Monday, January 28, 2013

The White Devil!

This is a sequel to my experience with one of the wonders of nature, the snow, while I was in London for an assignment. If you’ve not read that before, I suggest you read ‘The White Wonder’ first.
It was almost a month since I reached Thame. Finally the day has arrived for me to say goodbye to the little town that was sleeping like a baby under the thick white blanket of snow. My bags were all packed and the taxi was arranged well in advance. I had asked Atif to keep my bills ready so that I can check out as soon as the taxi arrives. He was the Pakistani receptionist, who by then had become a good friend of mine with all the playing in snow which brought out the child within both of us.
The flight was late in the evening at 20:00 hours and I was planning to visit two of my dearest friends first before heading to the airport. Though there was a snow prediction in the news yesterday I was positive about reaching the airport if I started well in advance and catch the flight home and hence planned it so well; at least that’s what I thought!
After almost an hour of waiting for the taxi I called the driver to check the status. The response I got did generate a few smileys with question marks. He informed me that he is still half way from London with traffic moving at a pace worse than a sloth with all the snow piled up on the roads! He was doubtful of making it to the hotel and advised me to look out for some local taxis. Though I could feel a slight panic rising in the corners of my mind, my optimism never left me and was determined to put my plan to action.
I checked with Atif about the possibility of hiring a local taxi. He flung into action and called a few cabs around the area. I must’ve been looking at him so intently that I was sure the cabbie on the other end of the phone realized the distressed situation I’m in. One after the other, they all said they were not going to take out their cars in this crazy weather. I glanced at the door and could see the snow fall getting even worse. The white wonder now seems to have developed two little horns and I saw an evil grin that appeared to tell me, ‘Did you say that you have planned everything?’
Someone around told me to try the alternate modes of transport. After all I am in a country which believes in providing all modes of possible transport to its citizens. Atif checked the availability of train for me though the question of reaching the railway station remained unanswered. The response was no different since the rails were all covered in snow and the locomotives obviously won’t operate. Buses were anyways ruled out though we tried to check if at least one service is on. The cruel hands of pessimism were steadily approaching me.
I was almost in tears. Missing our first wedding anniversary due to this assignment was already a deeply inflicted pain. The possibility of not making it to home on time for Christmas hung above my head as the sword of Damocles. I must truly appreciate Atif for totally empathizing with me. He couldn’t stand my torture anymore and made some quick phone calls. He finally broke the good news to me that a friend of his has agreed to take me on his car on a condition that Atif should accompany him since he didn’t want to be stranded on the snow covered motorways.
There was absolutely no need for a Pakistani guy who works as a receptionist at one of the budget hotel branches in a little town forty kilometers from London to accompany an Indian fellow who is stuck at the hotel and is desperately trying to get to the airport to reach home on time for Christmas! I fully learned the meaning of the proverb that day, ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’.
In an hour’s time I was at London Heathrow airport with Atif helping me unload my bags. He wished me good luck with my flight and prayed for a safe journey back home. I promised that I’ll send him the pictures of the good times we had in the snow as soon as I reached home. With the airport in sight and guessing that my aircraft was parked a few feet from the terminal building where I stood, the little white devil didn’t seem to be that hostile after all. Four days from this moment when I look back I could see that the little devil was just playing around with his mother who was sleeping besides him and will soon wake up to make my life as dreadful as it could get!
Approaching the door to the terminal I could see a large crowd trying to get inside. The security guards at the gate were shouting back at the group. There was chaos everywhere. No one was allowed in, citing the reason that the terminal is full and hardly any flights are leaving. I didn’t know what to do. I finally got to know that the Emirates flight I was to take back home via Dubai was also cancelled and the airport itself is closed down due to heavy snow. The only option now is to wait till the airport opens up and the flights are back on track, literally.  
I spoke to my friend whom I could not meet among all these confusion. He promptly asked me to catch the next available metro at ‘The Underground’, the world famous transit system that connects every corner of the City of London. The best part was since the trains travel under the ground on four levels designed more than a hundred years ago, it is untouched by the white devil that now poses a great threat to my Christmas plans!
The next three days were destined to be one of the most testing times in my life. I had to take the metro everyday and even walk some distance in the weather that made me think that I am living inside a freezer, to reach the local office of Emirates Airlines requesting a ticket to get back home before it is too late for Christmas. Things were made worse with my company unable to support since the airlines was handling the situation directly and the travel agents had no access to its tickets. Add on to it the fact that the airlines’ call centre phone lines were never answered and that left me with no choice but to visit the local office on a daily basis. If it wasn’t for the love and care showered upon me by this special couple I would’ve gone totally mad with all that were happening around me! They will always have a very special place in my heart till my last breath. Relationships like these are built to last a life time!
Frequent exposure to the extreme climate made me fall sick. I didn’t care about the rising temperature since all what I wanted was to reach home and get a warm hug from my sweetheart whose prayers I was sure God couldn’t just ignore! My flight to Dubai can be termed as a ‘flight of hope’. The earnest hope of being reunited with my family after such a harrowing time is unexplainable. I was eager to get on to a connecting flight to Kochi on reaching Dubai. The news that welcomed me there made me feel that the devil managed to find a seat along with me on the flight from London to Dubai! I was to wait for 17 long hours to get a connection flight to India! The last nail on the coffin came in the form of an update that the flight to Kochi is only available on the 26th of December! The only option left for me was to fly to Bangalore. It was less than 48 hours to Christmas Eve. I informed my better half to catch a bus and reach Bangalore on 24 December when my flight is expected to touch down at Bengaluru International Airport.
After spending the worst 17 hours of my life with mercury in the thermometer burning from my body heat, I finally boarded the flight to Bangalore for my last leg of this traumatic journey on the wee hours of 24 December. Breakfast was served and was followed by some other refreshments as well. The otherwise delicious food tasted totally flavorless to me. All what I kept on asking the cabin crew is for glasses of hot water which helped me remain sane throughout the flight. I have never longed so much for a journey to end.
The delight experienced by a person when he sees the world outside after being jailed for a long time is what I felt when the captain of the flight announced that we have entered the air space of Bangalore! Soon, the tires of that Boeing 777 will kiss the runway and I was getting ready to inhale the air of freedom. My beloved would’ve reached the city as well and I was so looking forward for our reunion and the celebration of Christmas that was to follow.
The speakers in that Economy class cracked with the captain’s voice again. I couldn’t believe my ears! As if being tested at an alien nation with almost knee deep snow which threatened to derail the entire plans, to be with my sweetheart for Christmas was not enough. The captain said, the flight could not land in Bangalore due to heavy fog and hence was rerouted to Chennai! I felt like a lone stranded sailor who almost died being in the rough seas for days together, finally spotting an island and almost kissed the beach realizing the next moment that he was being sucked in by the island itself which was made of nothing but quicksand!
I was sinking deep into the quicksand and was almost getting ready to bury the optimist barely alive in me. A few plans came to my mind including taking a train from Chennai to Bangalore or even a taxi all the way. The flight landed at Chennai airport and even before people started taking out their hand baggage another announcement came stating that we are not disembarking there and will wait for a while to see if the situation in Bangalore improves. Meanwhile I informed my dearest wife about the situation and asked her to standby till there is an update.
Till date I do not know what happened. Perhaps it is our prayers or the super power that controls all that happens around us got tired of playing games with us, the flight took off to Bangalore after two hours and landed safely with a few hours left before Christ was born!
Tail End: Couple of years went by and I am dreading the day when my son will come to me with a demand to have a vacation in a country where he could play with me in the snow!

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