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Take Breakfast, Not Lunch

Ahmedabad: the custom of customs

It’s quite some feat to be first off the plane and through immigration and the very last passenger to clear customs. The silver lining to this storm cloud is that I get to watch an entire airliner’s worth of passengers negotiate their way out of the airport – busy execs, returning families, the air crew. A plane worth of body language to decipher.

Just wait half an hour the customs said three half hours ago with a smile. And so there I sit.

This isn’t a busy airport – the next flight arriving in Ahmadabad is at 2am from the US and in the intervening hours the airport itself takes a turn to doze. The conveyor belts and x-ray machines are switched off and the hubbub that had echoed across arrivals subsides. Right now – it’s just me, my suspect luggage and a range of uniformed them: customs officials in crisp white uniforms that wouldn’t look out of place on the bridge of the good ship SS Ahmadabad, a gaggle of young immigration officials. One of the weathered security guys in Khaki looks over and acknowledging the time I’ve been sitting here offers his water – and I steady my hand to drink from a full bottle and unsteadily my lips brush the rim.

Ahmedabad: signed, sealed, not delivered

Long haul dog-leg’s are the worst. At some point during the journey you’re going to sleep and no matter how little rest, be compos mentis enough to remember your gear, clear immigration, customs and start the next leg of your journey. Local taxi driver’s are of course renowned for their gentle handling of arriving non-local passengers.

Waking as you come into land is not particularly smart – and the last hour before touching down in Ahmedabad is simply about staying awake, floating in a mental space that is sleep-deprivation-lite. As the plane aligns with the runway my co-pilot Zbigniew Preisner gently glides me into the gate – right now music is my stimulant of choice. In a couple of hours the sun is going to rise over Tokyo and my bio-rhythm energy will kick in but for now I’m down to reserves.

An overly officious bureaucracy and an airport hustle sometimes sit and stare from the same hard bench, their questions certainly start out the same. What are you doing here? How can you prove it? Why do you carry all this equipment? Do you know the local laws? His hand taps a well thumbed copy of the customs rules, ring bound authority. I’m invited into the back office to meet the boss.

The procedure for ‘detaining’ equipment is elaborate to the point of an institutionalised fetish: a sheet with serial numbers of each item of equipment is taped to the case and the white tape signatured; bound by white string; a candle is brought over to heat the red wax and a flourish a seal is applied.

The gear is incarcerated, the first interviews are set up for Sunday. Need bed, shower, sleep. How was your day at the office dear?