Passport

I landed at the Dubai airport, setting foot on a foreign land for the very first time.
Back then, the visa had to be collected from a special desk – not exactly the simplified visa -on-arrival that we have now.

My sponsor was supposed to send the visa directly to the immigration desk. So, I walked up to the young lady to enquire. But, as luck would have it, the passport hadn’t arrived by mail on time. She checked with the New Delhi office while I waited patiently for the next two hours, anxious about my colleagues who were waiting outside at the arrival lounge. There was no way of letting them know, as mobiles were a great luxury then!

I was worried I would have to go alone, if they went away. I had gone for the Dana Beach hotel pre-opening assignment, representing my management company, RMS. The hotel was on Corniche Road at Ajman, a good hour’s drive away.  So, crossing my fingers, I hoped that General Manager Ivan and chef David would be endowed with tons of legendary Emirati patience. Finally, the visa was issued and I headed to the conveyor belt to pick up my stuff.

Missing!

Maybe it had taken a leisurely walk having got bored stiff while taking too many trips on the merry-go-round! The helpful Emirates Airlines staff took me to a huge hall with big mounds of neatly stacked luggage. Alas! All the suitcases looked like perfect clones! How would I trace mine?

They were moving the pieces to felicitate easy identification. After another hour, I found it. There it was smiling smugly, having played hide and seek for so long. I then decided that from my next trip onwards, it would certainly wear a colourfully pompous doggy collar.

Of cheerful welcomes and disappearing acts

I came out to the bright sun, squinting, searching for my pals. Sweating profusely in a thick jacket. There they were, waving at the only person walking out, pretty certain that it had to be me. The paging board displayed a lovely message – ‘Welcome Mr Rao’. Their cheerful smiles erased the long drama I had to undergo.

The chef kindly took my bags and heaved them into the dicky. Ivan offered me the front seat, while he slid into the driver’s seat. It was getting really hot, so I stepped back before getting in and removed the jacket. The front seat was cool and comfy. The AC was just right.

“So, you had some fun visa entertainment inside with those Arab beauties, eh? Am sure they didn’t want to let you go, Mr Curly Hairs. Hope they stamped your passport.” Ivan teased.

I replied. “Yes, the sponsor issued the visa in a different company name, while the pretty woman was searching for Dana Beach! Sweet confusion.”

Hearing the word passport, I remembered having shifted it to my jacket from the front shirt pocket. I touched the front pocket to be doubly sure. Not there! I then fumbled in my jacket pockets to ensure that it was there. Not there, either!

I broke into a cold sweat this time. Ivan was looking concerned, he enquired if all was well. The road ahead was a steely mirage.

Slowly I turned my head to the left side. What I saw on the curb was a heavenly sight. My passport’s leaves were fluttering in the gentle simmering breeze, pure and white in the sunlight, while the wallet was spread eagled on its two sides. A few shiny Dirhams were trying to escape from its clutches…

 

Six more shots, please!

My first trip abroad was looking quite exciting already. I got into the car once again, wondering what was in store ahead.

It was an interesting day at the Dana Beach Hotel. Mr Chris Gardner, my CEO introduced me to the dynamic team.  The owner, Sheik Rashid, Justice Minister of UAE, was very courteous to me. All strategies were discussed for the grand launch, with Ivan compiling the minute details.

Ivan sneaked up to me; wondering if he had earned a treat for the long wait at the airport. I said yes gladly, despite being so sleepy after the overnight flight. We ordered two beers at the popular Wafi Pyramids near the creek promenade, relaxing for a nice evening ahead.

“Sir, six of my friends from Golden Circle, the marketing company, would be joining us soon. You can order for them too; they are really nice chaps.” He said sweetly. I gave him a surprised and bewildered look, but agreed reluctantly. Half my trip expense budget would be wiped out in a single round.

The beer tasted flat! Anyways, I endured, hoping to have a good conversation with his friends. Ivan was singing my praises of the great job in India, listing all the resorts I had assisted in launching. It sure felt good to hear, despite the big hole that was being burnt in my pocket.

Ivan raised his glass for the bottoms-up ceremony and said, “Gentlemen, Venu is so gracious that he is going to orders us another round! Along with some exciting short eats this time as a bonus. How cool is that.  So, cheers to him.” There were yays and hoots. A volcano erupted inside me.

I didn’t explode, but calmly replied, “Ivan, great idea, but would honour your request on one condition. Promise us a great sumptuous dinner at the Shangri-La post this second round as your treat?”

There were some yeah yeahs for that proposition too from the suave South African marketing team! Ivan twitched and twirled like a limp squid, losing all his colours instantly. He was thinking deep; I could almost hear the turmoil.

Slowly, he said in a measured tone, “Look guys, let’s not waste his precious Indian money on the second round. We go to a Donor kebab joint next door on the company account and call it a day. Venu is tired, we need him afresh tomorrow.” He looked like a Himalayan sage in a meditative mode.

My boss, Chris, had a hearty laugh when I narrated this incident the next day. He commented, “I must say that Ivan is incorrigible, no wonder he takes so many smoke breaks during the meetings. Guess he must be always thinking about a drink or food.”

Thank God! My near bankruptcy had been saved by the sudden brilliant flash.

I didn’t budge from the hotel for the next whole week, lest some more sunshine surprises sprout my way like desert cacti.

 

Venu Rao

17th October 20

  

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