazy land!

I was a bit reluctant to tip the driver as i don't know what the custom is in this country. After unpacking, i decided to roam around the town for a while. Took off with single layer clothing and walked approximately five meters from the main door before rushing back in. I felt a sharp current penetrating my cheek, thigh and back. Went back to my room, redressed with four more layers and then roamed around the town. For precisely 90 seconds before running back in.

Dinner was in an adjacent Indian restaurant. I was going through the menu a few times as i had never seen those items in a menu card in India. It was an ordinary dinner for which i ended up paying 18 pounds. I was
totally not sure, at that time, whether the amount is nominal. When i opened my wallet, i only had 20 pounds in it which left me wondering whether a two pound tip is enough or not. I thought there is no point in thinking as i don't have any more money. I placed the money on the table and left the place before anyone could spot me.

Now that i am penniless on the first day in a new country, i was lucky enough to spot a fellow TCSer staying in the same B&B. He took me to his room and was sipping a can of Budweiser. He was talking about different varieties of beer in the country. He was proud to show three more cans of beer he acquired earlier but was completely bewildered when he spotted 24 cans of Fosters in my room later that night.

Finally, i went to bed realising that there are no birds and roosters to wake me up the next day.It was a long eventful day as i was traveling with time. I couldn't count how many meals and how many drinks i had all day which was filled with amusements, excitement, little disappointments and fear all within a matter of hours. At the end of the day, i survived all of them and stood solid like an ice man.

PS: Now that i am a bit experienced in flying, over the past three years, i am not scared of it anymore. Ah! well...