After spending 20 unexpected hours couchsurfing in Kuala Lumpur, I took the KLIA express to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Bought some nice sandwich for 16 Malaysian ringet, and then followed a bunch of turbaned Sikhs and their wives and children to the Delhi flight departure gate.
On board and in the air, I tried to sleep but I was too exhausted and couldn’t. So I walked around everywhere like I was at a cocktail party, except that everyone else was sitting and no-one else was talking or drinking drinks.
The flight landed in Delhi an hour and a half before my next flight, to Mumbai, but I had been in row 41 in the airbus. I could barely get off the escalator that lowered to immigration, blocked by an enormous lineup of other foreign people also wanting to be in India. In the line, American businessmen discussed their domestic flights schedules for their week of meetings in Pune, Bangalore, Mangalore. In another (much shorter) lineup, fat diplomats fanned themselves with their special passports, complaning about the unsatisfactory AC.
The official almost didn’t let me in. He said, as I might have predicted, that I had to stay out of the country for two months. In anguish I told him about my FRRO office visit in Varanasi, how the official there had said that my visa was stamped in such a way that I should be allowed back in multiple times without any issues.
The official shook his head in a way that could have meant yes or no, and summoned another official.
“I have another flight at 10:40” I said softly in Hindi, wanting to cry.
The other official arrived and started to grill me. What are you doing in India? How do you know Hindi?
I said I’d come to visit friends and see sites, and then made a mistake.
“I learned Hindi from a teacher.”
He flipped out. You cannot study any subject without a student visa! I said that it was not possible to get a student visa for learning that didn’t take place in a registered institution. We argued while other people walked blissfully past me to the baggage collection.
He looked at my two previous Indian visas and suggested that I was secretely doing business in India. I said something to the effect of:
“Please sir, respected sir, I didn’t mean to break any rules. I’ve never conducted business in India, it was not my intention to do anything wrong, please let me pass, sir, please.”
He wanted to see my return ticket out of India. I don’t have one at all, and said that I didn’t have a printout. He told me that I could be sent back (to Malaysia? What?) on the very same flight. I said again that I had a connecting flight to Mumbai in less than an hour.
The original official finally let me through, saying my Hindi was very sweet and respectful, and that I should register at the FRRO office in Mumbai and always pick the correct visa for my purposes.
By then it was 10:08. I sprinted to the baggage claim and waited anxiously there, squinting through the crowd of people around it. Then I ran to the shuttle bus depot to go to the domestic airport, a ten minute ride. I had no printout of my next flight ticket though, and so was not admitted. The official guardwala sat on his chair as though it was a bed, and gestured my to the prepaid taxi booth, where five other nice people were waiting (in a clump, not a line) at the counter. My god.
When it was my turn, I said I needed to go to the domestic airport, fast. I put money on the dirty counter.
“Your good name?” the man asked.
He looked up for a moment. “….Bee?”
“YES. Then ARR, then OWE..” I rolled my R Indian style, hoping to speed up the process.
Outside, I fought through a bunch of unprepaid taxiwalas to find the prepaid booth. The taxi man took his time in loading my bags into the car.
“Very heavy!” he smiled and laughed and crinkled his eyes. I was going crazy.
“I’m very late, let’s go immediately, quickly.” It was almost a lost cause. It was 10:25 and I was in a cab, had still to get there and check in and drop my bag and board a plane which was to take off fifteen minutes later.
“Don’t worry,” the taxiwala said cheerfully as we hurtled down the road. “Just stay in the airport, you can take a flight in the morning, nice and relaxed.” I shrugged, defeated.
When we finally arrived, I loaded my bags onto a cart and ambled over to the check in at my own pace.
“I’ve missed my flight,” I announced to the boy behind the desk, who looked to be about 18. “What do I do now?” But as I spoke my eyes scanned the whiteboard behind him.
My flight had been delayed! I started to laugh.
At the departure gate, I sipped a Mcdonalds cappucino and sat waiting, smiling.