Monday, 11 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: In India 1

The sound of heavy raindrops hitting the window-panes awoke me on the 11th. For a fleeting moment, I came close to feeling cheerful. But as soon as the memory of the previous day started flooding my mind, the happy feeling was driven off. It was Sunday. No mobile shops were open nearby. I had to report to a hotel (let’s call it ABC Hotel, it’s a very, very famous one) at 2 p.m. So Mother and I decided against searching for mobile shops in the morning. Mother said she’d search for international connections in the evening after my reporting.

I remember seeing a particularly grotesque episode of a horror serial on TV before we departed from the hotel. It was pure schlock (or grindhouse kind of serial) being shown on TV in the name of “family entertainment”.

The day went on smoothly. At about 1 p.m. we departed from the hotel with my suitcase and my new handbag. I wasn’t going to be interrogated by the police. I wasn’t going to take an examination. I wasn’t going to meet my enemies. I wasn’t going to perform on stage. Nor was I going to perform a deadly stunt. But I could sense the knot in my stomach for some reason unknown to me. What’s going to happen, I thought.

We entered ABC Hotel with two monsters of a baggage. We saw the board of JENESYS or Japan – East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths. (Oh my, my! I almost forgot to name the excellent programme for which I was going to Japan. It was managed by JICE or Japan International Cooperation Center, the great organisation.) I saw some Indians and Japanese sitting on three tables in the lounge. I could feel the knot in my stomach even more clearly. I was nervous as anything. I went to a table and the Japanese lady sitting on the table told me locate my name on a list nearby. I went there. To my immense relief, I could see “Upamanyu Moitra” on the list under a pink banner and the words “Saga Group” were at the top of the list. Then I went to table again and the Japanese lady introduced herself as Yamaguchi(whom I called Yamaguchi-san), a JICE coordinator who would be head of the Saga Group. I was selected to go to Saga Prefecture. I was so nervous that I was almost trembling. She assured me that there was no reason to be nervous by smiling at me gently. She is a great person.

Then Yamaguchi-san asked me my nickname and wanted to know about my food preference. She gave me a folder which contained my identity card (it had a pink ribbon, signifying our group. You’ll see photos me in future posts with that identity card.) It also contained an introduction of Japan and details of our tour (I was relieved to see that the airline allowed check-in luggage up to 20 kg and carry-on luggage up to 10 kg) and the day’s schedule. There was also a questionnaire where I had to write down my knowledge of Japan. This was slightly comforting as I was somewhat familiar with the culture of Japan. I filled the form duly and submitted it right there.

Now I must talk about a gentleman who nearly frightened me to death. I don’t know who he was or what his part in this programme was. He told me that my new handbag was too large to be allowed in the aircraft. I almost lost my senses when my mother firmly replied that we arrived in Delhi with a larger bag. The nasty, malicious smile vanished instantly from his face and he went off to another direction.

I guess this confused, nervous expression on my face somewhat affected my image among my prospective friends. It’s another thing that I was able to change this image while in Japan.

Now I was informed of something which blew my mind. An international mobile company was right there at the hotel lounge and – surprise, surprise – it was providing mobile connections with a handset on rental. I was at the top of the world again, only to be taken down once more. Mother and I approached the gentleman representing the company. Everything was ready. There was just one hitch. They would not accept cash for deposit. Nor would they accept a debit card. They could only be paid by credit card. Again, the ball was out of my court. Mother’s credit card had expired just a month ago. But she had ten times the required amount (in cash) in her purse. So what could we possibly do? The gentleman suggested that we could use some relative’s credit card. But we had no relative in New Delhi. On hearing that, he told us that if we had someone in Kolkata we could use his/her card. I gave up the thought of getting a mobile phone once again. Father was out of town. Not knowing what to do, we phoned Rohit Uncle. He readily agreed to send the details of his card to be used for this but that was not possible on that since … well, it was a Sunday. Only when he was in his office, could he send the details. I could get a mobile only on the day I was boarding the flight to Japan.

I was totally exasperated, annoyed and … you know what I could be going through at the moment. Then I came to the counter once again and met my roommates. I’d like to say something important here. I’ll not be using the names of my team-mates as I don’t know if they’ll approve their names appearing here. I’ve nothing but good things to say about them. So don’t think that I’ll not be using their names so that I can hurl insults at them. I will use some nicknames which will be funny but they are not meant to make fun of them.

However I was introduced to my roommates who will be referred to as the Wise Brother (he is very intelligent and has a genuinely brotherly concern, thus this name) and the Silent Boy (he is very shy of speaking to anyone, he’d never speak a work unless he’s spoken to, but he is a good-natured guy and I was lucky to have such roommates). We went to our room (no. 270) and for the first time in the day I heaved a sigh. We chatted up and knew where everyone was from. I looked at the list of the 18 team-mates in the Saga Group and I was happy to know that I was the only Bengali from Kolkata. We’d be having dinner at 7 p.m. Meanwhile I weighed my bag once again and it seemed to be overweight as there was a change in its contents.

Mother arrived in the room with photocopies of some important documents. The photocopies done at a nearby place cost her twenty times – yes, you read that correctly – twenty times as much as the normal rate. I told her that my luggage was possibly overweight. We considered decreasing the contents of the baggage, but there was a friend in need. The Wise Guy’s baggage was way below the limit of weight and he agreed to carry some of my things at once at my mother’s proposal. To this day, I remain grateful to him for such a lovely gesture.

Mother told me that the mobile was not arranged yet. The following day would be defining. 7 p.m. came faster than I imagined. The three of us went to the dining room. I wished Mother Goodnight and she went to her hotel. She would come early in the morning on the following day. In that state of confusedness and nervousness I entered the dining room and met the rest 15 of the team. I had my dinner and met everyone (the team of 18 was comprised of 9 girls and 9 boys). (I’ve just thought a name for another one in our group: Grawp. I couldn’t resist that, sorry; but I won’t explain the reason behind the name. I haven’t really decided the other names. I’ll disclose them in future posts. OK, here’s another name: Football Fanatic Guy.) Grawp and the Football Fanatic Guy were really nice to me when I approached them. The Football Fanatic Guy turned out to be as much a Potter fan as me and had an unusual sense of humour. I also met the other students of my group. I made friends with people who were going to other Prefectures. Some of them were really very, very nice. And some … well, let’s not get into that. Let’s say that this “some” epitomised exactly what’s wrong with the youth of India today. If this kind of youth is really the “deciding factor” in the General Elections, I am afraid of the fate of my country. Thankfully, nobody, yes nobody in our group was like them.

After dinner, there was an introductory meeting with our group leaders. We were officially introduced to each other. Our group leaders, Mamata Ma’am, Rajendra Sir (two of the Indian representatives) and Yamaguchi-san are some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I can never express my gratitude to them enough. Our meeting began with a fun game. We had to describe ourselves with a word which started with the first letter of our first name. I could find no words to describe myself. All kind of weird words like “universal”, “ubiquitous”, “├╝ber-cool” started invading my mind. When my turn came, I said, ‘Unusual.’

Then we were told what we had to do in Japan. I knew it somewhat. I had to represent my culture and country. I had also prepared some speeches to deliver. But I was told that we had sing songs. It was completely unexpected. I had not prepared any such song. My voice was broken and dreadful then. It was decided that we’d sing some songs in chorus. We’d also sing some songs individually. There had to be some regional songs to represent the spirit of India: unity in diversity. I instantly decided that I’d sing a Tagore song. We were also told to prepare some speeches (I had already prepared one but sadly, I could not deliver my speech throughout the trip. My other friends were chosen. But I was one of the three who sang solo songs. So I don’t regret not delivering speeches.) We were also told a few important things. There would be a briefing session on the organisers’ part the following day. We went to our rooms. We were supposed to go to bed at 10:30 p.m.

I set a wake-up call for me at 4:30 a.m. though we were told to wake up at 5:30. The knot in my stomach had loosened a bit. I was in my bed with only one thought (which was similar to what I felt the night before): what will I feel after 24 hours? And I thought no more …

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