Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lies, lies, lies

Now that we’re safely out of the country, I can tell you all about how I bribed my way into India.

It starts with Yanik and Andy’s wedding. Days before we left New York for the Chermeo World Tour, I bought a ticket from Delhi to Cancun for their celebration. Vince got me an upgrade. All was awesome.

Nearly five months later, two weeks in India under our belt, Gabe takes me to the airport in Delhi. I manage to get out of the city in one of the last flights before the first major monsoon rain. Awesome.

Yanik and Andy’s wedding. Awesome.

I arrive back in Delhi five days later, pooped. I get to immigration.

Skinny mustached immigration guard: You can’t come in.

Me: Why not?

Mustache: Your visa says you must wait two months. Did you not read your visa?

Me: Hunh. No.

Mustache hands me back my passport, and written across my Indian visa (which I’ve had since February) are the words, “two months must separate any visits in India.”

Me: I’m so sorry! I never looked at it! I was in India with my husband and he’s waiting for me in the airport and I went back to the U.S. for my best friend’s wedding!

Mustache: What?

I repeat myself, and he calls for Senior Immigration Lady, who listens to my plea. “Best friend” gets upgraded to “sister,” as I attempt to play on Indian devotion to family and wedding and tragedy (my poor lonely husband worried about me out in the terminal!).

Senior Lady: Did you not read your visa?

Me: No.

She stares at me, and takes my passport to some back room.

Mustache leers at me for the next 15 minutes.

Senior Lady comes back with a gleeful, malicious look on her face, and I wonder what’s about to happen. She hands me a piece of blank white paper and a pen. She says, “Write down what I say.”

Senior Lady: I have been traveling in India with my husband. My husband is waiting for me in India. We have no business in India. I went back to the United States for a medical emergency. Please grant me a medical emergency visa. I came back to India to meet my husband, who is waiting for me.

I dumbly write down the lie word for word, signing my name, passport and visa number. Never mind that I was actually in Mexico for the past five days, but who’s counting lies now? I fill out a bunch of other medical emergency visa forms, in triplicate, because this is India, and if there aren’t 27 pieces of paper attached, it isn’t official. Mustache stamps me through, and continues to leer.

Senior Lady: Now, can you do a little something for the guards?

I am gripped with anxiety, as I have been visually raped at least 100 times since arriving in India. Sure, Senior Lady that just had me fill out official immigration documents filled with lies. What can I do?

Senior Lady: Can you buy some stuff in duty free? They can’t do it with their passports. You don’t have to pay, we pay.

They pay? Not much of a bribe. Okay, I can do this.

So Mustache ditches his post and the line of travelers waiting at it, and we sprint to the duty free. He whispers a little something to a duty free guy in a pink shirt. Pink Shirt takes me by the arm, grabs a plastic basket, and proceeds to fill it with 6 bottles of Johnnie Walker Black. He dumps me in line, and Mustache hands me a fistful of rupees. A large sign at the register clearly posts that people can buy two bottles of alcohol per passport, in either USD or Euros. Ah, so this is where I get screwed!

The line of 5 people takes 45 minutes, because it is an Indian line, and that’s what Indian lines do. Mustache stands a few feet away, leering and every once in awhile getting approached by another immigration guard. By the time I’m at the front of the line, I have 2 more bottles of scotch in my basket, a measly 500 rupees (around $18) in my hand, and wondering if Gabe has panicked yet.

(I didn’t know that in his spare time, he had flipped through his passport and actually read the visa, and began panicking mildly, and wondering how much the bribe to get me in would cost us. Apparently he decided if the bribe was more than 1,000 rupees he’d boycott the rest of India and we’d go straight to Thailand.)

At the front of the line, a female employee starts telling me I can’t buy that much liquor, when Pink Shirt elbows her aside and pulls another 2 bottles of Johnnie Walker Black from behind the counter. I show him my meager collection of rupees and ask if I can pay by credit card for this now $100 pile of booze. He yells in Hindi to Mustache, who yells in Hindi to some unknown other man, and for the next 10 minutes a relay of rupees makes its way into its hands. Always to my hands – never directly to the cashier 12 inches away from me, which would apparently breach some code of ethics.

Two hours after my flight landed, I hand several plastic bags of Johnnie Walker to Mustache and his friends. He says thank you (!!!!!), and I go find my backpack lying on the floor in baggage claim. I walk out to find a very stinky and very relieved Gabe, who has in this time talked to a security guard who informed him that he shouldn’t start to panic until at least THREE hours after the flight landed.

Namaste, India.

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