Our flight out of India was scheduled for Thursday, May 4 at around 11:30 p.m. Before leaving, we shopped around for some gifts, though we didn’t have room in our luggage to carry too much. We looked at some beautiful carpets – though they were generally too heavy and/or big and/or expensive to purchase.
And we met these two guys who were selling various craft items, and also showing off their singing and rapping skills.
We cleaned out our apartment, with much help from family and friends. We really loved that place:
We packed our suitcases (all 10 of them, plus 5 carry-on bags and a bunch of backpacks):
And said our goodbyes, which was incredibly difficult, and sad:
And we headed to Mumbai in two cars that Fulbright provided, stopping for some exotic Indian McDonald’s food on the way:
We were flying from Mumbai direct to Newark. My parents were staying at a hotel near the Newark airport and coming to pick us up around 6 a.m., when our flight was scheduled to arrive. My (generous) aunt and uncle had arranged for the hotel as well as a car service to take us from the Newark airport to the hotel (thanks Mike and Meredith!). But trouble began when we got in the line at the United ticket counter and handed over our passports. Mumbai airport is almost brand new, and incredibly beautiful – check out these pillars:
One of the United employees noticed that Zak’s visa was expired. He went to talk to the immigration people somewhere else in the airport. We waited:
He came back with bad news. We couldn’t fly out with Zak’s visa expired. No amount of begging, pleading, cajoling, etc. would budge anyone that we talked to. They said we’d have to go to an immigration office in Mumbai the next day (remember, it was close to 11 p.m. at this point) to get it all taken care of. Another issue was that the kids had never been “registered” while we were in India, since there were specific rules that said children under 16 didn’t have to register. But on their visa, it said that they did need to be registered. So this was something we needed to take care of as well.
I started calling people in a panic – I had some Fulbright contacts in Mumbai who contacted other Fulbright people in India. They couldn’t do much for us that night, but were a great help thereafter. And, once it was definite that we weren’t flying out that night, I tried to reach my parents before they headed down to the hotel (with limited success – they found out when they were part way to the hotel) – and also the car service that was going to pick us up (which worked out fine and they rescheduled).
The United people were quite good about arranging a hotel for us that night. It was quite inexpensive, but very high quality (it’s called VITS, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Mumbai – it’s quite close to the airport). This was right after United had been all over the news for dragging a guy off a plane, if you remember that. I don’t know if that contributed to the good treatment we got or not. So we loaded our 15+ pieces of luggage into two vans (provided by United) and headed to a hotel for the night. No biggie. What’s one more day in India? And we got to drive around Mumbai a bit the next day and see some sites – though only from a speeding taxi (for a change I have an excuse for my blurry pictures):
We met up with my Fulbright contact in Mumbai, Sachin (a great help, and a philosopher, I might add) and headed to the Mumbai immigration office:
One of the most important calls I had made the night before was to a student of mine from SPPU who you’ll remember from previous posts – Sukrut. Here we are together the day we left Pune:
Sukrut, through his family, knew some people in the immigration department in Maharashtra. But more importantly, Sukrut possessed a dogged determination to help us in any way possible. He really went above and beyond, and I honestly think if it wasn’t for Sukrut, we might still be in India today. Because, see, the rest of our visas were set to expire quite soon, which would mean getting back on that same immigration merry-go-round again if we didn’t get out of Dodge soon. Thanks to Sukrut, we eventually (by the skin of our teeth) made it.
Anyway, that day it looked like we’d be done in plenty of time to catch a flight that night – United has one 11:30 p.m. direct flight from Mumbai to Newark each day. Zak even wrote some final goodbye letters:
But it wasn’t to be. The immigration official in the Mumbai office told us that in order to take care of the things we needed to take care of, we had to head back to Pune.
Coming up next: Back to Pune
(sorry, that’s the best I could do on short notice)