Lin, I wrote this one too for the LBC over three years ago. The topic was suggested by Padmum. This gives more than just one incident and to that extent kind of sums up my travelling days and some of the incidents that took place. There are many more but I shall, write new stories without committing to a series and recalling older blog posts. So, the five posts that I promised you conclude with this one, but there is one more that is really funny which I shall post as a bonus tomorrow.
Having been in a career that involved a great deal of traveling, I have had my share of the usual troubles that all travelers face; delayed/cancelled/missed flights, trains, taxis breaking down, bad weather, flash strikes by transport and hotel workers and so on and so forth. I had one experience of lost luggage that was more due to a language problem, more about that later.
The unusual troubles that I have had are few, but I shall list them here.
The lost luggage incident was at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. My suit case did not come out on the carousal and I had to run from pillar to post to find some one who could speak English. That was when I understood what a disadvantage speaking English is in France. After about an hour of running around, I found a sympathetic policeman, who helped me locate the luggage and I left the airport with the suitcase. There was another incident where language was not the problem and I had to wait for three days for the suitcase to be located and returned to me in London, but something good came out of it as I had to buy some essentials till BA could locate the suitcase for which they very efficiently paid up.
In 1982, I was touring the Eastern Uttar Pradesh and had left Varanasi for Gorakhpur by car late in the evening, hoping to reach the latter by about dinner time. On the way, luckily near a small town, our car broke down and we were forced to catch a rural taxi leaving the car and the driver behind so that we could go to Gorakhpur and send a relief vehicle. The driver of the taxi misbehaved with us on reaching our hotel and left in a huff. He took his own back by going back to the abandoned car and driver and a big police case had to filed and I had to return to that God forsaken place a few times before everything could be settled.
On another occasion, we were returning from Chennai by train to Pune after a family wedding. We left well on time and were driven by our friend’s son in law, but about half a kilometer before we could reach the station, we were caught in a traffic jam caused by communist trade unions taking out a march. Urmeela, Ranjan and I had to carry our suit cases and walk to take a pedestrian subway to reach the station. Luckily for us, as we neared the subway, a railway porter who had brought some one else’s luggage across the road came to our rescue and we reached our time well in time. The railways meanwhile, apprehending such difficulties for other passengers, decided to delay the departure and all our sweaty physical endeavours were for nothing.
On another occasion, while on tour by car in the South of India, I was harassed by the police and a false case lodged against me, during our infamous emergency days about which you can read more here.
In 1994, I was to catch a flight at Bengaluru for Pune to return home for Diwali. On reaching the airport, I was advised that the flight had been cancelled. This was quite common those days with the Indian Airlines being the sole airline in India. I decided to take a taxi from Bengaluru to Pune and was able to secure one with two drivers alternating and after a journey of 14 hours of driving, reached home in the wee hours of Diwali morning. I offered a bed and some rest for the drivers, but they opted to drive back home for Diwali too. They reached by afternoon of the Diwali day and phoned me to say that they had reached safe.
On another occasion, I was stranded at the Bahrain airport after having checked in for flight that did not arrive from London. I was forced to travel by another airline which was the worst flight that I have ever had. The ground staff and the flight attendants were extremely unprofessional and to be transferred to that kind of an airline from BA was most unfortunate. For diplomacy’s sake, I do not want to name that airline, but people familiar with flights in and out of Bahrain will no doubt find it easy to identify that.
Many such stories of travel troubles come to mind, but one flight out of London’s Heathrow to Mumbai is etched deeply for its uniqueness rather than for any trouble. The trouble was that our Air India flight was delayed due to fog and we were stuck at the Maharajah Lounge at the airport. I had the good fortune of meeting personally two great Indians there in similarly waiting mode, J R D Tata and Dhirubhai Ambani. The former all alone and the latter with Kokila Behan in attendance. The memory is strong because of what happened when we landed in Mumbai. All three of us along with the few others ahead, checked out of Immigration and I saw Dhirubhai immediately surrounded by a crowd of people who whisked him away leaving a few minions behind to collect the luggage. JRD waited with me at the carousal and chatted with me and a few others too, and when one suit case came ahead simply took it off the carousal and sat on it to wait for the next one. When that came, he took both and walked out of the luggage bay all by himself acknowledging the greetings of many who recognised him. What a contrast! JRD was the founder of Air India and only recently had been ousted from the Board of Directors by the petty minded government of that time.”