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When I die, I'm going to end up in hell. I'm at peace with this, actually. My eternal sojourn ('Hell' sounds so negative, how about 'Dallas in August?') will be richly deserved because I take improper enjoyment out of the cultural oddities I come across during my travels.
I remember the proud-as-a-peacock Japanese tourist I saw strutting in Paris with "I'm a Cool Dud!" boldly printed across the front of his homemade T-shirt. Taking him to the side and saying, "Son, the word is 'Dude'" would have been Christian Instead, I had a howler of a laugh.
I felt that India might be equally interesting and as I walked through the Delhi airport my wicked entertainment didn't take long to find.
"New Works in Progress!" optimistically and inaccurately announced a sign in the entrance hall.. To its side, the five requisite clocks displaying the time in different parts of the world were hung. Or should I say four. Moscow had fallen off.
In an adjoining (gloomy) room another sign announced "Better Lighting Arrangements Coming Soon...Because You Deserve a Brighter Smile." I liked the sound of that, having lost many of my teeth during my college-era soccer career.
There's probably no-one more deserving of a brighter smile than I, but how was better fluorescent lighting going to stop me looking like a hockey player?
I was then stopped at the sight of a sign so large that it ran the entire width of the wall above the immigration official's booths below. Every nation warns you of the things you aren't allowed to bring into the country, like guns, bombs and atomic bombs. India seems to have different priorities.
"Not Allowed Into India!" the sign announced, listing about 40 items, the first of which was "Fruits and vegetables." This struck me as odd. Are apples and celery the number one threat to India's security?
Evidently, because "Dry fruits and nuts" was second on the list, highlighted in red to give it specific import. I know it's the old copywriter in me surfacing, but couldn't they have saved time and space by writing "No fruits, vegetables or nuts?" Did this mean "fresh" nuts were ok? How about "dried" vegetables?, why are they allowed in but not dried fruit?
"Cut flowers" was item number three, and prohibition number four banned "Ornamental Foliage Plants."
Number five on the no-no list was "Cotton." All cotton evidently. I wondered what would happen to people who favored the wearing of natural materials. Would they be forced to disrobe on the spot and hand over the offending item? I had always heard India was a bit prudish when it came to that sort of thing
Number six on the list, and I stifled a laugh when I read it, was "Live Insects." Seriously, who has insects, alive or dead, on their person? Or in their luggage? An entomologist perhaps? But how many of those could there be? Though, given the number of bugs I saw in India, perhaps more than one would think.
Number seven was a howler: "Quarantine Pests." Could this be a mispelling? Did they mean pets instead? But one wants pets to be quarantined. And if they meant pests after all, one wonders why they would be quarantined rather than destroyed.
The line moved so rapidly that I wasn't able to finish the list. I only got as far as number eight, which stated that "Grams" were forbidden. Great, European systems of measurement aren't allowed into India. I had none with me, so the immigration officer passed me through with an indifferent wave.
Nagendra and his wife were waiting for me in the next room. They'd brought an assistant along, a smallish man who instantly lunged for my suitcase and tore it from my hand. "Thank you," I said, not sure if he was being nice or mugging me.
I followed the three of them outside where a furnace-like blast of heat hit me flush in the face. My knees buckled. I had difficulty following Nagendra in the press of the crowd as hundreds of people surrounded me, pushed on me, leaned on me. They were all perspiring profusely
Dogs slept in the road. Sacred cows walked by. People used the parking lot as a manufacturing facility, weaving, welding, whittling. Trash was everywhere.
There was bedlam. There was confusion. I was in India. My adventure was beginning.