Friday, December 23, 2005

Thank God!! I did not sneeze!!!

After a pleasant stay with us, my mother in law was preparing to leave Singapore. Rema was also accompanying her. Rema had her exams lurking in the corner, and she was all wound up and tensed, all of last month.

The Indian Airlines flight was scheduled to leave the shores of Singapore at 0750 hrs. I had told them that we need to check in atleast 2 hrs and 30 minutes before the departure time.

As usual we had problem of plenty with the luggage.

Air lines and luggage. This combination is really complicated even for the well educated (By the way this is based on the sample space that has only me).

You have a 20 Kg limit in Indian Airlines. The luggage is classified as two components, Cabin luggage and Check in luggage. One theory says, that the 20 Kg limit is inclusive of the cabin luggage. Another theory says that it is not inclusive of cabin luggage. Now to add more complexity, in one of the earlier interaction with Indian Airlines, we discovered that the cabin luggage cannot be more than 6 Kg. To add another dimension to it, we were told, passengers who happen to be woman (I guess this is the most politically correct way to address female gender of homo sapiens) can have two cabin luggage. Last time when I traveled to India from Singapore, I did not weigh the cabin luggage ( Also known as Hand Luggage, “Confuse panranga pa” ).

So in totality they had about 2 suitcases which were about 23 kg each, there were 4 pieces of cabin luggage weighing in the range of 4 ~ 8 Kg, A back pack and two handbags (One for each).

We started from Jurong East. When we were in the elevator, I had this all too familiar feeling in my nose. A high pressure area was building in my nose, and it was gaining momentum and moving towards the exterior of my nasal prominences. (Alright, alright, I felt like sneezing.). It is a bad omen, (“Aba sagunam”), to sneeze when some one is going out, starting a journey etc. Me being me, I did not want my Mother In Law and Rema to think that I, somehow did not wish them a pleasant journey. I did a lot of gimmicks to apply a sudden break and somehow managed not to sneeze. I was very proud of my accomplishment. We got a taxi, hopped in. While we were half way to the airport, Rema dropped the first bomb shell. “You have the ATM card rite ?”. That’s when I realized that Rema had given me the ATM card, and I had kept it on the dining table. I gave a sheepish smile and told her that I have not.

After few minutes I realized the next blunder. I had only $25 on me. The taxi ride will easily cost $30 since the midnight fare will be applicable till 6 AM. It was 5 AM when we boarded the taxi. Rema also did not carry any local currency. She had asked me to withdraw 50 bucks and hand over to her so that when she returns it would be useful for her.

Well, I am a smart man, I am not bothered by the crisis. I asked the cabbie, if he accepts credit card. He mumbled something in a language that resembled English, but I was damn sure that it was anything but English. I switched to singlish. I asked “ Visa Can ?”. His reply was instantaneous, “Can Can lah”, “Bo visa xta charge lah” (To be understood as, Yes, We do accept credit cards, however there will be extra service charge applicable when you pay through your card)

I gave a proud smile to Rema and my Mother-In-Law. See, no problem!!.

I was so correct. "That incident" was not a problem at all when compared to what was waiting for us at the air port.

We reached airport. The ride had cost us $28. We managed to pay him in cash (Rema had some loose change).

Our next destination was check in counter of Indian Airlines.

Since we were bordering on heavy luggage and suspected excess quantity of hand luggage, I made a brilliant Idea, I put the hand luggage and check in luggage in different trolley, left my Mother-In-Law and the hand luggage in a strategic place where we can see them but the check in officer behind the desk can’t.

Me and Rema, went to the counter, with tickets and passports in hand and the two suitcases that need to be checked in.

The strategy bombed.
The first question the lady at the counter asked was, “Are you the passengers?” and she instructed us to bring the passengers to the counter. Now I had to bring my Mother In Law out from the hideout.
Now it was time for Plan B.
I let them go, choosing to sit with the hand luggage (I am smart...Ain't I?).

In next two seconds, Rema came to my hideout. She looked tensed. The lady behind the counter wanted to see the hand luggage too.

I switched to plan C. The complete disclosure of information.

We went with 4 Hand luggage. It was the check in officers turn to look alarmed. She said, “you cannot carry all these as hand luggage lah!!!” “You have to check them in lah” “Only one piece of hand luggage per person allowed lah” So she asked me to weigh the other two supposed to be hand luggage too. Total weight was close to 65 Kg (Pls note, she did not weigh the other two hand luggage, that were actually hand luggage). She mumbled something and said, “I cant allow more lah, if you have more you have to pay excess baggage lah”.

All our calculations and permutations were WRONG!

So a ticket that says luggage limit 20 Kg can actually take close to 30 Kg in check in and close to 8 KG in hand luggage so total close to 40 KG. But the limit is 20 KG. (“Dei, yaaravathu correcta sollungalenda !!”)

Then she said something that made my heart stop for a minute. She pointed my Mother-In-Laws ticket and said, “Her name is not there in the list, She cannot Travel”.

I was thinking to my self, “Damn It! I did not even sneeze!!! then why ?”

I asked her to check again. She rechecked and asked me, “Did you reconfirm your ticket?” I shot back, “This is a confirmed ticket”, She said, “correct, but you have to reconfirm lah”. It correctly confused me. If it is a confirmed ticket, then why should I re-confirm it ? A ticket that was bought by paying cash in full, that too a return ticket, who’s onward journey is already done, why should it be re-confirmed ? Now I was becoming furious. Just to add complexity to the situation, My Mother In Law’s Visa was expiring on the same day.

With the “Singapore cane” and “fine” running behind my mind, I was seriously contemplating the options. The last thing I wanted was her to become a illegal immigrant in this country where stories of hefty fines and caning are abundant.

The lady asked me to wait till 7 Am when the Indian airlines personnel would come up. It was 6 Am. One hour of waiting was something un-acceptable for me.

After some 10 mins of waiting like chitoor bus-stand dog, a lady came. She was wearing IA tag. There was this lady (I guess she was from the USA) who was supposedly traveling from Singapore to Bangalore on the same flight. She was supposed to have a confirmed booking in Business class, but she did not find her name in the list or something. She was trying her best to be nice to the lady from IA and wanted her reservation to be done immediately. I don’t know the complete background so cant comment on that.
I focused on my issue. I was waiting for this conversation between the two ladies get over. Once the passenger had done her bit of talking to the IA officer, I started, I asked her why my Mother In Law’s name was not there in the list, and demanded to know why we were not told that we should reconfirm the tickets. She calmly took the ticket and showed the print. It was in deed written on the ticket that we need to re-confirm the journey else the ticket stands cancelled.

This was one of the few occasions when I felt totally embarrassed.

It was there all the while and I never bothered to see. Ignorance of rule is not a justification for violation of the rule. I did not stand a chance if I took a confrontational approach.

She said that, she can book a ticket for us on the flight next day.

I changed my tone and stand, I explained to the official that, her visa expires today and she cannot stay in the country and since it was a Sunday, there was no way I could go to the immigration office and get her visa extended. All this lady said was “I will do my best sir” and walked off.

I was keeping a watch on that lady, she went to the counter where the passengers to Chennai, were creating a scene. For the 1 hr that I stood there, I realized that, the IA official got out of the wrong side of the bed. She was in deep mess. What ever could go wrong was going wrong for that lady that day. In that one hour, I was busy thinking about alternatives. The alternatives were few.

1. Upgrade to business class
2. Take a flight to any of the cities in India, that leaves singapre before 2359 Hrs Dec 18, 2005.
3. Go to Malasia and come back on the same day, so that we can get few more days of extension
4. Cancel Rema’s Ticket and send Mom in that ticket.
5. Last option, Go to the nearest police station and surrender explaining the situation. (Did not know what else I could do)

When all this was going on, in my mind, I was pulling my mother in law’s legs saying that, she is going to get caned and jailed. I was trying to be funny. She was tensed and visibly worried.

I remembered a dialog from the Tamil Movie, “Kurudhi Punal” where Kamal says to Nazar “Veeramgrathu yenna theriuma? Bhayam Illatha maatiri nadikkrathu !” “Valor is, to act as though you are not scared”.

Trust me, It is soooo true.

Rema was a surprise package. I expected Rema to loose her calm and expected her to get tensed the most. She stood solid. She was convinced that I will come up with some idea and get us out of trouble (Ok….Ok….This is what I want to think ok ? I don’t know what was going on in her mind, but bottom line is she was calm and she did not get worked up as I expected her to)

Then at around at 7 AM another IA official came. This lady had that air of confidence around her. She came, took some printouts, gave some instructions to the check in official, and in less than 2 minutes, she asked us to check in.

We checked in the luggage and thanked the official profusely, and I rushed them to immigration, on the way, I took a cash advance of $100 from the money changer using my credit card and gave it to Rema.

Thus, finally after all the hiccups, they left the shores of Singapore.

On my way back, when I was reflecting on the sequence of events, I was thinking to myself, “Naama thummal adakkinathukke, ithanai galattana, innum naama thumbi iruntha, yenna aairukkumo ?” (Even after me not sneezing, so much has happened, I shudder to think what would have happened if I had in deed sneezed !!!)

I was proud of my self that I did not sneeze !!!!

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