Wednesday, 10 November 2010

When Murphy and I met. Face to Face.

06 November 2010.
10 00 hours,
Pearson International Airport,
Toronto, Canada.

The Plan:

12 hour direct flight from Toronto to Delhi.
Land in Delhi at 11 00 hrs on 07 November 2010.
Make the connecting flight to Bombay at 12 40 hrs.
Reach home by 17 00 hrs.
Go out for a quiet dinner and return in time to see Chelsea whip Liverpool.

What actually happened:

After the best week of my life in Cuba I was all ready to fly back to India to resume my studies after a well deserved vacation. I was saying my final goodbyes to my parents when my dad told me that if I would care to walk back a few metres and deposit the trolley in the designated area, I would get back 25 cents of the 2 dollars I paid for the trolley. So I walked backed and pushed the trolley past a red line as instructed and waited for my 25 cents. When I checked I found 2 25 cents coins lying in the collection box. I smiled and returned back with my new loot. Little did I know at that time that I had used up the last bit of my luck.

Half way through my flight.
Some point over the Atlantic.

I had adjusted the time in my watch to the Indian standard time. I knew I had to sleep in the flight else I would be badly jet lagged when I reached India. I was almost drifting into peaceful slumber, when the captain announced that we needed to fasten our seat belts as the plane was experiencing turbulent weather. And some turbulence it was. Never ever have I experienced turbulence of this kind. In fact it was so bad that at one point I was almost thrown off my seat. That frightened the hell out of me. For a moment I thought that that air ride would be my last. Sitting in the plane which was shivering like a naked eskimo in Alaska, I began to review my life. The good deeds. The bad deeds. They all flashed before my mind. It didn't take me too long to decide that this wasn't the best time to die. I promised myself that I would do all it takes to get out of this situation alive and for the first time I even located the life jacket in the plane.

But within half an hour, the situation was under control. The turbulence had ceased and so had my fears. I realised that there was no way I could get sleep and was resigned to the fact that I'd have to spend the next two days in Mumbai getting rid of my jet lag. I browsed through the in flight entertainment of Air India and decided to watch Badmaash Company. That was the best movie on offer. Half way into the movie, the captain makes an announcement that the flight would make a halt at Stockholm as one of the passengers was critical.

At once I knew that there was no way I would make the 12:40 connection at Delhi. Even if the Delhi flight was late by an hour I wouldn't manage to make it. The next flight to Mumbai was at five in the evening. I would have no option but to take that flight.

Stockholm, Sweden

We landed at Stockholm at some unearthly hour. The airport was absolutely deserted. But no sooner had the flight landed, did the paramedics come and take the patient to the nearest hospital. Apparently the 80 year old guy had had one drink too many and the turbulent weather had made him puke and he was feeling claustrophobic. All my sympathies towards him vanished. We were stuck in Sweden for another three hours. When the flight finally took off the captain announced that we were flying 2 hours behind schedule, which meant we would land in Delhi at around 13:15 hours. Considering that my connection was also an Air India flight, I still had some hope of making it. I crossed my fingers and continued watching the movie.

13 20 hours.
07 November, 2010.
Indira Gandhi International Airport,
Terminal 3,

As soon as the flight door opened, I ran out like a maniac and reached the transfer desk. They told me that my connecting flight had been delayed and I could still make it. I was issued fresh boarding cards and was told to proceed to Gate 19. Even though I was in such a hurry, I still managed to notice the stunning interiors of the new terminal. Once in the aircraft I thanked the stars and heaved a sigh of relief. I began reading Jeffrey Archer and waited for the flight to take off.

AI 181,
Delhi Airport.
16 00 hours

The passengers in the plane start making a fuss now. It has been five hours since they have been seated in the plane. They start shouting anti Air India slogans and about half the passengers left the aircraft and moved towards the gate. They started protesting there and managed to break a couple of glass doors in the terminal. The reason for the delay was the fact that the air space was shut because Obama had landed there. After the air space opened, there weren't enough staff at the airport to hand over the flight plan to the captain. My otherwise calm sister asked the air hostess as to why the passengers weren't informed that the delay was not Air India's fault. After all loyalty towards the national carrier runs in our veins. Finally the captain himself had to go and get the flight plan.

18 10 hours.
IGI Airport runway,

Five and a half hours after its scheduled departure the flight took off. I was pretty sure that my second connecting flight at five thirty had also taken off before this one. I wondered whether I would even make it in time to watch the second half of the Chelsea Liverpool match.

20 20 hours.
Mumbai International Airport.

My sister and I were the only people left waiting for our baggage. Half an hour had passed and not one of my four bags had arrived. Finally the conveyor belt stopped moving. And we headed towards the lost luggage counter. With a lump down my throat I filled in the details and descriptions of my missing bags. Three hard case strollers which had my entire wardrobe and about 2% of my sister's wardrobe. And the fourth bag was a carton containing my 10 foot Christmas tree.

23 00 hours.
The Francis' residence

I reached home and immediately switched on the television. I had made it just in time to see the final score. Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool. I wasn't surprised one bit. It was that kinda day.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Curious Case of the Cuban Currency

Most of the facts listed below have been picked up from my conversations with the locals and tour guides that I met with during my trip to Cuba. So I cannot vouch for their authenticity. But I managed to double check most of the facts, thanks to Google!

~ Cuba has two official currencies : the peso and the convertible peso, commonly known as local and tourist currency respectively. Luxury items and tourist items like souvenirs, rum, cigars, tour packages, boarding and lodging expenses are to be paid in the convertible peso. The local peso is used for groceries, provisions and other daily needs. The convertible peso came into existence because the Cuban government wanted a currency in Cuba which was stronger than the dollar and could be used by the tourists instead of the dollar. So one convertible peso is pegged at 1.08 USD irrespective of the current demand for the greenback. Cuba is also probably the only country in which the Canadian dollar is worth more than the American dollar!

~ The Republic of Cuba consists of several archipelagos and the island of Cuba is the largest island in one of the archipelagos.

~ Hurricanes are a common feature in Cuba and the island nation witnesses an average of two hurricanes every year. Which is why tall buildings are a rarity in Cuba. In the city of Matansas, there are just three buildings which are more than two storey high!

~ Matansas gets its name from the Spanish word for 'massacre'. In the 16th century some Spaniards wanted to cross the bay of Matansas (which obviously wasn't called that then). They asked some natives to help them cross the rivers. The natives had a grudge against the Spaniards because of the cruel way in which they treated them. So when the boats were midway, the natives turned them over. The Spaniards were dressed in metal armor and so all but three drowned immediately. The three who survived were found seven years later of which just one was mentally stable to recount the incident!

~ 50% of the total number of Cuban tourists are from Canada.

~ Healthcare is totally covered by the government including plastic surgery!

~ I spent an entire week in Cuba and visited four cities, but I never came across a single beggar. That is because every person in Cuba is given basic necessities like rice, oil, beans and the likes at a nominal rate 35 pesos every month, which works out to $1.50.

~ In the 16th century, Cuba was inhabited by around 100,000 natives. When the Spaniards invaded Cuba, they bought along diseases from Europe which led to an epidemic and within 50 years there were just 5,000 natives left.

~ Cuba's statue of liberty as can be seen alongside was erected in 1898 when Cubans got independence from the Spaniards. This independence was short lived though as in 1902 Cuba became a neo colony of the USA.

~ Cuba has 100% literacy. Education in Cuba is absolutely free and the Government sponsors everything from fees to stationery and school uniform. Education till the ninth grade is a must for every Cuban. If a parent fails to send his/her child to school, then the parent is imprisoned! After the ninth grade the Government on the basis of merit and taking into considering the preferences of the student, decides which student takes up what course during his pre university (10-12) and university (13-17,18) studies.

~ Cuban cigars are world famous. That should not come as a surprise considering the fact that most of the workers in the cigar industry are women. Cuba produces 150,000 cigars a day, most of which are exported to various countries other than the United States. If Cuba decides to export to the US, then America by itself would consume 60% of Cuba's cigars sending the price up by 35-40% for at least 2 years, by which time the supply curve can catch up with its demand counterpart.

~ Cuban citizens cannot leave the country unless they get special permission as well as a letter of invitation from a citizen of the country they intend to visit. This procedure is rather tedious and most Cubans have never seen what is on the other side of the immigration counter at their local airport.

~ In Cuba, it is compulsory for everyone to work till retirement age, which is 60 if you're female and 65 if you're male.