It’s finally Sunday afternoon and and Daegan and I get off the bus and pass through the doors of Pearson International Airport. And instantly something seems different from my usual visits there. No, it’s not just that I’m going left instead of right – toward the US. There’s a sound and it’s growing louder as we get closer. Finally we are close enough to see: It’s a large group of Hasidic Jewish men – maybe 30-40 in a large circle, singing, clapping, dancing and jumping. The crowd is split, half are enjoying it, and the other half is pretending it doesn’t exist. We are among the first. But our excitement is carrying us further to the check-in counter and through security. Before we know it we’ve been loaded up in to a 747 on a 6:10 PM flight to Amsterdam.
Well, we are told it is a 747, but I’m not sure. It may well be a tardis because a little over six hours later we are landing and it’s now morning and the sun is coming up only about 6-7 hours after we saw it set. But hey, it’s 7:00 AM and so we go for breakfast.
Poffertjes are tiny pancakes made in small cast iron molds. They’re served with powdered sugar and I added some nutella and a few jams. We had already had a large meal at the airport and another dinner on the plane so this was about all we could do.
Well fed, we wander the airport. I’m reminded of toddlers – or at least Daegan – who, faced with exhaustion, refuse to actually sleep and instead resort to endless movement to keep from falling asleep. Daegan, being Daegan (also known as the cat whisperer) makes a new friend. Looking back, this might be the first sign of surreality creeping in.
Finally, it catches up with us and we go sit near the gate and wait for our flight to Mumbai. I read and doze and Daegan draws. Before long the plane is boarding. Or no, it’s another tardis.
This flight is more surreal. I doze as much as I can but can’t really sleep. Daegan sleeps from about Romania until we’re nearly over Tehran. More food is brought to us. First comes dinner – a large meal of rice, shahi paneer, dal, yogurt, and a couple of rotis followed by tea/coffee. Worried I’m going to get a caffeine withdrawal headache I have a coffee. I wake up and read more, then Daegan wakes up and we spar at bowling on the in-flight entertainment system. I’m about as good at bowling on the computer as I am in real life and Daegan wins with neither of us topping 100. More food is brought – this time a vegetarian wrap that I think was TVP (nutrela) and was quite good. And then a few minutes later it was followed by ice cream. Finally the time comes and we’ve landed in Mumbai. We’re both getting pretty tired by this point. Meanwhile the tardis has done its thing again. Seven and a half hours have passed but now our flight that left at 11AM is now landing just after midnight. All told, our Monday appears to have lasted about 14 hours. My brain is twisting trying to figure out what time is. Not what time it is but what time is.
Our flight to Delhi leaves just before 3:00 AM – about 3 hours later and we make our way to immigration. We’ve already got our visas processed so we need only check in, get fingerprints and photos taken and passports stamped. We walk through the halls and finally enter the immigration area. There’s a huge line for general immigration and visa holders, another smaller line for people who are in wheelchairs. Finally we come to the line for e-visa holders.
This is nothing like the worst I’ve seen at Toronto. This line goes in to a snaking line that eventually goes to the kiosks at the far left and out to baggage claim. We slowly move from the “tail” of the line where we are in to the line itself. Then we see a second line that appears to be much shorter but is only served by two kiosks. We debate on changing and finally think we have nothing to lose. We leave the line and go to the shorter line. Which promptly seems to stop. Our flight now leaves in less than an hour. A man and his daughter are panicking in front of us. He’s on the flight we’re on and has friends meeting him to pick him up in Delhi. He goes to the front of the line and tells them he’s got to go. They are unsympathetic. We all are told we have to wait. Behind me a boy of about 6 from England politely but firmly tells his dad that he needs a drink and will likely die if he doesn’t get one. His dad tells him there’s nothing he can do. He understands but asks a couple more times just in case he might be able to encourage creativity in his dad. But it’s no good. We’re all stuck in the line. He moves on to fantasy, telling his dad about the water he would have. “And you can have what you usually have, dad. What will you have, Dad?” Dad responds with a bit of a laugh and says “A stiff drink.” He is also likely to miss his flight also.
The line inches forward and finally we get to the front. We look back at the big snaking line and see some of our line-mates from there with a long wait ahead of them still. We’d made the right choice. But it hasn’t helped. We have our visas now but we haven’t made our flight.
We pick up our bags just before the airline staff was going to be taking them away and then go to get transfers. Here the chaos of India begins with people pushing, carts going in all directions, and only the merest suggestion of lines. Still, we manage and are told we have a choice: We can split on to two flights – Daegan on one at 8AM and me on one at 1PM. I imagine us, neither with working cell phones getting split across two cities in India and I asked when we could get on one together. If we wait until 3PM I can get on a flight together. It may be 12 hours later but what can we do. We are ticketed and given vouchers for breakfast and lunch. By “Vouchers” I mean that the ticket agent wrote “Sorry, Breakfast & Lunch – Punajb Grill” on our tickets.
By now it is close to 4AM and we are really tired. We make our way through security and in to the airport proper. It’s a dazzling bunch of stores that could rival any shopping mall. We wander the airport looking for something comfortable. Finally, we come across a dimly lit gate area where nobody is and settle in to seats.
Quiet Carnatic music is playing and we make our best efforts at sleeping. It isn’t the most comfortable space. The chairs have low backs so you can’t lean back, and they have hard armrests between so it isn’t easy to lean to the side. Still, we manage…
After a bit we wake up and decide to walk more. Much of the area has museum exhibits from around the country – interesting combinations of past and present and it is all a bit surreal. We both wonder if this is what it is like to be on drugs. Still, it is really beautiful and we wander and look appreciatively at everything.
We laugh at ourselves for having no idea what time it is, and for being so tired and disoriented. “Time no longer has meaning.” we say to each other more than once. We amuse ourselves by sending Sage a photo postcard and laugh at how dazed and confused we look.
We find another spot with more comfy chairs shaped like hooves. We rest our necks in the cloven part of the hoof and put our feet up and watch a TV show where the actor from 50 Shades of Grey is being interviewed.
Finally we decide that maybe we should have breakfast. We head on over and order some. Daegan gets a masala omelette and masala chai. I choose one of my favourites: channa bhatura and am glad to find myself back somewhere that the food is served with a pile of sliced red onions.
As we walk out of the restaurant we see one of our comrades from the lineup with his wife. It’s 6:00 AM and he’s finally getting his stiff drink. His son is nowhere to be seen and I hope that he has survived his lack of water. Fortunately, but also strangely, we see him again, by himself at the other end of the mall in the play area. I think to myself that I’m a bit nervous about losing my 19 year old son in India but this family seems OK with just letting their 6 year old go off and play. “Just stay in the play area and don’t talk to anyone.” I imagine them saying.
After that we go to Starbucks and I get a bit of coffee. Time to start aligning myself with the time zone. I get a nice strong Americano and begin enjoying it. In an apparent nod to my feeling like I’m living outside of time, the barista has a big misunderstanding of my name and I am rechristened “Kal” – which, in Hindi, can mean either “Yesterday” or “Tomorrow”. (For the curious: how you tell which is based on the tense of the verb in the sentence. Use future tense and it means tomorrow. Use the past tense and it means yesterday. Use it as a name and apparently it means “You have no idea where and when you are.”)
After much more wandering (Google says we got about 10,000 steps in – but who knows how and where it divided our days?) and another meal (vegetarian thalis for both of us) we ended up going to the gate area and boarded our flight for Delhi. We’re not able to sit together but at least we’re on the same flight. I put my earbuds in and fall asleep. I wake up briefly for the takeoff, again for the meal (I’ve eaten so much by this time I ask only for water) and then again as we’re about to land. The nearly two-hour flight has passed in the blink of an eye. Somewhat more rested, we get off the flight and head off in to Delhi and more adventures.