A rather adventurous journey is what I had on the way back from Helsinki to Delhi. I managed to somehow pack, stuff and run to the airport. In spite of my deepest desires to try out driving in Finland, I refused my Finnish colleagues offer to drive his car till the airport. At that time, all I wanted was putting an end to this business of getting back and I certainly didn’t want to take any risks. At the airport, the female who was assigned to me for check in was a completely different experience than what I had so far experienced when interacting with the Finnish. She was so rude that I began to doubt if she was Finnish at all. She was also adamant that I somehow reduce 3Kgs from my baggage or pay (gulp) 108 euros for excess baggage. Eventually when no amount of coaxing worked and there were just 20 minutes to take off time, I lightened my shoulder bag by taking out my handycam and putting it on my shoulder, and putting the smaller Canon camera I had, inside it and checked in the shoulder bag. In my rush, I forgot that it was a mere shoulder bag that I had checked in, with no locks, and an expensive camera inside. But it was too late to make amends. As soon as I got inside the plane (the last person to board), I contacted the air hostess, and explained the situ. She initially told me that nothing was possible, that things would be anyhow safe, but I know Indian airports better than they do. To cut a long story short, I had to take a risk and eventually, she talked to the pilot, who telexed the airport at Munich (where I had to change my flights), informed them that my luggage had to be offloaded instead of what was planned earlier, I had to check out, lock my bags etc, check in again in a short span of time, and board the continuing flight. In that bid, I hardly got time to acknowledge to myself that I was eventually leaving that place that had been home for such a long time. It still didn’t sink in, but when the plane took off, it did appear infinitely saddening. Eventually I dozed off, which was bound to happen,after spending those late nights, packing or checking out the night life. Suddenly I woke up with a start to lots of Finnish being spoken around me and I somehow got the feeling that I was in my living room (in the apartment I had in Helsinki) and had dozed off while watching TV. With another start, I realised, that this feeling of reality was also false and that I was in a plane where the passengers were speaking in Finnish. I dozed off again. This time I woke up to a kid in the front seat staring at me like anything. I guess staring has that power of making itself felt. I managed to raise a sleepy eyebrow and dozed off again, this time to be woken up by the air hostess telling me that Munich airport was nearing and that I had better be ready for the drill.
Lady luck eventually smiled on me that day, I eventually got my luggage (there was a chance that it would never turn up there), took out my camera, locked my shoulder bag with the extra lock I happened to have, and re-checked in. Phew. I was given to understand that the feeling that I was on my way back to India would eventually start coming in once I took the connecting flight to Delhi. No such thing happened. The crowd was less Indian, more German (could be due to Lufthansa’s relatively new flights in the Munich-Delhi sector). I was still thanking the air hostess in German. The so called Indian meal was still pretty European. With so many flights that I had hopped into, in the recent past, this flight hardly seemed different. In due course of time, I borrowed an Indian mag from an Indian lady. When I started reading it, all things Indian still leapt out at me – The model on the cover, the word “India”. Within two hours of reading all stuff Indian, I got fully soaked in the Indian experience, and eventually got the feeling that I had never left India in the first place! By the time it got to my normal time to sleep (around 1:30 am), it was already early morning in India! After several months I saw the sunrise and a vibrant sky. I felt as if I had never left Delhi in the first place. My Finland sojourn seemed like a distant dream.
I expected some culture shock to last for at least a week, since last time I got back from Japan after a stint of less than 2 months, it took me at least 3-4 days to get used to “the India that I imagined and the India that I saw”. This time I expected it to last much longer. Again, no such thing happened. The airport seemed much cleaner than the last time when I had been quite shocked at seeing paan stains all over the walls of an international airport, the place smelling like a urinal. But this time, the day I landed was bright and clear. The noise and the smells didn’t disturb me like I expected. The only thing that took me aback was the way ppl were driving (including my dad)- haphazard and too close for comfort. Walking down a street in the evening, where again the noise didnt bother me surprisingly, I soaked in the “aroma” experience and distinctly began making some good use of my olfactory senses. The smell of the winter evening breeze, the peanuts being roasted, the local stall preparing aaloo tikki, another one preparing ginger tea, the parks letting out their leafy smell, the balloon vendor smelling of helium, the smell of “raat kee raani” as I passed some of it, all filled me with much joy. But before I realised it, this got too much for my unprepared olfactory senses and I had a bout of allergic sneezes. This was a sureshot indication that I had “arrived”.