Sunday, December 04, 2005

My first immigration

On the eventful day of March 09 2005, I walked into Bangalore airport with a heart beating faster than ever caused by the fact that the luggage was not weighed. I was told that the limit was about 20 kgs and I could barely move my newly bought monster suitcase with 12 wheels that looked like a miniature of heavy duty military truck, to tail that, there was this fully loaded maruthi 800 for my cabin luggage.

I was proud of my decision to switch to the same mobile network as Rema's (My then ex-fiancé and current wife) coz we had unlimited free minutes. I was in constant chat with Rema . Time and again I was reminding myself and Rema that in the eventuality of excess baggage scenario, she might have to pick up the stuff that I leave behind, something I learnt from athimber (Tamil bhraminical term for one's elder sister’s hubby).

The guy weighing the luggage gave an understanding smile when I struggled to put the monster truck on to the weighing machine. It weighed 24 kgs. I should have looked really pathetic or the permissible limit was more I would not know for a fact now, he let me go.

With the major part of the worry firmly put behind me, I called Rema and told her that she could go now.

I did not know that I need to fill up embarkation/de-embarkation card. I saw a old couple sitting with their passport and other papers. I noticed that they had a couple of papers more than me. I was determined that I am not letting anything to come between me and my first trip to a foreign land. I asked the lady what is the extra form that she was carrying? She looked at me like a worthless piece of dust and told that it is a mandatory form that needs to be filled, and gave another look that would have been translated to English as, “You don’t even know this, Moron?”

I rushed back to the luggage counter, filled up the form, and when I was filling the form up, I realized that travel desk at my office, had infact instructed me to look for this form and fill it properly.

Then the wait for immigration started.


The gentleman over the counter, started with my virgin passport, void of any stamping except the ones it came with. He looked at me and asked hundreds of questions. I felt like I was telling “abhivadhaye” (A brahminical self introduction that informs the listener, my leliange starting form the 3 sages who started it all !!) starting from my very first day onto this planet and what I had done till date. He was behaving like as though he had lots of problems letting me go and if I leave the country, the very next minute, the stock market will fall, and economy will take a down turn. He asked for my Id, Proof of Id, Invitation letter, Documents supporting that I am working for the organization that I had mentioned, etc, etc. He asked me if it was my first travel abroad. I thought that was the stupidest question he could ever ask. For god’s sake he has my passport right in front of him, and if he cant make out that I have not traveled outside India before, either the passport does not have enough information or he is plain dumb! This is when I lost my patience and told him since I hold a valid business visa I don’t need an invitation letter from my clients. It does not matter if this is my first time or the n’th time as long as I have a valid visa on my passport. He then put the passport on to some machine, checked all pages under a blue light. I thought he would give back the passport and say “Important Document” is missing (Like senthil in Indian movie). He called his supervisor and said, “First time travel sir”, “trichy passport sir”. Now it was the supervisors turn to interrogate me. Finally those guys reluctantly stamped the pages in passport and the embarkation cards and dismissed me from there.

Once I reached the waiting area, I regretted the fact that I was not wearing my blazer or jacket. It was cold. From there I called amma, appa informed them about the status. Then called Rema and was talking with her till the phone batteries went dead. In between I was trying to reach Kavitha (My friend who was already in Singapore). All the time I was dialing old number of Kavitha and it refused to go thru. Finally I called Raj (A friend of Kavitha and Myself) got another number, and got thru. After it started ringing, I realized that it would be close to 3 am in Singapore. So I hung up. (I got scolded by Kavitha left right and center for that is an entirely different story).

With colorful dreams of meeting beautiful airhostess and getting a cute person of opposite sex sitting next to me so that I can do a la Hum Tum, I was waiting for the boarding sign. I could see couple of beautiful faces around and I immediately stuck a deal with pullayar (Also known as Ganeshji the elephant phase Hindu god) that I shall put one “shatter coconut” (Read as “oru sethar kaai pooduven”) (An offering that is done by hitting a hard shell coconut on a hard surface, with extraordinary force so that it shatters. It symbolizes shattering one’s ego and surrender to the will of god, and in turn god shatters the obstacles that comes by in one’s way and help the person achieve the objective) if he manages to fulfill my wish. Later I realized that he did not want me to spend money on shatter coconut and he would rather prefer shattering my little heart.

Not only did he make sure that none of the beautiful faces sat next to me, he ensured that none of them boarded the flight itself. Looks like they were waiting for some other flight. To add serious insult to injury, the flight did not have air hostess ! It had stewards !!! I preferred to sleep, however these guys were being extra nice, waking me up every hour and making sure that I ate or drank whatever they gave me.

When the sleep took over me finally, I think the watch was still showing 0330 Hours Indian time. All of a sudden I felt that some one was squeezing me in such a way that my eyes started bulging and my ears started realizing that there is indeed a drum inside. I woke up to the unbearable pain of beating the ear drum from inside. It was unusually bright for a 0500 hrs morning. The onboard speakers leaked the metallic voice of the captain. All I could make out was, we were about to land and the local time was 0805 hrs. Yes! I had crossed the first time zone of my life.

The first thing that came to my mind after I landed was the nightmarish experience with the Indian immigration authorities. I was gearing up for a hostile welcome by the immigration authorities on the shores of Singapore. I had made up my mind that they are going to grill me in such a way that either I declare that I want to go back or they are going to make it abundantly clear that I am not welcome.

All these demon processes running on the back of my mind, I climbed into the corridor that hangs in thin air and connects the aircraft and the airport. Trust me nothing/no words could have prepared me for what I saw when I walked into the Changi international airport. In comparison, it made Bangalore airport look like a serious joke. The word huge stands short of describing the hugeness of the part of the airport that I saw. Yet another time I rued the fact that I did not even bother to carry the blazer in my cabin luggage. My mouth seemed to have found a new way of communication, i.e. involuntary Morse code.


I found a way to find my way. Do the obvious, follow the person who is walking in front of you. The person walking in front of me had a shawl in his one hand and passport and other documents in the other. I thought, this guy must be traveling to this place as though he does it every other day. I was proud of my leader ! We were walking at a brisk pace. He spoiled every thing when he stopped in his tracks turned back and asked me the most damaging question I ever faced till then, “Thambi, Veliyila yeppadi poganum ?” (Brother, do you know the way out ?) I told “Follow Me !” and started to lead him. I don’t know what they say about the “Three blind Mice”

On our way out, I found the most interesting place, Duty free shops. For those who had seen the forum mall in Bangalore, the place is very similar to that. You have almost every thing there. Since I had the responsibility of leading my new ward to safe exit from the maze of this airport, I could not spend much time. I found my self buying a Cocksburn Wine for 22 SGD, My first purchase in foreign currency. (For the records, it was for Ganesh’s friend who lives in Singapore. It is supposed to be very economical to buy alcohol from there)

My follower completely lost it. I guess he is seeing for the first time so much alcohol under one roof. I guess he bought two or three bottles. At the end of the corridor I found a sign leading to the immigration. There I saw a few internet kiosks. They were for free.

Now that the fun part was over, I walked to the immigration counters. I went to the counter number 14. Interestingly in India also I was in the counter number 14. There was this lady. She asked me what the purpose of visit is and asked me how long I wanted to stay. I said 30 days. She looked at me and I could make out that she was concerned. That rang lots of bells in me. She started keying in something. While doing so, she was telling me that the computer will by default will give only 10 days stay. So she is doing something to allow me to stay longer. She did all that she could to enable me to stay for 30 days and apart from that she did not ask any questions. I failed to see the reason why Indian immigration authorities were so hostile. She stamped the passport and wished me a pleasant stay.


I hoped that it would be. ...
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