My plane into Mumbai arrived 30 minutes late. This is what I was expecting, so it was essentially on time. “The outside temperature is 37 degrees” the pilot said, and it looked it, bright, harsh, and smoggy. Fortunately I wasn’t going outside into the sticky Mumbai heat. I had one task, and one task only – I had to get my international transfer to Bangkok.
Last time I tried to get a transfer in India it did not go well. Long story short, I ended up sat on the floor crying because I thought I had missed my plane. I admit, it was partly crocodile tears, because as soon as I started weeping a nice group of flight attendants solved all of my problems and found me a guide. The guide loaded my bags into a trolley, and we raced across the airport… only to discover that my flight had been delayed by 90 minutes anyway.
So when the Jet Airways lady at the desk in Mumbai told me that “the flight is boarding already” and that I must hurry, I knew to take it with a pinch of salt. Similarly, when she told me four times in a row what my gate number was, I didn’t get annoyed or short with her. I smiled politely and said thank you each time.
You see, if I learned anything all those summers ago when i went to Chandigarh, it’s that successful India-ing requires a certain level of detached disinterest. Never hurry, never worry, as Charlotte might say.* Take no initiative. do exactly as you’re told and absolutely nothing more. Any other attitude only confuses Indian public officials, and they find it insulting.
*like in Charlotte’s Web, by E B White (obviously)
The matched ease with which border security and I waltzed through the checks and procedures was quite nostalgic. They only asked me what I had in my bag after they’d run it through the machine, and spent a good 5 minutes discussing my nail clippers. They asked me if I had liquids in my bag, which I demonstrated one at a time, to their approval and agreement. There was no question of putting anything into a clear plastic bag, nor taking off my shoes or jacket. When I set off the body scanning machine, they summoned a lady to scan me without hestitation or regret.
This attitude wasn’t the only thing that was familiar. I remembered the pattern on the carpets, the smell of the cleaning products, the patriarchal attitude towards me in everything I say, do or want… nostalgia doesn’t lead to regret, and I am very glad that I didn’t have to stop in Mumbai for more than 40 minutes.
FYI: this blog post started off trying to be helpful. I seem to have gotten a little sidetracked, but that’s because I kind of hated being in India. What I’m trying to say is, when in India:
- always ask for help, with everything, despite your pride
- don’t expect anything to happen quickly – in fact, actively do things slowly
- don’t expect any of the ‘rules‘ to be applied – you can be 90% sure they will not be
…and then everything will be fine!