HACKTREKS TRAVEL PAGES
ARRIVING AT AN INDIAN AIRPORT
"What is your purpose in arriving in India?
"Tell me sir, if you are not married, then what do you do
to relieve yourself".
Flying high on sex,
beer and magic
First time visitors to India should hold no fears as arriving at the
airport will prepare them thoroughly for the "India experience".
There is no finer place to arrive than the airport in Calcutta. I remember
standing in line at the passport control. I was thrown into a hypnotic
daze, gazing at the army of rotating overhead ceiling fans. They seemed
to be designed in order to have as little impact as possible, being
too high and too spaced out. I was soon shaken from my stupor as I wiped
the beads of sweat that had begun to drip down my face. As I did so,
I noticed that I was being watched. A short, fat, officious man in uniform
was pacing up and down the line, with eyes fixed firmly upon me. I was
the only Westerner and he seemed to have singled out me for special
Twenty uncomfortable sweat pouring minutes later, I reach the head of
the queue and hand over me passport to the man seated at the desk. Immediately,
the short fat man intervenes, snatches it from his colleague, and asks
me to step aside. This man is the boss. I know it, he knows it and from
the way his staff jump when he barks orders to them - they know it.
He begins to look at my passport and then asks about particular visas
in it and why have I come to India. It is like some kind of test. He
is a prickly man, used to getting precise answers to his questions.
After a long flight, however, this is the last thing I need. I just
want to go to bed and be left alone. But the short fat guy is in a world
of his own. His is one of bureaucracy, intrusion, regulations, and tedium.
Mine is one of jet-lag and impatience. He has his minions running around
doing various checks on my passport.
"What is your purpose in arriving in India?
"How long are you wanting to stay?"
"Which hotel in Calcutta are you staying in?"
"Why are you coming to Calcutta?
An almost endless display of officialdom and petty power exercised through
the guise of pointless questions - all asked using the continuous tense
as is the way when a lot of Indians speak English - we are having a
business her; I am wanting to ask you something; it is looking very
good - "ing", "ing" and more "ings".
But this guy cannot help himself. Just like a guy on the street, he
has a natural curiosity about Westerners and their strange ways. Sometimes
I get the impression that many Indians are obsessed with sexual habits
- my sexual habits! They appear to have grasped the notion that we Westerners
engage in something called "free sex". What free sex is in
actuality, I have no idea. But too many seem to have spun their own
web of fantasy out of it; free sex, in their opinion, being a perpetual
orgy indulged in by virtually every man and woman in the West. Sex,
at the drop of a hat. Apparently, if a Western man has been talking
to a Western woman whom he has met for the first time only five minutes
ago, then it is customary for him to ask if she wants sex with him at
a time and place convenient to her. It really is that simple! If only
it was. The rules to courtship, dating and mating can be quite complex,
but to the casual observer who knows little about it, they rules are
non-existent, or at least, simple - free and easy. And, the immorality
of the West can be seen anywhere in India. A European man and woman
who strike up a conversation for the first time in a restaurant. How
can a man talk to a woman he doesnt even know? And the next time
he appears, he is hanging out with and talking to a different woman
whom he hardly knows!
Anyway, sex almost inevitably enters this guy's mind. He begins to fluctuate
between the arrogant official and the friendly friend. His barking tone
gives way to,
"Can I ask you a personal question", said in a hushed, almost
So the "Are you married?" question is asked, followed by an
"official" question, followed by another personal one.
"Tell me sir, if you are not married, then what do you do to relieve
This is not the first time that I have been asked such a question in
India - but from such a high ranking official......the place never ceases
I trot out the usual stuff about marriage in the West, girlfriends,
relationships and so on. Even the use of condoms enters the conversation.
I might as well be from a different world judging by the look on his
face. I'm from Planet Earth, he's from Planet India.
This guy is annoying. I try to throw him off guard and change the tone
"Is anything wrong?" I ask.
He smiles, gives a head wobble, and assures me that there is not. Then
he continues on his merry way. He seems less interested if I am a heroin
smuggler or on the wanted list, and more concerned with my private life.
Eventually, I get through the passport and immigration stuff and head
to the money changer desk in the airport. I change three hundred pounds.
The money changer counts each note, checking each one. He counts them
and recounts them. Then he pulls open a draw containing bundles of rupee
notes. He counts then and recounts them. Counting, checking, recounting
and rechecking. The whole thing takes an age. Then the usual happens.
He puts industrial strength staples into each wad. Not one per wad -
but three. Each wad is the size of a brick. I carry the wads over to
a seat to count them. Then I try to pull out the staples. No chance.
They are heavy duty staples. So I return to the money changer and request
that he removes the staples. He looks puzzled but obliges. The futility
of it all. Now I am left with piles of tatty, filthy bacteria-ridden
notes full of new staple holes to go with the old staple holes. Indian
money! People will accept notes full of holes, but if there is the
slightest tear on the edge, then they can be near impossible to get
So off I go, heading into town weighted down with wads of thread bare
rupee notes. I end up on Sudder Street, near New Market and check into
a lodge. After filling in this form, that form, and another form, I
put my stuff in my newly acquired flea-pit and head to a bar for a Kingfisher.
It is the middle of the day, but the room is dark and dreary. The place
is empty, except for a two miserable looking members of staff. I ask
for a beer. Now they both look even more miserable. I am a total inconvenience.
The ethos of the place must be "the customer is a a damn nuisance".
One of them opens a wooden drawer. He pulls out a key. The key is used
to open a cupboard from which he acquires another key. This second key
is then handed to the other man and is taken over to the fridge. He
unlocks it and takes out a bottle. You would think that these guys are
dealing in diamonds or gold bars. It is a major operation, requiring
the tactical precision of two men. When I eventually get my hands on
the bottle, there is only the slightest hint of coldness. As usual,
I find the bottle is slightly chilled, while the beer inside is at room
temperature. I always get the impression that in Indian bars the fridge
must only get switched on when a customer enters, or else is only there
for decorative purposes - it does not work. Maybe bartenders think that
the beer will somehow magically turn cold. I dont know. I have
given up thinking about beer. I have given up thinking about fridges,
staples, and form-filling. The whole country gets by, so who am I to
question things. I have also given up trying to apply any form of rational
logic to much of what I see. I flew in on a 747, and I'm still flying
high on India. It is all a mystery. Absolute magic!
© Colin Todhunter 2003
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Tale of Two Women
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man in India
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of Net access in India
of Motorcycle Maintenance
was adamant - the world functioned like a motorbike
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They spend their lives waiting
Festival of Lights
Waiting for India
Colin Dines out
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