The Thrill of Travel
AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
Travelling to a different country, even if it is 32 minutes away is always an interesting experience. Just the thought of leaving the rut of one's life, to detach oneself from work, family crises, social obligations, in other words from reality, gives a sense of quiet relief. But while you shred away the tensions of mundane existence, present day travel brings its own set of anxieties.
Very few people (besides the extremely elite who have never had to stand in line outside the consulate office, in the scorching sun or pouring rain) have come out of a visa centre saying “Oh what a wonderful experience that was!” In most cases the clerical staff will behave as if they are doing you a humungous favour just by allowing you to come in and sit at a waiting room. They don't care that you may be an invited guest by some prestigious institution or even the government of the country they represent. They don't give two hoots that you are going to that country and spending money, thereby contributing to their economy. Instead, they have as much compassion for you as border patrols guarding the frontiers against illegal immigrants. Apart from filling out forms that ask for your life's history, including which kindergarten you went to and perhaps who your favourite teacher was as well, you will be transported from one room to the other, separated from newfound friends to whom you have grown quite attached to after sharing the common misery, and made to wait endlessly until your token number is called. Then it's like a hand at the roulette table. If you are lucky and the visa officer has a hint of a smile and says, “Pick up your passport at 4” it means you are home-free although you are still in a bit of doubt and it is too awkward to say “so did I get it?” If this does not happen, well then end of story, for now at least.
Getting your visa is almost like coming first in class. After a long, tortuous process of cramming, you get the golden sticker that will transport you to an elevated, revered status. Given that you have had the prudence to book your ticket in advance you must now tackle the next step of the journey about to commence. You need to pack. Certain agonizing questions will keep you up the night before the day of travel: Should you take five trousers for seven days or seven trousers for seven days? Should you take at least one pair of high heels and a dressy sari, just in case some royalty decide to invite you to their celebrity party? The small notebook to carry shopping and to-do lists or the big fat diary where you have everything including phone numbers of people you met at the airport and who live in your port of disembarkment?
In the end you have filled the suitcase to the brim and have added things like your favourite kantha and soft pillow which you simply can't sleep without, five books that you have been trying to read for the last ten trips, muri and gur, in case the food money runs out, a cardigan and shawl, a year's supply of socks and underclothes and so on.
The packing done and the doors locked, checked whether they are locked then unlocked to retrieve the passport you forgot, then locked and again checked that they are locked, you are ready to be airborne. Which will take what seems like eternity since there are those things they call 'formalities' - checking in and immigration. Living in a post 9/11 world, travelling also entails being subject to all kinds of humiliation for 'security reasons', more so if you have a Muslim name. After practically taking off everything, including the belt that holds your trousers and putting them on a tray you are most likely to be officially 'frisked' by officials of the same sex.
Now that the worst is over all you have to do is get yourself on the plane. It is a bit of a battle once you are on board, fighting for the overhead baggage space, avoiding sitting on some stranger's lap while trying to get to your seat, arranging your handbag, pillow, blanket, inflight magazine while keeping your elbows within your personal space and avoiding the embarrassment of pulling at one end of your neighbour's seatbelt and fastening it with your own. Finally, finally, the plane starts screeching like a demented witch, your ears get blocked and the butterflies in your stomach have been activated. Now you are airborne.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010