After a long flight that was largely uneventful my mom and I arrive at Mumbai International airport. It is my first visit to India, and the start of 6 weeks of travelling.
Not quite knowing what to expect, we walk down a maroon carpeted hallway. The air is musty and moist and we’re the only foreigners in sight. Although, waiting in the nearby departures hall, you could make out a number of pale faces waiting for their flights out of this bustling and confusing city.
Almost immediately we are faced with our first encounter with Indian bureaucracy. During the short stopover in Dubai, I decided to buy myself a netbook (an HP Mini) to drag around the country with me. Stupidly, I kept it in its big snazzy box and thought it would be fine to simply waltz through the “nothing to declare line” as it wasn’t very expensive. Not to be. A stern looking uniformed officer quickly notices the Dubai duty free packet…. and now we’re in trouble.
It seems as though I am going to have to pay duties. Back and forth we go, “How much I ask,” “Mmm” says the serious officer, “Rs12000” (about R2000). My heart sinks. The wonderful savings from buying the netbook at Dubai were fading fast.
Sigh. So I say “How does that work?” The officer tries to show me some sums on a piece of paper. But I am still somewhat lost. Apparently you can bring in Rs8000. So he deducts the 8000 from my total and calculates 36% duties. “Oh dear,” I say, “I will have to draw money.” So off I scamper to the ATM while my mother waits behind. And while I struggle to figure out the touch screen ATM – it took me a very long time to figure out it was a touch screen – she starts chatting to a senior female officer.
When I eventually return, the entire tone has changed. Now the officer is suddenly asking questions, “Where you staying?”, “Are you mother and daughter?” Yes we say. And suddenly, with a subtle and gentle nod, the officer waves us through.
And off we go! Cultural introduction no.1 complete – nothing is set in stone in India. In fact, wherever you go in India, people will tell you “Anything is possible in India.”