Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ironed Out in India - A Short Story

He kept his sight trained on the rather large luggage as it moved slowly and disappeared into the horizon of the baggage conveyor system at the Tom Bradley International Terminal of Los Angeles International airport. Never before had he prayed for the well being of his luggage, perambulating over a  baggage conveyor system, during his not so infrequent trips to India. However, this trip was not from the familiar territory of the San Francisco International airport. The baggage track at this airport ran for over 4,448 meters. Luggage was guided by technology over the four and a half kilometre route. He just added the power of prayer to  technology.
Sid Santhanam's trip to Bangalore was, essentially, indicative of how well Jack Welch’s 70:70:70 rule at GE has permeated into the American industry. Over several sessions with the top management, Sid had expounded how an India development centre could dramatically improve the fortunes of Instinct Financial Software, where he worked - which was already among the largest global companies in its domain. Once the project got the nod from the Board of Directors, Sid  was appointed as the Project Director for setting up the Instinct India Software Development Centre -  IISDC.
Burning midnight oil over the next few days, Sid  put together the paper work required for submission to the various government agencies in India, to seek clearance for the project.  Sid had moved to the USA as a student over two decades back. As an undergraduate student in India, he had heard about his country’s frustrating bureaucracy. Since he had no India work experience, he had not felt any of it.  For the setting up of the IISDC, he had to interact with three ministries and five other government agencies. He had dreaded the procedure. However, just two days into the process, he was astonished. Almost all that was needed to be done could be done on-line. He discovered that the national portal of India – had all the information that he sought. The website of all ministries and government agencies,  he uncovered, were secure and used 128 bit encryption. Digital signatures and on-line payment gateways were standard. Only a few critical documents – each consisting of many pages had to be handed over personally at the Ministry of Corporate Affairs – where they would accept these documents, have a tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte with him, before issuing the Certificate of Incorporation.
As he swung his backpack over his shoulders, he rechecked the baggage ticket for the only piece of checked in baggage. He then moved to Starbucks for quick sandwich and a shot of Cappuccino. As the strolled to the north of the terminal, toward Starbucks, he patted his shirt  to reassure himself that the baggage ticket was secure in his  buttoned pocket . His luggage was checked in directly for Bangalore - though his  flight had a 6 hour stopover at Dubai. He could feel the glossiness of the baggage ticket though this denim shirt. "Everything is in place", he thought to himself. There was nothing left to do before boarding the flight except having some Coffee. Then, it struck him. “O my God! I have left my bag behind at the check in counter”. He raced back to retrieve his bag, hoping he would find it. He slowed down as he spied it from a distance. The bag was untouched – who, but he, could be interested in his used clothes he thought. As he nonchalantly picked up his bag and walked back to Starbucks, he checked whether his baggage ticket was still ensconced in his shirt pocket.
Just before boarding, he rechecked with the ground staff if the had to rebook his checked in baggage at Dubai, for Bangalore. The answer he got was what he was told the fist time – the checked in baggage did not have to be re-booked in Dubai and could be collected in Bangalore. One of the reasons why he was travelling via Dubai, this time around, was his less than satisfactory experience with airlines which flew via London - which was his preferred route on  previous trips.In his preceding trip, he had received his checked in baggage two days after he reached Bangalore. They had not connected it at Heathrow, thus delaying its arrival into Bangalore. At Bangalore, he had to make several phone calls and more than one trip to the airport to retrieve it.
As he settled down into his starboard seat in the front of the aircraft, he wished he could see his baggage being loaded on the aircraft – like he could, in Bangalore.  However, the recent $ 500 million renovation of the terminal had completely overhauled the baggage handing system using overhead conveyors. He just hoped that the system was as efficient as it was expensive.
As arrival into DXB was announced, his thoughts went back to his checked in luggage. For the 6 hours layover at Dubai, he had been put up by the airline at the airport  La Median hotel. Before heading for the immigration, he quickly checked with the airline ground staff if he had to, by any chance, rebook his checked in luggage for Bangalore for his flight 6 hours later. The answer did not differ. Post immigration, he picked up some Dates from the Duty Free. As he selected the Dates, he wondered if a Date was just a Date. What, he wondered, was special about Dates from Dubai? He answered that himself saying date from Dubai were as different from Dates in India as Made in Switzerland chocolates were different from chocolates made in Belgium. The packaging, filling and the ‘made - in” was all that mattered. Just then, he noticed that the Dates he had selected were labelled – grown in Saudi Arabia. He further noticed that these were dipped and pickled in Glucose. He reckoned that his friends in India would like these sweetened Dates.
As he drove into the Median, he thought that the hotel, categorized as five star, looked more like a budget hotel – comfortable but only just. The jet lag and his state of drowsiness did not allow him to make any more observations about the hotel. He awoke, on wake-up call, just in time to leave for the airport. The Sheikh Rashid terminal at the Dubai airport, he thought, was hedonistically designed. It aroused your desire to shop whether or not you desired the things you shopped for. A few more packets of Dates, rechargeable batteries, and Belgian chocolates went into his baggage. Sid  settled down in his Business Class seat, looking forward to landing in Bangalore.
He awoke with a start. He felt himself being pinned down to his seat as if there was a tremendous G-force being exerted on him. He felt a pit-in-the-stomach feeling – like the ones he had felt a few months earlier, at Disneyland, as the giant roller coaster - Space Mountain, accelerated from 0 – 57 mph in 2.8 seconds exerting more G-force than a Space Shuttle launch. He automatically mumbled a prayer as he saw cutlery floating in the air, grown up men and women screaming like babies and babies looked amused at grown ups screaming. He saw fear in the eyes of the stewardess who was belted in place and held on to the seat handles. He realized, from his extensive air travels, that this was probably some kind of a turbulence that the aircraft was encountering – but was nothing like anything that he had encountered before. It seemed, that among all the passengers in the aircraft, he was the most composed, outwardly. His apparent composure came from his interest in aircrafts and aero modelling that he had done as a teenager. He was an avid follower of the blog Captain Lim, had, of course, in his blog clarified, several times, that for a pilot flying through extreme turbulence was no more uncomfortable than for a coach driver to drive on very bad roads. He also knew that air turbulence, or Clear Air Turbulence  was dangerous only because passengers not seated or not strapped to their seats could be thrown about the cabin due to the turbulence – caused by the outside air suddenly changing speed and direction. Sid, of course, had his seat belt on and saw the turbulence through on the strength of the seat belt and the power of his prayer.
After the aircraft had stabilized, the pilot announced that the aircraft had entered into an air pocket causing the aircraft to go into a free fall from 35,000 feet to 30,000 feet – not an uncommon occurrence in the annals of aviation. As the aircraft made a smooth touchdown, the passengers spontaneously gave the pilots a loud round of applause. He saw that several passengers were either in a state of shock or physically injured as a result of the turbulence. Sid was as relieved to walk out of the aircraft without a bruise.
Immigration was a breeze. He was pleasantly surprised with the speed with which he cleared immigration. He reckoned that this new airport was as good as  the best of the smaller American airports. As he waited at the baggage carousel, he hoped that his baggage had been loaded on at Dubai. Despite his frequent flying and his interest in statistics, he had not been able to figure out if baggage, in the cargo hold, was unloaded in a first-in-first-out or last-in-first-out mode. He waited impatiently for his Grey soft luggage, distinctly identifiable as his, from scars from his frequent travels.

As the density of luggage on the baggage carousel reduced, Sid’s heart pounded. He wondered if the luggage was connected at Dubai. Finally, it was only a lady with the trolley and he who were left at the carousel. “There it is!” screamed the lady, pointing out to the monstrous package dawdling on the carousel towards her. Sony was emblazoned across the cardboard box. It was, evidently, a television set bought by her in Dubai. Sid wondered why televisions had to be packed in such giant cartons in the days of slim LCD televisions. He also wondered why Indian consumers still shopped in Dubai when there were Sony stores all over India. Was it only to claim that they shopped abroad or whether it was account of the latest models not being available locally. He snapped out of his reverie when he realized that there was no more luggage on the track following the Sony. A chill struck his heart. It would be too much trouble to be stuck without this luggage – he would have a lot of explaining to do. As he turned, disappointedly, to enquire about the status of his luggage he saw it. His grey, distinctively scarred luggage, was in a clinging embrace with and was behind the Sony package. Sid was relieved.
He supervised the loading of his Grey checked in luggage and his hand baggage into the airline arranged limousine which would drop him off at his hotel. As the Mercedes sped away from the terminal he got a wide angle glimpse of the airport terminal building. From the outside, he reckoned that it was better looking than most other airports that he had seen
Once in his hotel room he unpacked and stacked his clothes in the closet. Then, he unzipped his backpack. All the documents required to be submitted to the Department of Company Affairs were in good shape in spite of the knocking that the backpack had got during the course of the 20 hours journey. He then dialled from the room phone. “Hello!, is Ravi in? Could you please send him to 205? Thanks”. Sid  had stayed  at this place frequently. He knew the General Manager, the Chef and most of the Front office, Room Service and Housekeeping staff by their names.  As the door bell rang, he opened the door to be greeted by Ravi “Welcome back Sir!” Without any further explanation Ravi walked in and picked up the scarred luggage and said “The usual Sir?” “Yes, please, Ravi”. “Can I get this back by tomorrow?"  "I leave the day after” “Sure Sir!” With this, Ravi rolled the luggage out of the room as Sid closed the door behind him.
Sid’s meeting at the office of Ministry of Company Affairs went of well. As he submitted the required documents, the young officer in-charge asked him some questions on the business and the time frame for commencing operations once the company was issued the Certificate of Incorporation. He was asked to download the Certification of Incorporation the next day from - the ministry's website. Sid was impressed with the speed. He was earlier involved with the setting up of the company’s office in Singapore. He thought that the process of documentation seemed more difficult in case of India but was actually as simple as in Singapore. Perhaps, it was India’s bureaucratic reputation which made things appear more difficult even when it was actually not so.
Back in his hotel room he watched the first semi-final’s of the IPL. As the match was getting over, the doorbell rang which Sid answered to find Ravi standing with his luggage. “All done Ravi?” enquired Sid, as he took his luggage from Ravi. Ravi smiled broadly as Sid handed him the payment for the job done – with a generous tip. Closing the door behind him, Sid heaved the luggage onto the luggage rack and unzipped it. There was a faint smile on his countenance as he appreciated its contents, all neatly strapped down.
“Nothing else comes even remotely close to the sharpness of clothes pressed with a traditional seven kilogram coal iron, heated to over 100 degrees Celsius”, he surmised. Then, looking at his wife’s glistening pumps from Choo, Manolo Blanhik, Chanel and Christian Louboutin he marvelled at her thrift. These shoes would have ended up  at the Menlo Park landfill, at Byxbee Park, several parties back, had it not been for the roadside cobblers at Bangalore who rejuvenated them during his Bangalore trips. 

As he zipped up his neatly packed cargo for the return journey – he thought, “Incredible India!”

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1 comment:

Oddyoddyo13 said...

The plane part sounded like an actual event I heard about yesterday-love how realistic this was. :)