On my first day in Mumbai, I got a taste of both cruelty and kindness. The western nations prefer to keep within the predictable territories of VIBGYOR in the rainbow (some even stick to RGB), but India, perhaps because of its incredible diversity, stretches the rainbow well into the zones of infra red and UV. Just as a fluttering saree with all of its different patters, borders, zaris, and colours, India just throws everything at you in one go.
At the Mumbai airport, I got harassed by a customs agent who decided that midnight was a good time to let an exhausted traveller know that the customs laws in India had changed “just now only” and I would have to pay duty on all items I was bringing in. After various acting techniques – assertion, aggression, name dropping, acquiescence, inquisition – I was given a pass by the agent’s manager. Laws change fluidly from person to person in India, defying any fundamentals of viscosity or thermodynamics.
Having escaped the customs agent, I relaxed for a minute. A minute too soon. Just as I was leaving the airport, the guard requested me for some funds in order to let me pass. I had to look on incredulously, make some small talk about my suitcases, and keep walking out by which time it was too late for him to detain me.
So much for the negative stuff. Here’s something positive that can happen only in India. I went to a Pizza Hut near my office to pick up some dinner. The store runs like a restaurant with service on steroids. Three people greeted me as I entered, each one more polite than the next. Rather than ordering a pizza, I decided to get healthy and have some simple pasta.Once I ordered, I was made to sit on a comfortable sofa and wait. Because I was in a hurry, the order went from a 15 minute wait to under 10 minutes. While I was waiting, I noticed that customers would ring a large bell, the kind that hangs in Hindu temples, just as they exited. One rang the bell if one enjoyed the meal.
When my food arrived, all packed and ready to go, I noticed there was no cutlery in the bag. It truns out that PH does not provide cutlery for delivery. It’s probably a good thing because it saves the world some plastic trash. But, unlike pizzas, I could not eat pasta with my hands. I explained the situation patiently to them, and the logic that had escaped them was now inescapable. After a few minutes of consternation and harried discussion amongst the staff, the manager came out and personally gave me some of the restaurant silverware to take with me. I was very impressed, and touched by the kindness of these people. They were keen that I not not only buy their food, but that I eat it.
I can’t imagine such a thing happening in New York, even less so in London where it would be completely against policy.
I rang the bell, twice, as I left.
And one other thing – I asked my friend where I should buy an umbrella. He answered the question very simply – he handed me his top of the line umbrella that he was carrying with him at the time.
It’s good to be back in India.