Thursday, July 08, 2010

First report from India/Bangladesh pilgrimage

Heathrow Airport. Wed., July 7, 2010.

Time is starting to slip away. I left Atlanta Hartsfield last night at 11 pm, flew about 8 hours to London Heathrow and arrived around noon GMT. I had an 8 hour layover in London and now it is almost 8 pm. I'm waiting for a 9.25 pm departure on Jet Airways. Then I fly about 8 hours to Mumbai where it is 10 hours later. Imagine the "word problem" in math class: "If Barry wants to go to India and flies thru London, what time will it be when he has dinner 2 days later?"
After arriving at Heathrow I slept for 3-4 hours at a little hotel in the airport. My room was about the size of one of my walk-in closets but was clean and comfortable. I also had a shower. It cost 37 pounds and was worth every pence.
It feels great being back in the UK. I really miss it. I always think about moving here permanently when I visit. I think one thing that holds me back is the fact that Britons no longer dream and dare really big things (eg, the Indian railway system which they built in the 19th century). I think WW1 knocked the wind out of them and they've never quite recovered (although they rallied admirably in WW2). Americans are still capable of big things (eg, the moon missions) and the world today needs bold and determined dreamers.
Last night I felt rather melancholy as I waited for my flight in Atlanta. I realized that I am reluctant to do things that frighten me. I would like to re-capture some of the "derring do" I had 20-30 years ago.
I enjoyed watching the other people in the Heathrow departure lounge. They are the Empire in microcosm. When I sat down there were a young man and young woman sitting behind me speaking a language I did not recognize. However he was clearly "chatting up" the young lady. You don't need to know the language to know what he was saying! To my left was a group of young English "lads." They were dressed somewhat roughly but their accents gave them away. They were not from East London (Cockney) or Liverpool/Leeds (think "The Full Monty"). Instead, their accents were Home Counties (around London) or Cotswolds. They were just slumming.
My flight to Mumbai was aboard Jet Airways, an Indian airline. The plane was beautiful and the service was impeccable. It's the way flying used to be. I greeted the flight attendant at the door of the plane with the traditional Sanskrit greeting "Namaste" (roughly, "I honor the light within you"). She flashed me a bright smile and responded with the traditional gesture - bowing with hands joined in front of her heart. I slept for 3-4 hours during the 8 hour flight and was awakened by a child's piercing shriek. There were several children in my area of the plane and most were well-behaved but there was one child who wailed constantly. He or she would have made Linda Blair's character in "The Exorcist" look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
I arrived in Mumbai (Chatrapati Shivaji International, to be exact). It appears to be a work in progress. In fact, it seems to have been in progress for about 25 years, judging from the age of some of its incomplete sections. As I rode in a taxi to the Mumbai Westin I thought that India appears to be everything I've always heard it to be -- poor, crowded, beautiful, and complex. Two very poor people - one very young and one very old - asked for money as the taxi stopped at lights. I did as I had been told and ignored them but it was painful.
More soon...