As insane as the last transportation story was, this one is even more unbelievable:
After five lovely days in Chennai, staying with fellow Fulbrighter Amy, I got up this morning and headed out the door to the airport.
Notoriously, I’ve had a hard time communicating with the rickshaw drivers in here. No one speaks Hindi in Chennai, Tamil is about as far from Hindi as Italian is, and my English is only marginally more helpful, even when I speak in a thick Indian accent.
In any case, this morning, I got into a rickshaw and said, “Airport. 200 rupees. Airport. Airport.” The driver waved me into the rickshaw and we were off.
It took longer than I had expected, and I didn’t recognize any of the landmarks, but to be fair, I have been from my apartment in Lajpat Nagar to my teacher’s place in CR Park (a 20 minute rickshaw ride in Delhi) a few dozen times already, and I still don’t know the way. But I wasn’t worried – I had time.
After about 45 minutes, the rickshaw driver stopped infront of a huge ornate building and said, “Airport!”
It was the railway station.
I said so.
He kept insisting it was the airport.
I couldn’t believe it – I was on the verge of missing a connecting flight through Bangalore on my way to Goa, and here I was, arguing with this rickshaw driver about whether the building in front of us was or was not the airport.
After we finally came to the understanding that I wanted to go to the airport-airport instead of the railway-airport, I asked him how long it would take to get there. 45 minutes. My flight left in 55 minutes.
I frantically called Amy, and she texted me the numbers of the Chennai Air India office. The thing is: I had initially booked on Kingfisher Red (this was the infamous airline that wrote on my ticket: “Cross-pack with a travel companion. That way, if the airline loses your luggage, you’ll still have half the clothes you need for the week.” So we were already off to a great start. Then, last night, I got a call from Kingfisher telling me that my flight had been cancelled, so they had transfered me to an Air India flight. I had the Kingfisher ticket in hand, which I had printed before leaving Delhi, but only the name and time of the Air India Flight written in my notebook. I called the airport, and after they hung up on me three times (the third time giving me a long string of numbers I had no way of writing down and then hanging up) I decided I would take my chances at the airport.
I got to the airport ten minutes before the flight was supposed to leave, and the rickshaw driver refused to pull up to the drop off point because the police would arrest him (apparently only cabs are allowed inside the airport. note to self.) So with my suitcase in one hand and my laptop in a Radel tanpura bag in the other (the first thing I am doing when I return to Delhi is buying a laptop bag), I ran through oncoming traffic and got to the front door of the airport, and to the Air India desk.
Of course they couldn’t understand my ticket, because it was for Kingfisher, but kept asking me if I had paid, and printed me an invoice to take to the “Duty Manager”.
Reminiscent of the Jodhpur train situation, I ran through the airport and just yelled, “Duty Manager! Duty Manager!” to anyone who looked official. After about three people nonchalantly waving me in a generally forward direction, I found the desk of the Duty Manager, who miraculously spoke perfect English. I explained the situation and gave him all the papers I was holding and my passport, hoping something would be what he needed.
He said, “We’ll see what we can do,” and walked out of the room.
He was back in a minute, and said, “Get your ticket from the man at the front desk and then run upstairs as fast as you can. Your seat is gone, so we bumped you up to first class.”
God bless the Chennai airport for being super small and for having no security line. I was at the gate in literally one minute, and was seated in my awesome first class seat a minute after that! Just a week before, I had been telling my roommates that I had never been upgraded to first class in my life — almost everyone else I know has flown first class at one point or another, and for ten years of traveling on at least four planes a year (and recently way more than that) I figured I must have been blacklisted by the airport gods. But on the most unlikely day for an upgrade, there I was sipping tropical juice and eating finger sandwiches on a 1 hour flight to Bangalore.
There’s one more kink in the story, though. The article that I mentioned in the last post, that I was writing for NewMusicBox, was supposed to be published that day. The night before, I had been searching for some links to add to the article, and had found a few discrepancies between what I had written and some online sources. I got worried, and called one of my Hindustani music teachers to ask her to look over the article, and had planned to talk to her in the morning, before I boarded the plane at the Chennai airport.
The whole way to the airport in the rickshaw I was not only worried that I would miss my flight and then not be able to get to Goa that day, but also that if I didn’t get my final edits in before morning in New York, my article would be in print containing any number of inaccuracies (since I hadn’t talked to my teacher, I wasn’t aware how much I needed to change — luckily there wasn’t too much that needed to be changed.)
By the time I finally sat down on the plane in Chennai, there was no time to call. By the time I got to Bangalore, I realized that my connecting flight on Kingfisher had been bumped up by half an hour, and after having to exit the airport and re-check in, the front desk was giving me trouble about checking my carry-on because it weighed too much (unlike Chennai, the Bangalore airport is like any airport in the states or europe — both in look and feel, and in security procedures) so by the time I got to the gate, the flight was already boarding.
I called my teacher from the boarding line and started editing in the 20 minutes we had in the air between Bangalore and Goa (it’s a 35 minute flight total) where we could use our electronics. I hadn’t finished when we were asked to turn off our laptops for landing, and so once the plane landed, I sat there and edited while everyone else disembarked. I was the last one off the plane, but my final edits made it to New York before 9 AM EST.
I know that it’s kind of cliche to say things like, “Every day is an adventure.” But it’s absolutely the truth in this country.