Actually, the notes are not early. They’re late. Late by about 19 years now, will be exactly 19 years late on the 2nd of June 2016. Yes, you are very correct in your maths. I arrived in the great country of Canada on the 2nd of June, 1997. ( Sorry. I wrote this when the post was titled “Early Notes”. I forgot to edit this. I saw it later and felt obliged to offer some explanation and not leave you mystified.. How nice of me, no?)
Before I left Calcutta, I inquired about taking some foreign exchange with me. The Reserve Bank of India was stingy about people taking foreign exchange with them. I was directed to the American Express office, where the clerk looked at my requisition and asked “How much do you need?”
“How much can I get?”
“Show me your passport and visa.”
I did. He opened up the folded Immigration Visa. Folded it back.
“500 bucks in USD. That’s all you are entitled to take with you.”
“You kidding me? It’s my money! Why can’t I take my own money with me?”
“RBI rules. Sorry bud.”
“Oh! OK, give me what you can.”
Appropriate forms were filled out. Rubber stamps went on my passport and 30 minutes later I had USD 500 in my pocket. All the money I was allowed to take with me to start my new life in a strange, cold land. A rather cold start to my immigration story.
At the airport, I found out I was eligible for a further USD 50, so I changed my INR for USD 50, bringing the total amount of cash I was carrying to a whopping USD550. I was booked on an Air India flight to Toronto; a barnstorming flight, as we shall see. An Airbus A310 left Calcutta on the 1st of June, at 8:30 in the evening with me on board. It landed in Mumbai about 2.5 hours later. I was off loaded into a transit lounge in prep for the plane that would take me to London, UK and onwards to Toronto, ON. I took the time to visit the washroom, receive my boarding pass for the onward flight and headed down to the exit to the gates. This is where the uniformed, gun carrying dudes at the gate stopped me and asked me to show my boarding pass. I did so. They stiffened up and became alert.
“How did you get here?”, they asked.
“On a plane from Calcutta. I’m on my way…”, he cut me off.
“Answer my question! How did you reach this gate?”, he was inistent.
“I told you. I came on the flight from Calcutta and they offloaded me into this lounge.”
“Ok. So you came from Calcutta?”
“But how did you get into this lounge?”
“I told you.”
“Who let you into this lounge?”
“The airline folks did. There was no other way to go except into this lounge.”
“Wait here. Do NOT wander off. I need to talk to my supervisor.”
He nodded at his companion, who took up a position of alertness. An intense conversation ensued over his walkie talkie and 2 minutes later, the supervisor showed up. My friend showed him my boarding pass. Supe looked at, flipped it over looked at the other side. Flipped it over. Held it up to the light. Peered at it again. Then he looked me in the eye and asked his first question.
“How did you get here?”
I took a deep breath; repeated my story.. flight from Calcutta.. on to London, Toronto..
He was unimpressed.
“You cannot have this boarding pass and claim that you came from Calcutta and are enroute to London and Toronto. It is impossible. So how did you get in here?”
I felt like a gold fish in a bowl. “Hey look! A security guard!”
He saw my bemused expression.
“Look,”, he said, “your boarding pass is not a normal boarding pass. If you were a genuine transit passenger it would have a big bold T printed here.”
I looked at it. He was right. The T was missing.
“Where did you get this boarding pass?”
“At the Air India counter. Over there. I pointed behind me.”
“Come with me.”
I walked over with him to the Air India counter, where the lovely lady in the Air India sari was reaching for the phone. She replaced it as we came up to her.
The supe showed her my boarding pass.
“Oh, good,” she said, “I was just going to page you, Mr Sharma! We gave you the wrong boarding pass.”
She took my pass, tore it up, reached under her desk and gave me a new one. This one had a nice bold T printed on it.
Just past midnight, I was on the plane, foreign bound.
Sort of. For the plane headed off to New Delhi, where we were not allowed to get off. Some more passengers entered. Finally, around 5:30am we took off for London on an Air India 747-400. Around 8am, about 12 hours after I had left Calcutta, I left Indian airspace for the first time as an immigrant.
Immigrant Tales will continue. Same batty blog, same batty writer. Come back and read as I recount every hour of the journey to London, the off and on trek through the lounge there and the landing in Toronto.