It feels as if it was yesterday! It was the Independence Day of 1999. India saw two of its Engineers from Coimbatore leave to the US. They also happened to my best friends.
Destination: America! That was the only thing in all our minds then.
Vasu left on the morning Indian Airlines to Mumbai along with his dad to catch the Delta to New York.
R. S. Puram was at the Coimbatore Airport and a fraction of his family from Srirangam till Dhavenagare too; samples of both genders for all ages were there at the airport. The kids were excited and couldn't wait to see the "Aero plane" and the olds were proudly worried that their grandkid is leaving to America.
Vasu was surrounded with them all. I didn't get a change to shake his hand and wish him good luck. Almost everyone wanted to talk to him at the same time:
"Don't forget to give the Muruku package to my first cousin who lives in Boston"
"Anna email me when you reach there"
"Will it be cold in New York at this month?"
"Call us every month on a specific time, so we will all be present. Email the specific date and time in advance, I will ask papu to check the email at the browsing center"
"All the vaadams and Idli podi are packed in the green suitcase"
"What air lines are you going to go from Mumbai?"
"Did you check all the tickets and passport?"
"My brother in law is the customs officer, call me if you have problems with luggage in Mumbai"
"Hey the flight from Delhi is here, is that the same plane that goes to Mumbai too?"
"Vasu, they are calling for Mumbai passengers"
Well, it was time. Vasu left to the check-in, he gave a brief hug to me and said "Come join us soon there", after all he himself is going to join our old buddy Sathya in New York.
Vasu's mother came to me and asked me to keep coming home like before and not to be a stranger now that Vasu has gone to America.
Vasu & co left. The entire send off happened in less than 2 and 1/2 hours.
I waited there in the airport for Arun & co to arrive for the afternoon flight. One can write an essay on Arun's itinerary: From Coimbatore to Sharjah - flight, from Sharjah to Dubai - Taxi, Dubai to Memphis, from Memphis to Jackson Mississippi, from Jackson to Hattiesburg. That's the itinerary for a first time flier. Hallelujah!
I pretty much knew what to expect during send offs, after all Vasu was the second, we had already sent off Sathya in the same way the year before. So I knew it's going to be same for Arun too.
Arun, his family and Thirunelveli came to the airport.
It was the same routine until he entered the check-in, we all said "Safe Flight", "Good luck", etc., etc., some of his relatives even left. All of a sudden he came back from check-in with a gloomy face and said: " They say I can't go. I don't have Visa for Sharjah!"
No one knew at that time about "Transit Visas" etc., the only source we had was the stupid travels that arranged this ingenious travel itinerary. Well we can't blame those travel agents for not picking up the telephone; after all it was their Independence Day too. They should be watching "Simran's Enaku Pidicha Heros" in SunTV.
All most everyone panicked. We had barely an hour left for the flight to leave Coimbatore. We talked to the customs officers using about ten " Sir"s in one sentence. One customs "Sir" pulled me aside and whispered.
I asked Arun's father how much he has got in his wallet. He had 3 fresh Rs. 500 notes - Mohandas was smiling! we went to the bathroom and placed the rupees note in his passport, came back and gave it to the " Sir".
Problem solved - Jai Hind!
At last, Arun boarded the flight. I still remember how he waved both of his hands from the security check-in to his folks. He left India to chase his American dream. No one at that time even thought about "what if some ' sir' asks for his Visa at Sharjah?"
I came out to see his emotional mother and relatives. It was not a regular send off. We were glad he "some how" boarded the flight.
I came home that day to watch Simran in SunTV and wondered what I should be doing from now so I could be "sent off" next year by my folks. I prayed to Anjeneya and asked one and only thing "Student Visa" so I can go to America, get my M.S(USA) and come back and teach in India. Every time I saw an airplane in the sky I thought about going to US.
It all looks as if it happened yesterday... 8 years have gone by. Arun is completing his PhD this month; he might get married this year. Vasu got married last year, his father passed away 3 years back.
Life is so interesting; 8 years have changed so many things inside-out within us. May be if we knew then, what we know now about life in US, we might have given a second thought about coming to US in student visa. Every time I see an now airplane, I think about Coimbatore airport or should I say CJB?
I remember the prayer that day 8 years ago; that I should get my F1 Visa stamped and that's all I want and nothing more - God promise!
Here I am, sitting in the US, same August 15th, Independence day eating Lemon rice that my dear wife packed for me, watching " Kadhal" Sandhya in SunTV at www.isaitamil.net/SunTV and all that I want now is my Green Card to come through! so we can go to India come back without visa hassle.
Life goes on ... and lies go on ... who knows what would be the only thing that I might want 8 years from now on the same Independence day.
Oh yea! Happy Independence Day!