Friday, June 09, 2006

India - Coming Home

Back again, in a separate Air France Lounge, on my way home. With only 2 days in Delhi, I effectively figured out how to beat what would otherwise be significant jetlag caused by a 91/2 hour time difference – I did it by more or less not sleeping at all – not on the flights to Delhi, not while in Delhi, and so far not on the way back from Delhi. Sure, I’ve got bloodshot eyes, and I don’t know whether I’m coming or I’m going, but this would happen to anyone who stays awake for 100 straight hours, independent of whether they hop flights to and from Delhi in the course of the sleeping fast.

I can’t fall asleep on the flights because of the huge opportunity cost of doing so while flying business class on Air France. How many chances do you have to be waited on as an American by French airline attendants for 30 hours in the course of a week, asking for one more of those hot wet towels, seeing if they can bring me another drink, asking them what part their parents or grandparents played in the Vichey regime. These are the reasons a comparable priced fair on Air France is always a huge bargain.

My one episode of restful sleep is interrupted rudely by a phone call from Vijay, in what is becoming a tradition. In all three trips I’ve made there, he’s woken me from a dead perfect sleep to ask what time to pick me up. This time it is kind of a pleasant surprise – because I didn’t think I was going to get him. Apparently he is the number 1 driver for this company, and my New York based client, who has some clout in the company, snags him for herself, and I’m left with some guy Mihandar. But on day 2, for whatever reason, he is free to be my driver. The last time I was here, he wasn’t my driver at all, but every morning he would call me, wake me up, and tell me not to take a ride from the guy who apparently snaked him in getting me, saying – “Jon, don’t take ride, he a bad man. Do you want a slushee?” OK, the last question he didn’t pose, but for three straight mornings I was told not to take a ride from this other guy. Anyway, I ride in the front seat when I’m with Vijay, one of those little things I do for the little people.

Vijay has become a father since I last saw him, with a daughter who is a couple months old. The day after I leave, he is headed to get married to his current wife. He’s already had a “love” marriage, which apparently he and his wife never mentioned to their families, and now they are to be wed again in an arranged marriage. Of all the possible arranged marriages in a country with a billion people, I tell him how lucky he is that the marriage was arranged with his current wife. What are the odds? The humor doesn’t translate. He tells me that he has a picture of the two of us hanging in his apartment. I would tell him I have a picture of us posted on my blog for all the world to see, but then I’d have to explain a blog to a guy whose first language is Hindia, and who makes $30 a month. That said, he does have a cell phone.

Indian’s live on cell phones – there is no etiquette in business meetings there to turn off the ringer or to leave it unanswered when it rings. Kind of annoying. I’d be in the middle of some ridiculous soliloquy when the guy I am looking straight at grabs the phone out of his pocket and starts talking to the person on the other end. It’s always business, never personal, but still. No one else even so much as blinks. No apologies are offered for the delay. It’s just understood that the cell phone takes priority over live people.

I nearly missed my flight out of Delhi, despite being 2 plus hours early for a 12:40 am flight to Paris. But the upside is that I figured out why India is a third world country, albeit one growing rapidly. The reason is this – the people in India, in deciding how best to hawk their services in the labor market, have almost uniformly decided that the most pleasing job must be checking passports and customs forms in airports. You’d think an oversupply of labor in this market would be good, because you’d never have to wait in a line, with thousands of customs agents there looking to get lucky enough to be chosen by the lesser number of would-be passengers. The problem is that they’ve lined them all up sequentially and you have to show your documents to each and every one of them, one at a time. No exaggeration here – I had to show my passport and boarding pass at least seven separate times prior to boarding the plane. Let me tell you something – you never need one of those hot wet white towels as much as you need one after showing your passport to a million Indians hellbent on having you miss your plane.

The Air France lounge here gave me some serious false hope. With a four hour layover, after a nine hour flight packed with Indians who have yet to discover deodorant, a good douche would be great. And here in the lounge is a douche for public use, the first I’ve ever seen in an airport lounge, but unfortunately it is out of order for the month. Douche is the French word for shower, so when in Paris it is my preferred term of use, but still each time I write it I hear the Butthead voice in my head saying – “he just said douche.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Push start or pull start?

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hatch, my favorite show on TV is the amazing race and every year they go to india and I think man I would lose it there. too many people. kind of funny watching americans ask the indians living on the street how to get to the taj mahal, not much for maps.

8:03 PM  

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