Into The Fire

I am back in the United States. As with all of the previous trips that I have made back from India, the transitions that I experienced while traveling were quite abrupt and significant, but this time it was less jarring. For one thing, I left my parent’s home for the airport at a reasonable hour of the day – in the evening, and not at some unearthly hour around midnight as is usually the case. Life was in full swing on the streets of Madipakkam when I left. I am used to unexpectedly quiet departures for the US. I did not have the opportunity to get into a contemplative and brooding state of mind on the way to airport itself.

The other reason why my departure from India might have been less painful than it usually is was because I was leaving my also-visiting sister behind at home. Things would be taken care of at home for at least a little while longer after my departure.

The Uber driver gently, quietly, and quickly negotiated and navigated his way through the crowds and the chaos of the streets of Madipakkam and Nanganallur, then on to the crowded highway to Tambaram, and finally got me to the airport – well before the scheduled departure time.

The airport experience was an intense one in its initial stages. First, I had to fight my way through the crowd that was blocking the entrance to the airport itself. Most of the people were just hanging out and not intending to enter the airport. Then, a long line to check in my baggage, thankfully managed somewhat professionally by the airline staff. Security was a total mess. They had a sophisticated system to handle the carry-on luggage, but the security staff seemed to have not been trained in the proper use of the equipment. People, both official and unofficial, who were clueless, felt the need to pass along advice to others on what they were supposed to do. I found that my laptop computer had made its way through the scanning machine while I was stuck on the other side desperately trying to find a way to pass my other hand luggage through. And then they ran out of trays! Fortunately, I was able to team up with another person who was in a similar situation as I was in – to interrupt the flow of trays and insert mine in the way. I had to even grab a tray that an officer was holding out in her hand for somebody else! In the end, my computer might have been in the open on the other side of the scanner for anybody to grab for over 10 minutes!

The first flight from Chennai to Dubai was uneventful and quick. A double gin and tonic helped me to digest the late dinner and to relax for the rest of the flight. I did get some shuteye. On arrival at Dubai, I had just about enough time to make it to my departure gate. I had only 2 hours between flights. The 14 hour flight to Washington DC was uneventful. I would say that more than 80 percent of the passengers on this flight must have originated their travel in India.

It was strange to begin this part of the trip with dinner once again. Traveling across time zones leads to strange happenings. Thankfully, I was able to snooze in fits and starts during this flight. The only two movies I caught were classics. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart, includes a classic line that has made it into the current popular lingo. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges! The other movie I saw was Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. I have seen this movie several times, and it never ceases to entertain! These old movies have a great charm which is completely lacking in new releases. It is clear that the acting and staging in these movies comes out of a theatrical background. And the performances are compelling.

I was also able to continue reading the book by Tom Clancy that I was carrying with me during other times of the flight. This is my first exposure to the author. I find the attitudes expressed in the book to be rather dated – jingoistic, a little racist, and definitely full of stereotypes – but I will finish the book nonetheless. Then, I think I will be done with the author.

All of my book reading and movie watching during the flight were interrupted by episodes of sleep. I would pause the movie or put away the book whenever the urge to snooze hit me. No use fighting it. This strategy seemed to work rather nicely. I felt fine after the long flight, on arrival at Dulles International Airport. I was finally able to head home from the airport after a long wait for my luggage at the baggage carousel. It was chaotic. When a massive A380 aircraft unloads its full complement of passengers, most of whom are carrying the maximum luggage they are allowed, there is not even enough space on the carousel for all of the luggage being unloaded. The measures taken to mitigate this situation added to the confusion.

Thankfully, I was able to sleep the next day, but I was back in action in the field the day after that. My chorus is singing at the agricultural fair once again, and I had to go out to support the troops. Due to the difference in time zones, it was nighttime in India while I was out singing in the summer sun of Gaithersburg the last couple of days. I go out to sing once again this evening. The contrast between the nature of the crowd at the fair here in the US and the nature of the crowds on the streets in India is beyond description. I will not every try! We are truly living in many different realities on this planet. And the challenge of singing barbershop harmonies after having been out of it for more than a month is significant. Into the fire…

The great thing that has happened is that I have not fallen ill so far after my return. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Hopefully, I am able to pursue further adventures that are in the works once again starting next weekend! Meanwhile, I need to make sure that I am able to recover from the efforts of these travels more completely.