The Enigma of Arrival
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Once upon a time, not so long ago, arriving from an international destination into an Indian airport was a rude awakening. The stench of stale urine assaulted the nostrils as one disembarked and entered the terminal building. Passengers had to evade large puddles that dotted the uneven linoleum floor — a result of leaking air-conditioning units that spewed and sputtered water in a heroic but unsuccessful attempt to cool the muggy environs.
Everywhere, asbestos sheets sagged dangerously from tubelight-illuminated ceilings, threatening to plummet any moment and concuss some unsuspecting passenger. The nauseating toilets were always clogged and invariably, the floors were wet and sticky. The baggage trolleys had a mind of their own and refused to travel in the direction you intended them to go. Duty Free shops were either non-existent or a joke. Jet-lagged passengers had to lug heavy hand luggage through labyrinthine corridors to eventually reach the immigration counter and join serpentine queues to be allowed entry.
The tattered luggage carousel took its time to creak into action. All this while you fervently prayed that the airline hadn't sent your suitcase to Botswana instead of Bombay. Luggage porters shiftily sidled up to you and sotto voce demanded a hundred dollars as a fee to clear your baggage through customs. When you explained that you weren't importing anything dodgy they glowered at you and huffily strode away, annoyed that you had wasted their time.
At customs, you felt like a criminal as you attempted to clear the Green Channel with a clear conscience. Despite the presence of porters, no one helped to load and unload your luggage from the X-ray machines. Fellow passengers gallantly assisted the old, the infirm, and the harried single mothers juggling strollers and bawling babies. Hawk-eyed customs' officers scoured the contents of your suitcase for precious contraband that could be subjected to vast amounts of duty and penalty. You felt sorry for the woman whose lingerie was being held up in full public view and the guy who had been foolish enough to purchase an extra bottle of booze. If you managed to escape unscathed and exited the terminal building, a gaggle of touts engulfed you, offering cheap and best hotels and private taxis to take you into town. You protested you were not a foreigner or some NRI but merely an Indian citizen returning home.
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