I started the new year with my first journey abroad unaccompanied - the most daring act I had ever performed in my life. I have been planning for this particular voyage since last year after I met a young scholar on the social media who had inspired me to travel across the globe.
It was on Wednesday, 25 January when I flew from the town airport boarding the AirAsia flight AK 6433, seated on the 23D hub facing the window, heading towards the Kuala Lumpur International Airport before I took the 1900 hours' D7182 flight soaring my wings to the Indira Ghandi International Airport, India.
It took me afloat in the dark sky for five fretful hours. I was reserved next to a Japanese guy, with 3 kids and his wife, who traveled from Hanoi, Vietnam before boarding to New Delhi from KLIA. I broke the ice and we chatted for a while and I came to learn that he had been to the now well-known Langkawi Island, 15 years back for his honeymoon.
As we rattled on I told him that this was my first solo trip to India and that I had someone waiting to receive me down there and coincidentally this was also his foremost trip to this part of the world. Later on, I was made aware that I was in error about the time of our arrival in Delhi. It was supposed to be at 10 p.m Indian Time not at 7 p.m as I understood- meaning that I would only land at midnight Malaysian Time. Oh dear! My friend was right about the arrival hour then. A few days before I flew, we had argued about this but I insisted that I was accurate and precise about the hour and that he should be there to get me on time at precisely 7.00 in the evening.
I instantly felt guilty and restless and started to jump into conclusions, having all the negative thoughts about the whole situation. My dear friend could have got bored and left the airport because of my miscalculation and I should not hold him responsible for this mistake, as that was my fault. I prayed hard hoping for him to tolerate the long wait and that he could have figured out as I had told him a dozen times on the phone that he must be on the dot otherwise I would not move a single step out of the airport if he was no where to be seen when I landed. As always he was calm and gentle, ensuring me to have faith in him and that he would appear right on time like a hero! Recalling those frequent intimate chats we had , I had the confidence he was a person of his words. I sat back and tried to calm down.
Even so, I actually was enormously worried and it was a long awaiting moment before at last the ship made a smooth touched-down. The Japanese guy was kind enough to assist me as he did putting up and bringing down my hand luggage from the over head compartment. I thanked him repeatedly and we both said farewells and good luck before we moved on. My heart started to beat furiously. I was shivering of nervousness. I could not imagine what would be waiting for me next. Would there be any mistakes, I would be doomed. I had not the slightest idea where I was going at that moment. I couldn't believe this was really happening to me and just how determined I was to come this far. I trailed along with the other passengers towards no where until I came to a dead end. I had lost sight of all the familiar faces I managed to recall on board, even the Japanese man himself was invisible. I slowed down my steps and looked around trying hard not to panic as I did not want to look lost and abandoned. I did not know what I was supposed to do. Everybody was busy, some were seen so focused on writing on the counters, some were queueing up in long lines and they were mostly westerners as well as the Indians themselves - tall and gigantic to my eyes.
Then I spotted a lady wearing a scarf at the counter where everybody was writing something. She looked like an Asian so I approached and greeted her. Yes, she was a Malaysian too. She couldn't give me any assistance to my inquiries as she was also a first-timer there and that she was looking to get an Indian Simcard too when I asked her whether she could direct me to a kiosk or stall for a simcard as I wanted to make a phone call.
I was getting more scary. Then I recalled on how I should react once I got there. My dear friend had reminded me to look for someone to help me make a call to his number. I surveyed and I caught hold of a young Indian boy I saw busy tapping on his phone. I politely interrupted him and asked him a favour to call to the number I gave. He seemed busy making calls too, however, he halted and attended me for a moment, but kept assuring me of no guarantee that the person I was trying to reach would pick up his calls because everybody was busy for it was on the eve of 26 January, a public holiday in conjunction with the Republic Day celebration and I understood he was implying that the whole Indian nation was rejoicing it that night. I recalled my friend making myself clear that the date of my arrival would be a busy day and that there would be traffic jams and lots of securities in the streets. Anyway the young Indian made the call though. He took down the number I gave him and later told me that there was no answer. It was done so hurriedly that I doubted he really dialled the number I mentioned for certain . But I thanked him anyway as I turned white and pale. I could feel my andrenalin rushing through my veins and nerves. I took a deep breath and tried to be focused. Then I decided to approach one of the custom officers who were mingling among the crowds with walkie-talkies in their hands. I asked him where is the T3 Terminal as I recalled my friend's last text stating that he would be there to fetch me, and the officer responded, "Here is the T3 Terminal,".
"Where is the way out?" I added.
" That is the way out!" as he pointed his hand to the left. "Have you filled in the forms?" He questioned. So that was why everybody looked busy at the counters, a declaration form had to be filled and presented to the custom authority before exiting the airport. I told him I had not, as he directed me to the counter bench. I took a form, and started filling in the particulars- my name as written in the passport, DOB and Passport Number. It was lucky that I had saved the image of the booked hotel I was supposed to stay at, which my friend had sent me earlier. He had reserved me a room at a place called Greenpark Garden. I rummaged around for the image in my cell phone while my hands were unstoppingly shivering and that I had my worst handwriting on the form. I had to disclose the address I was staying in India as well as the contact number. Besides, I was to declare and made known the purpose of my visit too and I ticked 'Tourism'. I put down my signature and moved into the queuing.
There were two different counters written e-Tourist and Foreign Passports. I was confused which one to choose, so I just took the nearest lane at the e-Tourist group among the other foreigners. Then suddenly someone in front greeted me in my language. I looked up and he was a guy, from Kuala Lumpur he told me. He was with his wife. He asked me who was with me, and I responded confidently that I was all by myself and that a friend was waiting outside. He had his turn to the custom checkpoint counter but he was directed to the Foreign Passport side as he had taken the wrong lane and that I supposed I was no exception too but I waited to be directed formally. I moved to the other lane and had to wait for another few minutes before my turn came. Meanwhile my mind was loaded with all kinds of unanswered riddles, wired by arguments and uncertainty. I was sweating and almost in tears. What would be the outcome of my situation in this alien land? It was beyond my control and there was no turning back. Then I was signalled to the front desk and clarifications were made successfully as I was allowed to exit but the stern glance of the female custom officer scared me a little. I took for granted that she had sensed and noticed my nervousness which I guessed was clearly shown on my face.
I ushered myself out passing through stores selling colorful goodies and sovenirs while dragging aimlessly my purple luggage bag along. The surrounding was not as hustle and bustle as at KLIA and I felt more distant and remote. My best friend was not there as I imagined - he should be there eyeing to have the first impression of how I would look like, what kind of a person I was and so on. And that I would notice him among the waiting crowds, watching him moving towards me with his long strides and that I would rush to him to feel safe. But he wasn't there. I was almost out of control and emotionally disrupted when I bravely stopped another man and again asking a favour to help me get the number called up. He was cooperative although he seemed in a hurry. He tapped the number and asked me to whom that he was calling. "Yousuf" I sounded short and choking. I was aware that there was someone responding to his call. When he hung up, he told me that my friend was waiting for me outside. Oh thank God! I suddenly felt so light and clear. I took a really deep sigh of relief as I drew in as much oxygen as I could into my lungs. I closed my eyes for a second as I followed the kind man who led me out as he was also heading to the same direction."Where are you travelling from?" I asked him after a few steps. I was feeling more confident then. "I'm from Mumbai" he retaliated as we exited the airport building.
As soon as I was outside, I sensed the cold air as soft breeze blowing onto my face and it was drizzling too and that it made me even freezing inside, however I felt more alive as I breathe in the fresh air. No wonder I was earlier continuously told to take with me a few thick outfits seeing that the temperature was dropping in January as the north winter winds has brought effects of cold air to the regions. The tarred roads were wet and slippery, lined with all kinds of vehicles so different from my usual sight of models of transport back in Malaysia. The building roofs were tall and spacious, brightened up with white florescent lamps giving the effects of shiny glitters to the puddles of rain water. However, the smell of the fresh after-rain air made me feel less stressful and more at ease. The Mumbai man was still ascorting me as I looked around hunting and fishing for that one face.
Then I caught sight a figure- tall and slim looking young hombre, wearing a dark blue jacket standing facing backwards. I was not in doubt that he must be the one I was hunting for. I halted and stood still to reaffirm. Taking a few seconds eyeing him from a distance I was confident and unhesitated that the young dude was the guy- my Kashmiri friend I came here for. As he turned his face a little to the left, I recognized him that very minute even without fully looking at his face. It was him! The one who had made me grew my wings and soared the earth to disembark on this amazing land.
All my fears and nervousness had completely gone. I did not have the perfect phrase to describe how I felt the moment I saw him standing- looking anxiously waiting for my arrival at the loading pavement. It was like a dream come true. My heart started pounding hard once more. I instantly quickened my pace towards him, forgetting to even say thanks to the Mumbai man. There was only one thing on my mind that I wish to do right then. All I wanted was to run into his arms to feel safe and for the first time to come into contact with him physically. I wanted to hold him tightly to break away all the sorrows and the missing feelings I had been enduring for almost a year. I haven't had enough of him only through chatting online. I wanted him alive body and soul.
Confidently I walked up to him and tapped his shoulder. He turned around looking rather surprise and before he could utter anything, I dropped down my luggage and spontaneously put my arms around his neck holding him very closely to my chest and gave him a brisk kiss on his neck. "Im sorry I made you wait for so long," I recalled murmuring my words to him which were barely heard. I was overcome by the feelings that I had not have for a long time. I felt safe and protected. The comfort feeling I had when I was close to him was beyond my expectations. I forgot about the differences and gap between us. I was celebrating the contentment and pleasure I was having right then. I was heedless to his retort towards my manners. What mattered most was, we were finally joint. He spent the whole evening waiting for my arrival and that I took it for granted he was as restless to meet me as I did to him. I tried hard no to spill any silly tears as we looked into each other's eyes for the first time in the dim night light, in the coldness of the Indian ambience.🌷