Airports are expensive. European ones more so. I do poor mental math in my head, but seeing 4 euros for a tea is a rip-off even in dollars.
We leave France on our Air India flight. It’s mostly empty compared to the previous flight. Most of the passengers are Indians heading home.
For dinner, we’re served a heated rice and paneer dish, marrinated carrot and cashew salad and then the usual assortment of airplane stuff (cold salad, bun, stick of butter). It had some kick to it, even if it’s about what you’d expect from a food court or one of the ten dozen lower end Indian places by Concordia. But on a flight? Forget what I said about the earlier noodles on Air Canada. Air India so far offers the best food so far.
I drone in and out of consciousness most of the flight. Trying to sleep sitting up, sometimes stretching out on the seat beside me. Elsewhere, the other passengers know the drill. Before supper was collected, they started spreading out and claiming the empty rows. Half an hour later, every row is taken by someone conked out and snoring.
When we start our descent, I catch glimpses of the Punjab from the portal window. The earth down below looks cracked and dry like the back of your hand in winter. Only it’s redder. As we land in Delhi, it reminds me of when I was in California: arid and dry. The weather is a pleasant 25 outside.
Once past security (some 40 minutes later… small line, but one door to walk through with the scanners.) we putz around the glitz-duty free section. Ads for Johnny Walker bombard you everywhere you look, shouting deals if you buy multiple bottles at once.
We try to connect to the internet in vain for ten minutes. The system is not favoured for foreigners. Sign up for the free 60 minutes and the service will text you a password to access it. Assuming you have service overseas. We end up at the help desk instead.
Three hours until the next flight. I realize I’m always hungry because I have no idea when I ate last or what time it is and whether I should be eating right now.
We head upstairs and the food court offers more entertaining choices than anything back home: Idli.com, Spicy Treats, a Thai and Chinese Wok pit that offers massies lunches for under 300 rp ($6), but my eyes are all on the McDonalds.
One delivious McVeggie burger later, Purna and I are treating ourselves to idli (spongy rice cakes which) and dipping them into the lunchroom sambar (soupy, spicy lentil sauce). In all, we fed ourselves for under $10 taxes included. Not bad for a food court at an airport.
Waiting for the terminals, there’s a giant copper statue head of the Buddha. People pass by and pose, most of them wildly, as the stoic face stares ahead silently.
Nearby, there’s a flight to Kabul and I realize that’s the most Afghanis I will ever see together at one time this life.
I was warned about the washrooms in India. In each stall there’s a hose. For your ass. There might be toiler paper if you’re lucky. I’m too old to learn something new.
We fly again, this time in constant, endearing turbulence. I’m asleep more than I’m awake, but my dreams have a way of sounding like the voices of the people sitting beside me.
We land in Calcutta. The air seeps through the tunnel leading into the airport. It hits me like a hot, wet rag. The humidity never really goes away even inside with the AC.
At the e-Visa tourism desk where I go to pass customs, there’s a party of 6 from Vietnam ahead of me. The man behind the desk sighs loudly and tries to keep order, asking them to approach one at a time and keep the other 5 behind the yellow line. But they’re too busy chatting and dancing to the music in the lobby. Half of them forgot to fill out the customs form on the plane, so the man behind the desk slowly repeats what the words mean to them as they fill out the forms. “Good enough,” he says, looking ready to give up.
Outside the airport, we meet with her brother Udit and her father Partha. We piled into a car and start the hour drive into the city. We take the bypass around the major congested areas, but we’re still never going more than 40 an hour. Cars, scooters, autos, buses, people on bikes, and pedestrians without two craps to give, fill the streets. There’s less honking than in Vietnam, but fewer square inches of free space between the vehicles and people.
From the highway, several stories up, the city subrbs is mostly dark on either side of the road. It reminds me of a power outage, but that’s just the way some sections are. The odd light in a room or apartment, but none of the glow or light pollution. Deeper in, closer to the more developed areas, there’s more lights and glamour, especially around the malls. Stores that glow in complete constrast to the roadside stores and lots we pass along the way.