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August 19, 2008

Arriving in Bangalore

Filed under: India, social change — neosurya @ 04:18

The day was uneventful, but very nice. The airport was very efficient – there were 20 immigration counters and it was done in about 2 minutes. There was no special line for Indian citizen and other people. In US, you have separate lanes categorized into citizen, green-card holders, immigrants, and asylum seekers. The baggage arrived right on time. Large, nice trolleys with brakes were available free of charge. I had to pay three dollars at the Portland airport for a luggage trolley, and the elevator was broken there. In Bangalore, an airport rep was available at baggage claim to help passengers with loading.

I had four large bags; the customs guys asked me for a valuation. I was not carrying anything of a real value except for one computer and was expecting that it would be waived because you are allowed one laptop. I only had this computer, a five year old camera and a two year old camera. And there was also the Transfer of Residence (TR) law – When one has been outside the country for more than two years and is returning for employment, duty on household goods is waived.

The customs person asked me for the contents a carton box I was carrying. It was my desktop computer. They looked at me like I was some kind of an idiot to lug a box around. The look almost meant: “Dude, you should be able to buy a computer in India. I have seen laptops before but this is lame.” I agreed with him, but it had all my data on it, and it would have been difficult to get hard disks alone. It is a pain to re-assemble and get everything to work nicely. Also, about 8 years back, I knew exactly where you could purchase good computer parts in India but now I had no clue. He then said duty bharnaa hogaa. I pointed out the TR case; I was returning to India after 8 years for employment. They informed me that TR can be availed of only once – I was shipping some of my material from the USA and would have been able to avail of it either at the in-land port, or at the airport, not both times. I did not know this rule, but it seemed like a lame rule; it takes about 3 months for shipping to arrive. It is difficult not to be without a computer and some essential belongings for so long.

Now came the valuation part; I had assembled the computer myself about a year ago, and did not have receipts for the same; but it was definitely less than the allowed duty-free amount of Rs 25,000. I also offered that they open up and verify the contents to see the value. They were not really interested in doing that – the state of my luggage did tell them that the contents would be quite lukkha J. The customs person asked me for a valuation and I said maybe around 5-600 dollars. They quipped that combined with the cameras the value could be more, maybe around Rs 30,000. I kind of agreed, but pointed out that these were all really old and that you are allowed one camera and camcorder in any case. I was told I would have to pay duty on about Rs 5,000. I decided, oh well – let us pay up, but as a last-ditch effort showed them how old the cameras really were. They kind of shrugged and decided that I was a pretty reasonable dude. They figured it would be best if we did not include the cameras in valuation and put it down as Rs. 24000. The whole process took about 10 minutes, and the customs people seemed very reasonable. This was a significant improvement over my first experience at Bombay in 2002. I was a student then, and was returning after 1.5 years. I had significantly lesser luggage at that time, but the customs guys took me into a corner and clearly asked for ghoos. They agreed that a valuation was not necessary, but to enter my motherland, I had to give them something for chaai pani.

Compared to that pothole, this was a freeway. In fact, except for my first visit to Bombay, all my trips to India had been very smooth. I had traveled through Bangalore once before and twice from Hyderabad. I was stopped by customs only once, and even then they let me off after examining the goods. These folks asked me additional questions, but they were only doing their duty.

I came outside into the lobby area; the new Bangalore airport is a nice steel, glass, and concrete structure. I could see everything going on outside and the sense of space was awesome. It was very neat and people were very informative. Not that you needed information, there were nice boards in three languages. I looked around for an STD/ISD booth; there was none. I asked and the guys said, “That counter, coin-phone sir”. He pointed out a couple of yellow colored coin-drop phones. The counter itself was for something else, two ladies sitting behind computer screens. The boxes were operated by AirTel and it said – “Lift phone. Put coins. Dial number.” I had to call home and let my wife, parents, and brother know that I had arrived in one piece; Two STDs and one ISD. BTW, the box only accepted one rupee coins. I dial a number and get 20 seconds to talk to Hyderabad. “Namaste Mavaiyyagarau. Aaa hello Prakash, jeravaa safe gaa”; put a coin, “Yaa, smooth gaa cheranu, anta cool.” Put a coin. “Tell Jyostna, please call my parents antaa…”. Run out of coins. “Kulasaa kada” was spoken into a blank phone. This was not working. Got some change from the lady behind the counter. Her main job was something else, but she did give me the change. I asked if ISD would work, she smiles and says – “It works sir, but only four seconds per rupee. Sorry sir, but we do not work for AirTel. No manual booth here.” Great!!! J The standard STD/ISD booth was so much better. It did not look as nice as the yellow box, and the operators were sometimes grumpy. However, it was better than the yellow box in some aspects.

I got out of the lobby; there was a nice steel structure where chauffers were leaning with placards for visitors. Two or three large driveways were available for loading and unloading. I saw a placard that read Dr. Surya, HP Labs. The chauffer was in a nice white uniform, better dressed than me. How I hate to wear formals and especially tuck a shirt; it is totally inappropriate for the climate. Right now the weather was pleasant, but this guy probably has to wear the uniform through summer. He took my trolley, got me to the car. Chevy Malibu; Nice. Wood finish; Very nice. J

I get to the guest house. It is a 4 bed duplex bungalow with very nice people. Yes people; for most corporates and countries are the most important assets. Gajendar, Rajesh, and two another chaps. All four were from Bhubhaneshwar, Orissa.

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