Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Multiply India Visit Day Six, 8 Sept

I paid our hotel bill and went to call Sam and Nathan for breakfast.  We were earlier than the normal hours.  After an initial offer of "just black coffee", we found the serving tables filling up with cereals, fruit dishes, fry-ups and bowls of foreign stuff.  "That's how every breakfast should be., Nathan endorsed.

Our baggage was piled in reception and various smart aviation-looking types were climbing into waiting vehicles.  I fixed the duty manager.  "Where's our 7 o'clock hotel car, for the airport?"  He flustered, flicked through a logbook, and said, "You haven't paid for it."  "Your bill that I paid was just a summary statement."  (I'd had to ask for meals details for our intended travel insurance claim.) I fired, "I hope you're not going to let us down on this."  The charge was 1,380 rupees; yesterday's taxi had been 375.

Cogs whirred.  A whole caste system of door porters, baggage porters, assistant porters, senior porters, door attendants, security attendants and concierges swarmed round the diminutive car boot jostling for the right protocol for who should decide how to load the impossible mountain, who should convey the instruction, who should lift it in, and who should try to close the lid.  I put an end to the pantomime by making it clear that sharing the back seat with a small case was tolerable, but further delay wasn't.  Ah, India.

At Kolkata Domestic Departures, we strode towards the - by now very familiar - Jet counter D.  They were weighing in hand baggage.  I knew we were out of luck.  The tiny lady, with voice to suit, eventually made herself understood that we'd omitted to put the hold luggage through the security scan.  My fault.  Nathan booled over the trolley and came back with the cases duly tie-strapped.  I put my hand case on the belt scales.  Our lady looked as though the shock of seeing 14kg would prove terminal to her fragile constitution.  We tried waving at her the excess baggage receipt from Bangalore, and woeful tales of our missed flight.  She spluttered something from which I picked out 7kg, and we apologised our way to a space where we could repack.

But the cases were tightly strapped and, of course, we had no sharp instruments.  We all got down to 7kg, and re-presented ourselves at the desk.  The three main cases came to 64.7kg in total.  A second heart attack.  She screeched, "I said take out 4kg, I can allow 10."  Not what I'd heard.  Confused about what should now be reduced by 4kg, we were overcome with frustration, and chorused, "Yes, we know we've got to pay for excess: we did yesterday."  "But it will be 20kg, that's 3,000 rupees," she gasped.  "Yea, fine!" Sam burst in.  Then, "Where?"  Of course it was a different counter.

"That's taken an hour," I muttered as we headed for Security check.  This time they were fine with the other two, but insisted that I unpack.  "There's a tube," the front man said.  "No, they're all separate, in this plastic bag," I insisted, meaning toothpaste and insect cream.  Front Man handed the case back to the Screen Watcher to rescan.  He wasn't satisfied.  They bickered.  The bag went through the scan again.  The Screen Watcher lugged my bag over himself and tugged at the contents.  Eventually he found my digital sound recorder, and inside the padded case a pistol grip.  He tossed the contents back into my bag disgustedly, and swung back to his seat without acknowledgement.  I was left to replace the tipped-out heap.

"I wanna do a video diary," Nathan enthused, as we recovered with a cup of coffee.  "This is Greatheart, the man who has repacked his case three times already this morning..."  "And is still beset with impatience, irritation, anger, self pity, annoyance, frustrated sense of consumerist entitlement, and general ill-grace; so has learnt nothing from this carefully weighed trial." I laughed.  Nathan roared and the 'diary' closed.  We threaded down to the Gate area.

I managed to get a phone signal (pace EE), and collected emails.  Sam and Nathan decided an impromptu throw-about with the Frisbee would great.  Twenty minutes later they tumbled back from the stair-well, sweating, but we were no nearer boarding.  They transferred the game to the Departure area and resumed.  The amused desk staff joined in. 

"Oh, no.  Look at that.  It's got propellers!"  Still giddy as schoolboys, they rushed to the front.  The kind assistant yesterday had allocated seats on row 1.  A smart lady pushed past through the open flight deck door.  "Hey, are you the pilot?"  She nodded.  "Wicked!  Can we come and see the cockpit..?"  They jammed through before she could raise objection.

The sky was overcast, and I was disappointed that we missed seeing the Bay of Bengal.  But as we approached Aizawl mist cleared from the distinctive lush green mountainous terrain of Mizoram.  "Hey, it's jungle!  I don't believe it. You didn't tell us this!"  We taxi'd to the terminal building past pretty formal gardens and a prominent white marble cross inscribed "THY KINGDOM COME". Colney, and driver Silas, were delighted and ushered us through the North Eastern Territories permit registration.  He'd previously got the necessary letter of sponsorship all sorted.

The journey from Lengpui airport to Aizawl city is epic.  We passed close to tumbling waterfalls; under overhanging cliffs where a landslip had taken away about a third of the road; across a rickety Bailey Bridge; past small village settlements of hillside houses built on stilts, walled with plaited fibres, and with wooden pig-pens.  And all along butterflies, small tidy groups carrying bibles, prolific bamboo, and ever-changing views as we twisted in and out of the ravines and promontories.  To give an idea, the first sight of Aizawl is some 10km-12km distant, but the road hairpins 28km.

We stopped for petrol.  Sam and Nathan dived down a precipitous hillside flight of steps and somehow got invited into a local home, before Colney had to puff down after them.  Sam had dropped his phone from his pocket, and we had to backtrack to the filling station, or else his "Missus would kill me". 

Colney rang someone at the church, and decided our arrival would be disruptive to their service.
So we headed to Chief Police office to finish the Foreigner Registration process, up yet another steep road.  Along the way Colney explained that he'd always got a mark of zero in his Hindi exam, as he refused to write anything.  Mizos like a good protest, especially against greater integration with the remainder of India.

"I'd be interested to see how many other visitors they've had," I said, as we got out of the Suzuki micro-MPV.  Through the double aspect windows of his office, we could see the steep terraces of pastel buildings and wisps of mist hanging over the invisible valley floor.  The smiling Registrar gave us scraps of paper.  "Your father's name, and your profession, please"  He opened the impressive ledger.  There were just four earlier entries dated 2013.

We ascended ever higher towards Colney's Mission for Christ Centre, and turned into a colourful tidy compound.  His father stepped forward to greet us, then Mapuii, whom Colney married on 11 June.  We smiled at a dozen or so young people who all live in the Mission.  "Tea and something to eat," Colney insisted.  We learnt how to spread butter and pineapple jam with a spoon - a ritual I'd also picked up in Nepal.   On the floor of the large family kitchen was piled a heap of gaudy and unfamiliar fresh vegetables. 

"Come and see your rooms."  Colney announced.  He showed to a first floor wing with a large sitting room, attached bedroom and small bathroom.  A table was set with breakfast cereals, a kettle, tea, cups and spoons.  "Here is for you for any time,"  Colney explained.  The three bedroom windows opened onto a small balcony.  The bathroom featured the ubiquitous (at least in the global world) plastic bucket and jug.  Nathan couldn't resist a comparison with the Kolkata HHI five-star luxury of the previous 24 hours.

Rain began to patter on the corrugated roof, and we began the search for plugs compatible with the power sockets.  EE was offering no connection, even though my phone found six networks.  Colney joined us, and we thrashed out very satisfactory draft programme for conference day one.  I felt again that our visit was going to be important to challenge a very Christian attendance towards the Holy Spirit's urgent word for today. 

At dinner time, Colney patiently explained the dishes: traditional pumpkin leaves, green chillies, mashed potato and red onion, and thick chunks of rice.  As we chatted, Colney quizzed me again about my onward journey to Myanmar and the possibilities for our programme here.  "Ah; I have explained.  Tuesday is a Government ban.  We cannot have this second day."  "Whaddaya mean?" I was alarmed.  "No one is at work, and no buildings are open; all across Mizoram.  Hmmm.  You will not fly Tuesday."  While I struggled to process the significance of being caught in a one-day general strike, and no movement permitted, Colney announced, "Now we have our evening prayer time." 

We joined the lounge where twenty or so young people we sitting around with songbooks and a guitar.  The praise was loud and vigorous.  I was introduced to some of the folks.  One had a farm and processed and bottled lemon juice.  I wondered about a tie-up with Goodness Foods.  An older smartly-dressed gentlemen mentioned that he had been the Minister of Education, and had visited UK three times.  "Give him your flight number," Colney instructed.  "He will see if you are able to fly with Government permission". 

Nathan was well engaged with Ruatmawia, the church secretary, himself 35 and single.  I'd just about hit sensory overload, but had the wit to find a plug for my mosquito burner before I clumsily sent my charging laptop crashing to the floor.  I cleaned my teeth and splashed some water on my face, leaving Nathan teaching two of the young people "I need you my family".   Sam burst into the room with tales of unbelievably noisy crickets, and a moth the size of a starling tapping on the window.  At the airport he'd been dive-bombed by a huge insect with knobbly antennae.

Sleep didn't come easily. I was still worried about Steve, and knew we'd have no news. 

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