Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More than a journey indeed!

Bangladeshi delegates in SAYC 2011

As I remember it was 28th January when I first saw the website of SAYC. Honestly speaking, I was quite crazy to visit any foreign country alone. Okay...not any foreign country, I am about to get a chance to go India at least. This excitement leaded me to the SAYC application form. But where is it??? I can’t see from my pc!!! Then the saga of sending mails to SAYC team began. I got confirmation mail that I have been selected for “1ST South Asian Youth Conference”. I was like- yeah!!! Finally I am going to India! But this joy couldn’t last long.

I told my dad at night about SAYC, he was happy to hear that I have been selected. But that’s it! Being selected for SAYC is great, but it doesn’t mean I am going to India alone. My dad also warned me about Visa related problems, told 3-4 different stories-how his familiar people stacked in problems after during their visit to India, etc…when his story telling attempt failed he reminded me about a recent incident. On 7th January, a 15 years girl named Felani, brutally killed by the BSF firing at Anantapur border and then the body of that deceased teenager hung on the fence till 11 am. Common people of Bangladesh were furious for BSF’s brutal action as 74 Bangladeshis were killed by the Indian BSF in year 2010. Dad also explained, this was not only a rupture of International Law, but an extreme violation of human rights and a display of barbaric inhumanity. He tried to make me understand that relation between Bangladesh and India is not peaceful any more, I will face tones of problems in getting Visa; and if somehow I manage to get Visa I will face more severe problems after arriving India (for example-problems in customs, in road, hotel…may be in conference!!!). Dad tried everything to change my decision about going to SAYC, but he failed. Then he gave me the most horrifying “breaking news”- he is not gonna bear any expense related to my India tour. But I am not that person who accepts failure so easily. I was doing an online course on gender issues and women in technology…so naturally I was in extreme rage that I will prove everyone wrong by going to that conference alone. After managing 50% expense from my bank account and sponsor, I had to surrender to my elder brother (bhaia) for other 50% expense. My brother played the role of silent audience in that “father-daughter drama”, fortunately bhaia didn’t refuse me. I sent air ticket confirmation to Vaibhav Mathur and was planning to apply for Indian Visa. I thought everything will go smoothly next, but I was completely wrong….

Applying for Indian online was quite easy. Then took appointment to submit necessary papers and printed copy of that visa application. The website says, requirements for Indian visa are- valid passport, photos, proof of residence, proof of profession, proof of financial soundness and invitation letter from the organiser of the conference in India. I was planning to go to application center with all these papers; then heard these papers are not enough to get a conference visa. My question is why didn’t they put it in their website? Then I found out that it’s a policy (!?!) as thousands of Bangladeshis apply for Indian visa every day. I was supposed to go to embassy twice, for submitting papers and to take my passport with visa. I had to go there 4-5 times during my 3rd year final exams. I clearly remember, once I felt on road and hurt my leg and back. It was raining…I had to walk to the embassy gate with terrible pain (no vehicle is allowed in embassy area). Two enormously tall guard stopped me and said, “miss, what do u want?”. I needed to go inside the embassy for submitting my papers. Then the two giants told, “u can’t go inside through this gate. It’s the ‘exit’, this gate is only used for leaving the embassy” (although there is no sign or exit board there). My request to those ‘giants’ didn’t melt their heart. So I started walking again (it was 15-20 min walk) for reaching embassy’s ‘enter’ gate. I was hurt, tired (exam was going on), soaked in rain…then an officer inside the embassy saw the copy of the permission letter of Indian Home Ministry and told me, “ha ha ha…you won’t get visa…they didn’t send the BD delegates’ list yet and this letter is totally inappropriate…” blah blah blah!!! I never pronounce phrase like WTF, that guy made me pronounce it. I didn’t understand why that man laughed at me?!? But I understood one thing- my dad was not completely wrong…he just tried to save his beloved daughter from all kinds of bad things….

I wish this visa issue would be the end…problem appeared again. Unfortunately this time problem happened between some delegates (especially BD delegates) and SAYC team. SAYC team brought a small change in delegates’ expense policy, but it caused a great ‘fire’ on SAYC fb page. Changing policy in last time created doubts in my mind (honestly speaking, those previous bitter and hostile things related to India, BSF, foreign policy, visa issue crawled in head). Unfortunately there was a huge misunderstanding…SAYC team was claiming that we are giving objection only for that “food expense” thing; but actually our trust on everything related to India and our self-confidence were going downward gradually. And yes, we got no visa yet….

Constantly 40 days I checked online that my visa is processed or not…got nothing but disappointment. During that time some SAYC organizers and delegates became my facebook friend. One of them was Jatin Kataria, a Gujrati guy who tried to convince me at his best so that I attend SAYC. But everything was not in my favor… It was 18th May- I finally admitted my defeat. During those days, I searched for IIMB campus in Google earth, campus photos in Google and used to imagine I am gonna live in that place where 3 idiots used to live…oh! Who can forget that water tank.... It was very hard for me to quit; my friend Nusrat said, “you destroyed the peace of your home, argued with SAYC team, submerged your year final exam, tried for visa-now you gonna quit? Pagol naki!!! (Are u nuts!!!) Dosto (yaar) you should definitely go.”

It was 19th May and I didn’t have visa yet-I had to cancel my air ticket. I left home with a broken heart for my viva voce exam. One of my friend asked me, “so, when are leaving for Bangalore, 22nd?” I said with a sad smile, “they didn’t give me visa”. Then he said, “no worry Jerry, you’ll definitely gonna go.” I realized how much my friends love and family love me…they don’t want to see sadness in my face, they will say anything to make me happy, even this-I will definitely go to Bangalore (with visa!!!). I finished my viva at 5pm…walking alone in Mall of Dhaka University and thinking to leave behind everything related to SAYC, IIMB, India…then  the most unexpected thing happened.

Osama Bin Noor, one of SAYC BD delegates called and said, “Jerin apu (sis), congrats, you are going to India. We got visa!” But the problem was we will get our passport on Sunday, 22nd May (embassy closes at 5.30pm, Friday and Saturday is weekend). When will we reach Bangalore if we start on 22nd? I don’t even have my air ticket; just have one option- going India by road. I told myself-what a crazy idea! Do I dare….

Finally I made peace with my dad and begun my journey. We, six Bangladeshi delegates took same bus (Dhaka-Kolkata) and started at 10.15 pm. People usually like bus journey at night, because they can pass the whole time by sleeping. I was the exception; I slept for one and half hour only. We reached Kolkata at noon. Then we were supposed to book domestic air tickets. But good time does not last long…all fights of Kolkata to Bangalore are already booked till 25th May. This was a tremendous shock. We had no other option except taking railway to reach Bangalore. But wait…is it so easy to get Kolkata to Bangalore 6 first class AC tickets? Obviously ‘NO’. We passed whole day searching for the fastest way to reach our destination. Laptop, internet, Howrah Station, Shiladaha Station-none of those worked. A railway officer told us May is the summer vacation time in India that’s why almost each and every family travels in this time. We understood we have more to suffer. When I was near Howrah station a terrible (well it seemed to me on that time) thing happened- I got lost! Now I am in home, I just laugh about that incident…that day I had technology in my very own hand-why did I freak out?!?

Somehow we managed 6 train tickets; still it was not a good news for us. Because, at first we had to go to Patna from Kolkata and get on Bagmati Express, which will lead us to Bangalore. God! Who can forget that journey…I find no words to express the misery, hope the statistics help you to understand: Poorva Express, Kolkata to Patna-999km and Bagmati Express, Patna to Bangalore-2729km.

As a Bangladeshi I was feeling comfortable in Kolkata, it’s all because our language and food is similar.  People’s lifestyle, weather, Kolkata’s streets couldn’t remind me that I am not in my own country (until I got lost). But Patna was a whole different experience- people look different, talk differently…. I clearly remember, temperature was quite high in Patna; that’s why I was wearing ‘shalwar-kamiz’. Surprisingly I found no girls wearing ‘shalwar-kamiz’ like me, except some aunty and old ladies. Then I realized, I am alien here, I am the person who is totally different from them, and that’s the reason people were looking upon us. But my Hindi speaking skill saved me (people thought we are from Kolkata); thanks to Indian satellite channels which taught me Hindi-I never thought knowing this language would be a life saving thing. Bagmati express was 3 hours late. I was tired, hungry, and out of patience…it was too hot in Patna that if someone poured a full bucket water on me I wouldn’t mind. At last God listened to us, Bagmati express arrived. Waiting room to platform…running with a heavy luggage (thanks to Osama, he helped me a lot) for searching our bogie…we were running for 10-15 min…how long was that train?!?

My all anxiety, tiredness gone when I saw a 2years old cute baby is setting on my sit and playing all alone. I put some plastic bottles aside and sat beside him; then suddenly he shouted in a cute manner, “mera bottle kahan hay?” This was the beginning of my friendship with baby Debesh. After sometime his mother came, then I saw another family (they were sleeping). Well, sleeping in train was another venture (a funny one)…I had no previous experience of climbing and sleeping on 2 storey bed, now I have to climb on 3rd storey! I looked left and right and saw everybody was staring us (even 60years old lady sitting on a 3rd storey). I took the name of Allah and climbed up.

Next morning I was dreaming, I am in a amusement park! When I woke up I see train is jerking, 5 children of different ages is playing around, shouting for each other’s toys and for climbing on 3rd storey. Honestly, the journey was long but it was also fun. We got tired of answering people’s question- where are we going, for what reason, etc. But I don’t know why nobody asked where we live….

Long long way to Bangalore
I must admit-the service of India railway is pretty good, we faced no problem there…just the route was too long…Patna, Varanasi, Allahabad, Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur, Wardha, Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada, Ongole, Chennai, Vellore and Bangalore…not bad! We passed 32 stations! It took two and a half night, and two days (23rd -26th May) to reach Bangalore. Two aunties and an uncle of our compartment made us feel like we are in home. I came to know lot of thing about Bangalore from a 10years old girl named Srishti. I couldn’t sleep at night before 26th May; I passed whole night by sitting and looking at the dark sky and thinking what I will do in SAYC, I was already so tired. We will only get 2days there…missed everything for that stupid visa…. But that morning was amazing, it washed away every tension. The train was passing Andhra Pradesh; wherever I look there were greenery, hills, lakes and river…I can surely say that South India is the most green and beautiful part of India. 

The day of reaching Bangalore had come, it was 26th May. Everything was going smoothly until a tall business man (wearing so many rings in his hand and purl jewelry, gold chain in neck) joined us.

He asked me, “where do you guys live in Kolkata?”

I said, “actually we are not from Kolkata, we came from Bangladesh to attend a conference….”

That man said, “Oh Bangladesh! Our Indira Gandhi divided Pakistan and gave independent to your country…”

What this man is saying!!! Then there was a short history class for him, explanation, and an argument. We respect the Indo-Bangla friendship and we will be very grateful to India forever for offering friendship and extending their helping hand during our liberation war. But no one has the right to underestimate the sacrifice of 3million life and contribution of our national leader Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The atmosphere became calm before evening and it’s all because of those children who don’t understand any political boundary. It was a great fun to have photo session and snacks time with them; I, Osama and Praggna became children again. We were discussing on how we will take a taxi from station and reach IIMB. An aunty advised us not to take any taxi on night because it will be at least 10pm when we will reach station. If the taxi driver doesn’t know IIMB what we will do then; rather we can call Vaibhab Mathur so that he can arrange a car for us. Now it was time to say good bye to those children (Debesh, Srishti, Balaji, Puja…), aunties, and that uncle; I passed only 2 days with them but it felt so bad…I knew I am gonna miss those kids especially…. 

But the good news was at last, things were going correctly, we were in Bangalore, a car came to receive us, and within an hour we will be in IIMB.

That driver neither understands English nor Hindi properly. Somehow we made him understand that we are the SAYC delegates and will go IIMB (again many many thanks to satellite channels and Hindi). It was an unexplainable feeling when we were in the roads of Bangalore, my eyes were closed for half an hour, and I was so relieved………

It was almost 11pm. That driver stopped the car. What the hell! Where am I??? It’s not IIMB! He was pulling the car here and there and was asking the way to IIMB (I guess). It was clear-he lost his way. That car was going round and round...sometimes left-right and sometimes back.

At last, I am in IIMB.