October 02, 2010

His salwar-kameezed wife

Seated in nearly the last row of a large aircraft that landed in Detroit yesterday, I was thus nearly the last of its passengers to make it to immigration. A cheerful airline attendant stood there, directing US citizens further down the hall, and us non-Americans to the end of a long (and slow!) queue. Must have been 70 people ahead of me; I resigned myself to a long wait and joined the queue.

Without warning, a balding Indian man wearing an orange shirt and a moustache pushed between me and the woman immediately in front, making me stumble backwards, my arms windmilling to keep my balance, and buttonholed the airline attendant.

I didn't hear what he asked her, but when I heard her answer, I guessed. "Don't worry sir," she said. "We know you've got a close connection, we're going to try hard to get you on your flight. If you don't make it, we'll put you on the next flight." She pointed, indicating that he should return to his position in the queue. He brushed past me again, though this time I had warning and did not stumble, wriggled through my fellow-passengers to near the front. (Must have been sitting in a row much closer to the exit than I had been).

Minutes later, he reached the head of the line, and one of the immigration officers waved to him. He rushed to that counter, wife in salwar-kameez in his wake. I could see him start to explain something frantically to the officer, who simply put up a hand indicating he wasn't interested in anything but what he needed to find out.

For whatever reason, the couple took an inordinately long time with the officer. They were still there when I got to the front and then was myself called to offer my credentials to another officer.

I was with her for maybe three minutes, then I wandered over to the baggage carousel. My two battered bags were sliding past lazily. I lunged for them, put them on a trolley and headed for Customs, where there were actually four short queues and an officer directing us to join whichever was the shortest. I picked the one that -- naturally -- moved the slowest of the four.

Suddenly, the man and his salwar-kameezed wife rushed past behind me, pushing two trolleys laden with bags. They joined the queue to my left and then -- I could hardly believe my eyes -- pushed past the three or four people waiting there, to the head. Nor did they stop there. They ignored the line on the ground and the sign that said "Please wait behind the line", and headed unerringly towards the Customs officer there, who was busy with another passenger. Surprised, he looked up and said, "Sir, please wait behind the line."

No effect. The man waved his passport and papers insistently, frantically. The officer repeated, sterner this time, "Sir, you have to wait behind the line!" A second officer came over and said, "Sir, please go back behind the line! BACK BEHIND THE LINE, SIR!"

The shouting finally did the trick. The pair stepped back to the line, the man still waving passport and papers.

Then it was my turn to step up to the officer handling my queue. Minutes and a few questions later, he said "Welcome to the United States, sir" and directed me to the exit. I took two steps towards it and had to stop for a moment for a small procession that passed in front of me. Two Customs agents escorted the man and his salwar-kameezed wife to an enclosure on the right where several more officers stood waiting.

I suspect they did not make their close connection.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

The guy sounds like the kind of jerk you meet here everyday, but - er - why is his wife's attire relevant to the story?

Dilip D'Souza said...

RS: It isn't at all! I was just struck by the way she trailed silently in his wake everywhere he went, so I struggled for a way to draw attention to her ...

Chandru K said...

"why is his wife's attire relevant to the story?"

The idea is to emphatically show that a very likely Hindu Indian( though possibly Sikh or Moslem) was behaving in such a way that the Americans, bless their hearts, had to be aggressive and loud. The corollary is that Americans are always such a wonderful, non-bigoted, unbiased bunch, so it must be the actions of the (probable Hindu) Indian which created a commotion. Of course,D'Souza neglected to mention in his blog any incidents where there was a definite wrong or injustice done to an Indian, particularly an Indian Hindu. Like the time when a bunch of visiting dancers were on a plane and pointing out the statue of liberty from their plane window. An American on board found that suspicious and reported them. They were detained and questioned for a while, before being released.
Great Americans, great, great, great Christian Americans.

Anonymous said...

The GPS of 5114 BC was much more accurate than the GPS of today. This is how we know the exact location.

Anonymous said...

last two comments - huh??

Surya said...

I have seen salwar kameezed moslems too.don't discount dilipji article, it was his observations that he his jotting down, pls enjoy.
Namaskar - Suryra

Suresh said...

I've been told by connoisseurs that the Singapore-Chennai flight (particularly on Air Singapore) is highly recommended for such boorish (to put it mildly) experiences. I've only had the pleasure of the Colombo-Chennai flight (on Air Lanka) where some guys got up and started opening the overhead compartments as soon as the aircraft touched down.

The culture shock when one moves out of India or back to India can be startling. In India, the zebra crossing seems just meant for decorative purposes. In fact, to be honest, that's exactly how I thought of it. But when I waited at a zebra crossing abroad to let a car pass (and then dash across), I was surprised to see the car stop and the driver wave me across. Conversely, on the London Underground, it is normal to let passengers get down before boarding. But when I went on the Delhi Metro recently...well, you get the idea.

I haven't been able to figure out why we lack elementary courtesy and civic sense so totally. Perhaps, as Channel V used to say, "We are like this only."

PK said...

Was he a jerk? Sometimes there is very short time gap for your connection. i have missed my connection to west coast from JFK, and had to spend entire day in JFK. This after a 15-20 hrs flight is real pain.friends have had to stay overnight for their missed connection. Unfortunately system doesnt give priority to those who have very short time to get to the connecting flight.--PK

subruk said...

Nice story. One can always count on airports/airplanes to meet such weird people.

I recall once when I was transiting through London on my way to India, a lady in the mid 60's with her son and daughter in law, and grandchildren. We had to get out of the plane and wait out while they cleaned it and reboard. This lady had slight difficulty walking, but was able to walk, so the family had paid money and got herself wheelchair services. Seeing her situation, the airline offered her a chance to sit right out of the plane, and told her that she need not go to the terminal etc. It made sense to me, the trouble of moving out and coming back was not worth it. She just needed to get out and back in. She would have none of it. Since she had already paid for the wheelchair, she insisted that she be transported outside to the terminal and back. The money had already been paid, she was causing more inconvenience to herself than anyone else. But she wanted the airline to work for the money. And she had her way.