Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Passage to India

28 hours of airline travel, 20 hours on three flights, 30 hours total travel time, 12 ½ hour time change, two days of airline food with little exercise.

Left John Wayne/Orange County/Santa Ana Airport at 8:10AM on Tuesday, June 16, arrival time in Indira Gandhi Airport 10:45PM on Wednesday June 17. Passport control, swine flu control, baggage claims, customs, arrival at Guest House for total of 30 hours, midnight temperature 100°.

All for 4 full days and nights in New Delhi.

And yet, let’s take a historical perspective. Conquerors and migratory Euro-Asians needed years. The British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese took 6 months in their tiny, rickety, rat and flea infested, moldy, vulnerable, wooden sailing ships. So did the soldiers, merchants, bureaucrats, families, carpet baggers, missionaries, and adventurers who followed.

Now imagine until 150 years ago, no steamships, railroads, or Suez Canal. The land route through Egypt wasn’t that hot, but it certainly was. The British had to sail down Western Europe, cross Gibraltar and the Canary Islands, head west to Brazil (the trade winds), and then proceed along the western African coast until hanging a left at the Cape of Good Hope.

The passengers faced a limited, stale, salty diet, risks of running out of water, violent storms contrasted with still winds, primitive medical provisions, no Tylenol, Advil or aspirin, with a great risk of death on these vessels, all without upgrades, extra leg room or frequent sailing miles, not to mention no GPS.

If lucky, the trip could take 3-5 months, hoping to get to India in time to avoid the monsoons. Of course, with bad luck, the trip could be interminable. The Pilgrims on the Mayflower had a 66 day voyage across the 3,000 mile Atlantic, and managed to land off-track in Provincetown on Cape Cod rather than the Hudson River. The British had 10,000 miles to India.

“Are we there yet” had special significance in the absence of dvd’s, IPods, wifi and the internet.

They lacked deodorants, mouthwash, shots, showers, soap, sunscreen, and toothpaste. None of the modern capitalistic bourgeois decadence of today’s cruise ships for them. They must have been some kind of scurvy lot. Psychological counseling was obviously unavailable. Air conditioning was whatever the wind blew.

They escaped though passports, visas, security checkins, and agricultural inspection stations.

We take for granted the ease of global travel to see families and friends, for business and employment, study abroad, or just checking out exotic locales. The occasional frustrations, disappointments, and cancelled flights are as naught compared to our hardy predecessors.

We’ve all been on flights from hell, stayed in overrated hotels, ate at poor restaurants, been disappointed by arrangements, and ripped off, but so what?

The trip back simply reversed the route for another 30 hours, but with the time on my side, was all on Monday. If I were a practicing attorney I would have taken client files to read on the travels, and billed 30 hours in 6 minute increments in one day. That would make partner at any law firm.

60 hours of travel to give a talk on Friday and visit The Taj Mahal on Saturday – no brainer; I’ll do it again in an instance.

The British, of course, would probably be just embarking on their trip, literally, of a lifetime.

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