Part Three: Great Gig In The Sky
Scheduled to land in Mumbai at 2030hrs, my plane reached ten minutes early as if by magic! Clearly there's a greater force dictating all this, I thought to myself, as I pulled my rucksack out of the overhead cabin. Sadly, in India, no one respects another person's urgency - everybody is in a hurry, you see - so I had to wait in line to deboard the plane. Running the length of the Mumbai Domestic Terminal, I reached the spot for International Transfers. Another baggage check and frisking later, I was on the bus to the international terminal. It was 8:45. The driver told me that he could reach the airport in twenty minutes if he drove fast. I reminded myself that the flight would take-off at 9:15. If I ran, I could perhaps make it.
At 9:00, we were at the international terminal and Jet Airways had the decency to send someone to pick me up from the bus. The lady in blue began helping me fill out my Emmigration Form, when her phone rang. She nodded twice and then looked at me in the eyes. "I'm sorry sir," she said. "You won't be able to make it."
There was a thunderous silence, which was only broken by the ringing of my cell-phone. Ismail was on the line. I didn't pick up. "We'll put you on tomorrow's flight," she said. I nodded meekly.
SLB HR has a weird way of hitting you when you're on the ground already. So, I should have expected their call next. "If you're not in Abu Dhabi by tomorrow morning, we might have to cancel your training," said the sing-song voice on the other side. Brilliant.
I begged and pleaded with Jet Airways once more until they finally gave in. "We got you a seat on a flight to Muscat, sir. Then you can take Oman Air to Abu Dhabi. The flight is in one hour; so hurry up with emmigrations..." Suits me, alright!
Part Four: Check Mate
The emmigration queue, like all queues in Mumbai, is really long. But it moves really fast, like everything else in Mumbai. So, I prayed to God that everything would go well when my chance came. As luck would have it, I was sent to Counter Six, manned by a rather strict, bald, old-looking man. When I gave him my passport, I noticed that he looked bit like ACP Pradhyuman.
Everything had been moving smoothly until now - until the man said the words, "Kya bakwas hai yeh? Visa dikhao..." I showed him a copy of my visa. Scrutinizing it for a while, he said, "Main tere ko nahin jaane dega," and ordered me to follow him to an inner room (which resembled Hollywood's representation of a KGB interrogation room) where we met a rather stout gentleman.
"Yeh dekhiye sa'ab," he told his boss. "Inka documents sahi nahin hai... Mujhe nahin lagta inko allow karna chahiye." The boss looked at the documents and then looked at me.
"Sir," I told him, "The Emmigration Check is to protect unskill..."
"Are you teaching me my job??" he demanded. "What is your visa validity?"
"Well, my company got it for me. It's a short-term visa... I'm only going for training, you see."
"I don't see," he said. "It must be printed here on the visa, but it's not here." He was right. There was nothing about validity on the visa copy. Great.
So, I telephoned SLB again. "What's my visa's validity?" I barked.
"I don't remember exactly," came the prompt response. "But it's short."
"How short?" I asked.
"Well, the validity is printed on the back-side of your visa... but we didn't scan that side of the document."
You're a bloody genius, aren't you? I hung up. There was still one way out - my degree!
I waved the Provisional degree on his face and said, "Sir, this is a BTech from IIT... Surely, this'll help us resolve matters."
"Degree kahan hai?"
"Yahi to hai..." I said.
"Yeh Provisional hai... I need original degree. Layega kya?" said the smart man.
"That's not possible... Please tell me what I must do... I need to go," I pleaded with the unreasonable fool.
"Visa validity chahiye. Ask the airline guys - they'll have it," he said, after some consideration. 30 minutes to take-off!
I went to Jet once more, this time to ask for my visa's validity. They said that they'd need a few hours to search their database using some highly advanced queries. Murphy, you freaking genius...
But even Murphy get's it worng sometimes. Another official came up to me and said, "I'll tell you what... Try going to another counter. Try your luck again... It might work." So, he made me enter another section of the line.
Fifteen minutes left and the final boarding call was announced. I was summoned to counter 31 this time. On the other side sat a dark, young-ish woman who looked far more affable than the idiot at Counter Six. She took my passport, turned the page and winced. "Visa?" she asked. I produced mine.
"Twenty days," I said. "Here's my return ticket!" I showed it to her, trying to look as pleasant as possible.
"I need proof, no?" she said, almost staring through me.
"Ma'am, my flight has almost left! Besides, I'm going to UAE to study, not for work!" I lied.
Thoroughly confused, she began saying something when my name was announced on the PA once more.
"Ma'am, that call is for me... It's all in your hands now. If you stop me, you'll damage my life forever," I said to her slowly. She looked at me once again and then reluctantly, she banged the stamp on my passport.
Muscat, here I come!
Part Five: Private Plane
I don't have fond memories of Seeb International, Muscat, as I associate it mostly with leaving the beautiful country in 1999. All that has been changed now.
At 0040 Oman Time, the friendly Omani at the boarding gate called me, not by announcement but by gesturing with his hands. Then he told me, "My friend, I have some news for you... You are the only passenger on the plane."
"Only passenger... You understand? One only! Warahada..."
I don't know if I was flabbergasted, elated or anxious, but the next one hour was one of those special hours in one's life. As I entered the flight, I was greeted by both the air-hostesses, an Arab and a Filipino, who said, "Welcome to Oman Air. Choose your seat... You can take any one!" And they giggled.
I got myself a wonderful window seat in front of the wings. With a scheduled departure at 0120, the main flight attendant, a middle-aged Arab, walked up to me at 0105 and said, "If you are ready, we can take-off... Air-space clear, you see?"
Here he was asking me if I was ready for take-off! "Oh, alright! As you wish!"
"But first, we shall instruct you," he said, and the air-hostess was by my beside once more giving me personal instructions. The flight attendant even showed me where exactly the life-jacket was under the seat. (I've never been able to find it until today) "In case of emergency, we have two exits in front, two at the back and four over the wings... Choose your exit as you please, sir!"
Soon, we were in the air, and Capt. Wilson made his announcement. "Hi Mr. Anirudh, this is your captain... Hope that you are enjoying your VVIP flight. I don't have the privilege of flying too many passengers alone like this; thank you for flying with Oman Air. In case you need anything, please feel free to contact Ahmed, your flight attendant or any of the air-hostesses. Hope you have a pleasant flight!"
A few delicious Arab bites later, my flight came to a halt at Abu Dhabi International. As I left the plane, I used one of the words I read in on the in-flight magazine. "Shukran!" I said, raising my palm to my forehead.
"Aafwen," they said together.