I awoke on the 12th at exactly 4:30 in the morning. As soon as the wake-up call was heard, I sat upright. The dread of the past two days kept coming back to me. I said earlier that I discovered myself during this trip. On the very first day of the journey I noticed something interesting about me. While I was home, sleeping in my comfortable bed, even the sound of a canon couldn’t wake me up. It took a great of effort on everyone’s part to wake me up. But as soon as I was away from the homely comfort I was conscious and careful. It happened automatically. In the following days, every wake-up call or alarm I set awoke me without failure. (There was only one event when I woke up late, but that was during the homestay. Will discuss it later.) I also got two calls from Mother and Sister early in the morning.
I took a comforting bath and got ready in my school uniform as I was told. We had to check out from the hotel within 6:30-7:00 a.m. I attached the name tags (once again, pink and the tags were given by Yamaguchi-san the day before) to all my bags. I arrived at the hotel lounge of ABC hotel at 6:20, ten minutes before the reporting time. Presently everyone else started coming to the lounge, dressed in their school uniforms. My mother arrived there shortly and she gave me some important things. She told me that my mobile was still uncertain but hope was not lost. Rohit Uncle was going to try his best. I had no hopes then. I had a photo-session with my supervisors and team-mates. When I look at the photos now, I feel ashamed as I looked so nervous, so idiotic then. I was so nervous about everything then that I didn’t even realise that I was nervous. As instructed, we kept the hand-carry luggage with ourselves and brought the check-in luggage separately to the bus.
Meanwhile, I saw the gentleman who tried to frighten me the day before once again trying his best to scare others.
I had a quiet breakfast from 7:15 to 7:45. I remember drinking orange juice and bread for breakfast. Mother went away for this mobile stuff. I had my pen, writing pad and folder (the one I got the day before) ready and went to DEF Hotel (where the orientation session was to begin from 8:30) beside ABC Hotel. It began at the correct time, following the Japanese tradition of punctuality. At the orientation session members of JICE gave us an outline of the culture and education of the country we were about to visit. They also let us know some important things about visiting Japan. I had already memorised some Japanese phrases like “Ohayō gozaimasu” (“Good morning”), “Arigatō gozaimasu” (“Thank you very much”), “Dō itashimashite” (“You are welcome”) and Konnichiwa (“Hello/ Good afternoon”). It was a great session. Meanwhile, we were given Embarkation/ Disembarkation cards and I duly filled them out.
There was an hour’s break at 11:30. All the 18 team-mates and the Indian supervisors sat together. We discussed about our cultural programmes in Japan. I told them the song I was going to sing: Kothaao Aamaar Haariye Jaawaar. (At first, I though I’d sing Ei Aakashe Aamaar Mukti but decided do sing the other one.)
During this break Mr Shukla (who was our travel coordinator in India) came to me and asked if I was Upamanyu Moitra. He told me that someone came to meet me outside the conference hall. I was pretty sure that it was Mother but it wasn’t. It was someone else I didn’t know. He, um, came from a company which gave international mobiles on rental. He was there with a fat envelope clutched in his hands. He showed me the handset and demonstrated how to turn it on and make a call to India and charge it. I was getting a mobile, at last! It was immensely relieving. I started becoming happy once again.
There was another session coming up. Some government officials came there to send us off. The send-off party was great. I had a brilliant lunch and started making new friends. After the send-off party I got a new envelope from JICE. It had some fantastic documents about Japan. There was a paper-weight as well. My bag was on the verge of being overweight. Then I started worrying once again. Another thing made me worry even more. I found that my camera was not working with the batteries I had bought before. I had a dozen of such batteries. And the camera was showing “Change the Batteries” the moment I turned it on. It was the biggest put-off at the beginning of the journey. It was the best reason to make me unhappy. The fact that I could not take pictures of Japan during the trip was more unsettling than that I didn’t have a phone. At that point, I thought I couldn’t have a perfect journey anyway. (Can you believe that I really borrowed some of my friends’ batteries to take photos? But that was before I used my only pair of rechargeables and thankfully there was a friend who had a charger. My trip would’ve been a monumental disaster had I not taken the rechargeable ones.)
My mother arrived at the end of the send-off party. I was in a bad mood because of the batteries. She had little time to go and buy another set of batteries as we were soon going to the airport. You’ll laugh at what I did next. As soon as I saw her I gave her the paperweight from the envelope (I kept the other things with me) and asked her to take it away with her to Kolkata. Even she grinned. I freshened up a bit. We were going to take a bus (which had Saga group) to the airport. I called home for the last time before leaving India.
The students of the Saga Group formed a queue at the lounge of DEF Hotel. I stood there and soon realised what was going to happen. I had lived elsewhere for competitions without my family around to support me several times in the past for some competitions. But I was leaving my country for the first time in my life (I discount a trip to a neighbouring country in my childhood as I was only 1 year old) and that too, without my family. I was going with complete strangers. (Of course, the people we ere going with took extreme care of us.) What would happen, I thought.
I went inside the bus with excitement (of going abroad without anyone I knew), apprehension (for the very same reason) and an unknown feeling which was slowly enveloping me. I bade adieu to my mother from the bus (she, I believe, was having almost the same feeling) and that was the last time I saw her before my first foreign trip. She said she’d try and see me off at the airport (more on that later).
But all unpleasant feelings vanished as soon as I was on the bus. It was only excitement and excitement. We were given our passports and e-tickets. I was sitting on the bus with anticipation building in my heart.
Soon the bus entered the International Terminal of Indira Gandhi International Airport. I held my red carry-on bad tightly. The bus slowed down and finally stopped to offer me a view of the terminal. I got down from the bus and got myself a trolley. I loaded my luggage onto it. I could sense my excitement reaching a fever pitch. We entered. My baggage was X-rayed. (All this detailing may seem meaningless to you. But it means a lot to me. I am reliving every moment for the first time by writing. It’s more of a personal pleasure.) I approached the counter of Japan Airlines (that was the airline we were travelling). The lady at the counter confirmed my meal preference. To my happiness I saw that my luggage was underweight by four kilos. I was told by a probably misinformed friend (or probably not) that we couldn’t choose our seats in the aircraft. So I didn’t care to check the seat plan and was given a seat. (All about it in the in-flight experience.)
I went ahead and did the security check and submitted my passport and embarkation card at the counter. The gentleman sitting at the counter was very polite to me. After everything was over, it was all about waiting for two hours and a half. I kept my bag on a seat and went roaming about the airport. I was incredibly thirsty then. I could find no water filter or anything around. (The airport was undergoing a facelift then.) After a very long search, I found water which was very, very cold. It was a very long and boring wait. I took out my camera once again and tried in vain to make it work. The batteries! It added to my frustration. I was also disappointed that I couldn’t bid a proper goodbye to my mother as I was in a hurry to get on the bus. Suddenly a lady (who, I suppose, was a member of the ground staff) came searching for me and gave me a number to dial. I was amazed and dialled the number from a nearby phone booth. I found my mother on the other end. Her mobile was out of charge. She arrived in the airport too late because of bad traffic and couldn’t meet me as I was within the security belt. But the security personnel at IGI Airport understood her problem and they tried their best to let her talk to me over the phone. The telephonic goodbye was short, simple and a proper one.
Only after I hung up (and talked to her for the last time) did I feel once again that I was going to leave my country. I can’t describe what I felt then. It was a feeling altogether new to me. No, I wasn’t feeling homesick. But it was something like exasperation which might have arisen out of the anxiety and difficulty I faced during the past 48 hours. I guess I may have felt what everyone feels about leaving the comfort zone of one’s own country. (It’s another thing that the country I was going to was an excellent place to be in.)
As 7:30 p.m. slowly approached every kind of unpleasant feelings (different from the ones described above) invaded my mind for no reason at all. The boarding call was finally announced. At that point, my mind was completely blank. We formed a queue once again. One by one, everyone started entering the aircraft. I had my passport and boarding pass ready.
At long last, I entered the plane.