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   Though I have always dreaded entering through Heathrow... (November 19, 1986)

Though I have always dreaded entering through Heathrow. I have never had any problems with the English immigration. Nor have any other Indianswho have been in the same or nearby queues with me.

The immigration official always asks: First, the purpose of your visit: second, how long you intend to stay; third, where you are staying. Then he stamps your passport, hands it to you, and says: “Have a nice stay.”

Next thing, you are picking up your bags, going down the corridors, along the moving pavement, following the arrows - bus, underground, taxi. The train is normally waiting at the platform. You but your ticket, get in, and after a short ride through London suburbia, you are in the heart of the city.

You get down at your destination, Say, it is Gloucester Road, you come out of the underground and bang opposite you is Bailey’s Hotel with Adi Mody smiling at you as if you have just entered the Apollo Bar for a rum-and-water.

Compare this with Sahar.

First of all, all the Indian passengers, are pushing all the other Indian passengers in a rush to get out of the plane. This is not bad manners, this is just a simple precaution that comes with experience. Because at the other end there is the queue at the immigration and it moves very, very slowly and sometimes does not move at all. So, if you do not manage to get out of the aircraft fast enough and get at the top of the queue, you may be there the rest of the night and half of the following day.

Tow of the three immigration checkins may be closed, because the officer in charge may have gone for “chai”, or he may have reported ill, or not reported at all.

Slowly the queue moves. Other passengers in the queue exchange notes with you about how fast it was in Singapore of Frankfurt or even Heathrow. Then, when you are just four places away, the immigration officer glares at a passport, fumes, leafs through the pages, then picks it up and disappears with it into a room some where down the corridor. And he stays disappeared for 20 minutes.

Next, the customs; the red and green channels are just decorations to give a little colour to what must be one of the most drab airport terminals in the world. Because whether you are in red channel or green every person is suspected to be smuggling gold, electronic goods and drugs in three separate secret compartments of his bag.

And if the passenger happens to be some poor labourer who has spent seven years of his life working in some inhospitable oil emirate to save money to buy a small flat at Kandivli, he has had it. He is cross-examined and searched like him name is on the Interpol list.

Then, finally when you come out, there is this problem of taxis. You have to first stand in a queue to get a coupon, then stand in a queue to get a taxi, then wait in the taxi while the taxi-driver goes in to collect the money on you coupon.

 
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