• Manu Dhawan

How to build character in 2 days



I’m not going to make this about the travails of modern commercial travel. Given what I experienced, I am sure that story is going to be full of riveting edge of the seat action. It would contain the choicest and the most creative selection of words that helped me release natural toxins from my mouth. It would also be pathetically funny. But travel should be all about the people and not the mess that we create. So here we go.


As I packed my bags and locked the airbnb apartment in New York, I looked back at a long and awesome holiday getting over and looked ahead to see my girls back home. By now I had learnt the art of whistling a taxi to a halt. The trick worked this time as well but on my way to the airport, the driver politely mentioned that he would have stopped had I just waved my hand. That this wasn’t ‘One Fine Day’ and the neighbours did not take it very well. Also, thanks to the fact that a trip from the city to airport costs as much as a return flight from Mumbai to Delhi, there were enough cabs and eager cab drivers in the city. So no more two people getting into the same cab at the same time and falling in love over such ridiculous things. Point taken. No more whistling.


The extended drive to the airport, owing to a rare accident on the interstate, gave me time to reminiscence. This holiday had not been too eventful by my embarrassing standards. Yes, I forgot my stroller in a taxi at the Mexico City airport but to my credit, remembered rather quickly I was light by a few pounds. Yes, I ran out of the airport screaming taxi. Yes, the cops had their guns out. But that’s where it ended. The taxi guy stopped, bag was returned and guns were holstered back. Nothing spectacular. Yet.


The massive traffic jam meant I just made it in time for the flight. I had gradually but steadily degraded from a well-organized flyer to someone who misses flights more often than making them. Anyways, my flight was a connecting flight via Munich with a 2-hour lay over. We took off an hour late because of, again, a rare spare part failure. And that’s when the spectacular dominoed.


I landed late and as luck would have it, missed my connection to Mumbai. Well shit happens and you move on. So I move to the Lufthansa service centre which has 150 people in the queue. Seemed like a lot of people missed a lot of flights. Waiting in the queue, I start chatting with two blonde girls who were heading to Venice for a romantic holiday. One of the girls says, my mom told me such experiences are good, they build character. And so I decide to build some for myself.


While there was no access to information till the time you reach the service centre desk, I checked on the phone that the next flight to Mumbai was in the next 2 hours. If I kept waiting in this queue, I would probably get on to a flight 24 hours later. I neither had the clothes nor the balls to bear a really white Munich freezing at -9 degrees. My innate and industrious Indian took over and I figured there was another desk in another terminal. A few train shuttles, a couple of elevators and a bunch of slow escalators later, I got myself a new connection – a Turkish airline flight via Istanbul to Mumbai which flies in an hour.


I had with me a few unlucky fellow Indians. A 50-year old American citizen flying business for business who tried hard to put on the American accent. But every now and then the ‘R’s would stop rolling and the words would end really thick.


Then there was a very interesting automobile engineer from Detroit who was supposed to get married the next day and used that fact to ensure he got the connecting flight. Later, when I looked him up on facebook, a latest post talked about him coming to India for his brother’s wedding. And then there was a woman and her daughter with an injured leg needing special assistance. A few cribby conversations later we were happy with our new boarding passes and a promise of a better journey to come.


I could still make it for Holi. I had a few pictures for my instagram and enough content for a mild story. Nothing gained or lost, I say. There, character built. But they say character wasn’t built in a day. Okay, they don’t really say that but character definitely wasn’t built by missing a single flight.


So things got really interesting from there on. It so happened that this new flight from Munich to Istanbul also got delayed. After running across the Istanbul airport for over 2 kilometers hoping to make it to the gate in time, I missed my flight to Mumbai.


Again.


I asked my character to take a walk and had a field day getting creative with words. But they didn’t really help.

In those multiple queues and counters of Turkish Airlines at Istanbul airport, I spent some time with an Austrian who was supposed to join his brother to celebrate Holi in Mumbai. I learnt Austrians also play a milder version of Holi inspired by us but its not really as dirty and he really wanted to play the Indian-small-town version where one is thrown in gutters and welcomed with raw eggs. I tried hard not judge but failed miserably.


I also met an old Italian man with a very husky voice. It was so husky that it just sounded like an old man wheezing. But it was enough for me to understand him saying he had flown Turkish Airlines thrice in his life and had missed his connections ALL the times. Huh, you don’t say. While we stood there negotiating with a team of very disinterested ground staff who were busy watching a live football match on their phones, the queue and its collective impatience swelled by the minute.


A large Sikh family from Canada was ecstatic when they were told they would have to stay for a day in a hotel. They were hoping that would allow them to sneak out and visit Istanbul. When they were told they couldn’t, virtual swords came out and pandemonium pursued. They wanted the staff to arrange for a ‘new’ plane to fly them to Delhi now. Virtual swords bowed down to the football match and they made their way to the airport hotel. 10 down, 120 more to go.


A young bearded Pakistani, getting back to Islamabad after traveling for business to Switzerland, got friendly and chatty with an American girl who bought a visa from a counter 100 meters from the service centre. She was told she would need one just to come to the airlines’ service counter. She bought that. And the visa. While the Pakistani thought she would marry him, she thought she could use his phone to call her fiancé to book a hotel room for her.


Anyways, I eventually got another connecting flight. This time via Dubai with a layover of more than 3 hours. I promised myself I will apply for UAE citizenship if I manage to miss my connection at Dubai. That ways not only would I build character but also taxless wealth, helping me to fly only direct flights.


On my flight to Dubai, I had an Indian executive on my left jostling for elbow room with a Turkish gentleman sitting to his left. After a few rounds of wrestling, while the scores were equal, he decided to quit the match and move to the only seat available of the last row. Both me and the turkishman were happy to have a vacant seat between us. But soon it got filled with an overweight German with a terrible case of sleep apnea. But by now, I was numb to such pains. Also, I expected myself to snore louder than my German companion, given my complete exhaustion countering Turkish airlines and their customer-friendly, football-loving representatives.


In Dubai, I was at the boarding gate 2 hours before it opened and was the first to enter the aircraft. I landed in Mumbai 18 hours late. I had travelled 48 hours with little sleep and some shitty airport food. Thankfully I drank lots of water and that kept me alive. Holi was almost over but at least I could see me girls and bribe them with the gifts I got for them. But with 2 missed connections, I would be extremely lucky to get my bags.


I was not.


My bags arrived 3 days later, beaten up and completely unrecognizable. Also since delayed baggage goes through customs, they found 5 bottles of Tequila and Mezcal in it. Summoned at the airport by the officials, thoughts of Agave parted my depraved mind. When the customs officer squealed in delight, having realized we not only live in the same apartment complex but his apartment is the one I had earlier rented out, hope flickered. He was so happy, he let me go with a friendly warning. I promised him a tequila shot and stories from Mexico in that very apartment. However, my belief in happy endings was short lived when I found that my most exclusive tequila bottle had been smashed to pieces and all contents of one of my bags now smelt like fermented rice.


With the remnants of my acquisitions, I got back home to eager and wanting eyes. Thankfully not only did the gifts survive, they also hit the sweet spot with the girls. Excitement came in the form of 2 pairs of legs jumping on the sofas. Just like effective wipers on rain-pounded windscreen, their smiles wiped away long memories of a nightmarish journey in a jiffy.


In the end, everything was worth it.


#travel #missedflights #solotravel #newyork #character #traveltravails

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©2019 by Manu Dhawan.