Last year I travelled from Chicago to Mumbai with Aarnavi; who was then 1.5 yrs old; all alone. Now, travelling from US to India in itself is a torturous part, and with a toddler by your side, the torture is almost doubled.
I sighed a relief when we touched down. I was in one piece, my mental state, that is! The immigration officer too was kind and smiled and enquired about the tough journey I had had. I smiled at the change that had undergone with the immigration officers who usually were rude and demeaning to the passengers.
I almost cried tears of happiness when an 'airport assistant' approached me voluntarily to assist me with my baggage and stuff. Yes, those 3-4 garangutan bags each weighing 24 kgs! The assistant waited patiently for almost an hour while I was busy running behind my kid, all the while lugging a 14kg bag on my broken back! As soon as my bags arrived, I only had to point it out to him and he hauled them onto the trolley. Relief is such a small word o describe what I felt!
Alas! the so called relief died down in a matter of few minutes. For the customs scanning, I had to take off my 14 kg bag too, in which I had brought my jewellery. Now jewellery doesn't mean kilos of them. They were my mangalsutra, dharemani(another GSB wedding symbol) and one swarovski chain and earrings. The lady scanning the bag, who seemed perinially disgusted with phoren reetaarns, decided to take up the khunnas on me - the bechaari, worn out woman with a child, who is ready to drop dead at one single authoritative, provocative statement from Her Highness! So this is how the conversation went , all in marathi though
Her (in a disgusted, rude tone) : Medem, you have jewellery in your bag?
Me (ignoring the disgust) : Yes
Her : Show me the bill for the same or pay the custom.
Me (now disgusted and angry) : Pay custom for what? It is my personal jewellery and not even kilos of it that you demand that I pay the custom duty!
Her : (doubling the rude quotient): What is with you US return people?? First you buy so much jewellery, don't keep the billand then we have to face this! Don't you know it is the rule?
Me : (more frustrated now than angry) Rule? Which rule are you talking about? I have travelled to US and back before with the same amount of jewellery, and not once have I been told to show the bill or pay the duty! It is my wedding jewellery. The wedding took place 3 yrs back and you expect me to travel around with its bill? If it is a rule nobody sent me any notice to my US residence that I should know of it.
Her : Medem, it is a rule!
Me : Fine it might be a rule but it needs to be communicated. I have been away from India the whole of previous year and if some rules change here how am I supposed to know and how can you hold me guilty for the same? Let's go to the chief customs officer and if he can clarify I shall gladly pay.
Her : You are holding up the line. You can go this time.
After she gave me her 'permission' to leave, I gather my stuff with the assistant wand walked away. The assistant in turn tells me, this is the routine. They will trouble the passengers for no reason. Saying this he stopped. And so did I and asked him the reason. He says, in full khoofiya style, "Ma'am, paisa idhar hi do."
I didn't get him at first. Then it dawned on me that he was asking me for his 'bakshis'. I pulled out Rs. 200 out of the 500 that I was carrying and handed it out to him.
And he said, "Kya madam, dollar main dene ka tha na." I was baffled at his audacity! I mean seriously! I stared at him like I had seen an alien land before me. I just couldn't say anything. I shook my head and walked out of the gate.
People have wrong perceptions about those returning from the US, rather from any foriegn country. Not everyone who comes back from there is a millionaire. I surely wasn't one! And those 3-4 enormous bags of 24 kgs each? They don't necessarily carry any hotshot electronics or expensive cameras or exotic chocolates or perfumes, or battery operated toys that forever eludes our country mercilessly, unless of course, demanded by relatives and friends! They are clothes, shoes, utensils, documents and other routine life things that one didn't have the heart to throw away in the garbage bin. There might be some boring Ferrero Rochers and Hersheys that, though easily available in India, people still want those staying abroad to bring for them.
I don't know why it gives them kicks to be rude to passengers. One need not be friendly, but is a little courtesy too much to ask for? You, as a passenger probably would not take up a fight either because you are expended after a long journey, or because there is an impending journey before which you don't want to spoil your mood.