Back at Cornell.
Besides getting scammed and led astray in Bombay by hoteliers, policemen, travel guides and rickshaw drivers, I was otherwise busy doing other, more productive things, such as taking lots of good photographs. So I suppose there's a bright side to all situations, even if the bright side costs an arm and a leg... I'll post them after I PhotoShop the drab grey exposures a bit from the never-clearing overcast August skies.
After five days and five nights in Bombay, expecting only one of each, I gave up on the totally non-existent non-rev seating opportunities on Delta's nightly nonstop flight (I was prioritized 47th of 58 stand-bys, and only a few got on every night) and went to a travel agent to buy a full-price ticket. Whom I was surprised to even find, by the way- I personally have never gone to one before, coming of age right around the time Orbitz, Travelocity, and their kind gained dominance and destroyed their niche. It was quite an experience. I felt like the trip back home was really a trip back in time for another reason besides employing a travel agent; upon landing in the US, my phone was dead (I had fried my phone charger beyond functionality in a hotel in Bombay using a bad India --> US converter), so I used a pay phone. Now, I cannot remember the last time I used a pay phone. It may have been to call my mom to pick me up from Lloyd Center Mall, freshman year of high school. As in... ten years ago. As such, I spent five minutes trying to navigate my way around the buttons. Insert coins before or after dialing? Press "1" before area code, or dial like a cell phone? How do you get the digitalized woman to stop talking so I can dial? It didn't help I only had a big wad of rupees in my pocket, so I extracted $200- which comes out in $20s, not quarters. So, after getting change and failing at dialing a few times, having my money munched for getting friends' voicemails (did you know local calls cost, not a quarter, but 75 cents now?!? why WOULD anyone use a payphone? what's the excuse... the rising price of wheat? gas prices? 9/11?) I just fell back on my default- ask the nearest teenage college-bound girl (read: lots of pink luggage on rollers and a sorority shirt) for her cell phone, guessing educatedly they have unlimited minutes. It worked.
After catching a last-minute shuttle to Ithaca that was pulling away just as I got out of the terminal, I arrived halfway through the first day of mediator training at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, with bags in tow and after 24 hours of traveling. The receptionist greeted me cheerfully, "Oh, you're that India guy! Go right on up, they're ready for you." Glad to know I've finally made a name for myself around here.
The most prominent thing I've noticed on my return, from the Syracuse to Ithaca shuttle service ($80 for a 45-minute drive), a taxi's fixed fare for the same ($163), to the food prices around town (recently raised 10% due to the "increased cost of wheat"), was that everything is friggn' expensive. It surely doesn't help that I just completely drained my savings and checking account to pay my tuition and fees this semester. Remembering negotiable 120-160 Rs ($3-4) rickshaw rides covering the same distance and time and laying down $4 max for three-course dinners brings me to my last entry: things I will miss about India.
The things that will likely stick with me longest will not be the breathtaking sights and exotic locales I visited, but the everyday things in India that I have gotten used to and will likely never experience again here in New York or anywhere else. Daily maid service, Bollywood music videos and songs hopelessly stuck in my head, ambiguous Tamil figure-eight head wobbles, smashing open coconuts on the stone bench outside my room (Jungle Book, Mowgli-style), and the consistent meal etiquette (a plate of lemons, onion and cucumber to start off any meal, and to end, warm lemon water to wash up followed by sweetened cumin seeds for mouth-freshening). I will miss random kindness and openness from strangers, eating and living for next to nothing, fresh fruits of every kind for the same, having UNESCO World Heritage sites around every corner (replete with histories always spanning hundreds and sometimes thousands of years further into the past than any American site of the same), and, lastly, being a "sir" to men, women and children alike.
What a trip.