I stepped off the plane--one of Jet Airways 111 daily flights to 30 cities-- into India and literally the future about 1 a.m. Feb. 24. Once through immigration, and out into the sudden tropical night and humidity a few minutes later, I could call home, where it was still Feb. 23, 12 hours away.
"Hello from the future," I said.
If one word describes my visit to India, it would be "overwhelmed." I saw only a small--if very populated portion--of this country, and any generalizations are certainly limited. But being overwhelmed by the numbers of people, the sights and sounds and smells added to the feeling of insignificance you get when you view the world from the air. Look down from a plane window at 30,000 or 40,000 feet and mountains and roads and lakes dwindle in importance and impact. Even at 10,000 feet, the houses you see below--the ones that we so treasure as homes and pour thousands of dollars and hours of our lives into--even the big ones costing millions of dollars--look no more than like tiny little toys on a Monopoly board. And when you deplane in a strange place, you know, "What is man that thou art mindful of him?"
Outside the airport were throngs of people holding up signs with people's names and organizations just with eager faces, searching, waiting to meet travelers. No where among the crowds could I find any sign with my name on it. IA few yards away I could hear the constant noise of horns and the lights of cars and more people. Guards in their brown uniforms stood nearby. If I'd moved beyond the gateway, I'd been swallowed by the crowd, lost in anonymity even more that in the lights and my one sure place of comfort...a small space of airport walkway in glaring lights. I knew the plane was early, so I wandered back and forth, searching.
By this time, I'd removed my sport jacket and had it drooped over the single duffel bag that carried everything I had on the trip. Travel light. No checked bags. Just a lone Caucasian hoping for a friendly face.
The crowd thinned after 20 minutes. And then there he was, sign in hand "Terry Clarke," a smiling University student name Rahul who I'd met when he visited UCO last summer, but wasn't sure I remember. Do you know what a relief it is to see a smiling face and a person who remembers you. all of a sudden you're no longer insignificant.
He leads me to a cab, chatting all the way, and I'm immersed in more heat and noise and one of my lasting impressions of India, even at 2 a.m.--Traffic. I've never seen so much...cars, trucks, motorized rickshaws, motorcycles.
The other lasting impression--construction everywhere, the airport, buildings and cranes and bricks everywhere, and even the roads, with poorly lit barriers and closed lanes everywhere. All the time Rahul is asking me questions, chatting, ignoring the traffic and making sure I'm comfortable and feel welcome and at ease. Another impression--the students and people I met were all so gracious and polite, friendly to this rare Caucasian in their midst. There is so much energy in India. In the traffic, it takes another 20 to 30 minutes to travel a few kilometers to the SRM university and hotel. A uniform doorman opens the way, and Iwalk into a dimly lit interior to the waiting reception desk. Rahul talks to them and I hand over my passport and fill out registration forms. Then I'm escorted up “Floor II,” the third floor and down a hall to room 306. Inside, the person with me turns on the window air conditioner and the lights. It's a marble floor, two twin sized beds, bathroom, wardrobe for my clothes, a wooden desk with an electric pot for boiling water for coffee and tea, and a TV that I never figured out how to turn on.
Thoughts of my flight linger in my mind—frozen Chicago, misty Brussels, flying over the Czech Republic, Romania, the Black Sea, Turkey, Russia the Caspian Sea, some of the stans I can’t remember, Iraq and Pakistan. A world of turmoil down there, insignificant down there from 40,000 feet. Steamy Chennai at 2 a.m. Into the future, in more ways than one.
Into the future, photos and video of traffic and media and temples and more.