Thursday, July 17, 2014

"மெட்ராஸ்ல மூணு வாரமா?"

"You will most likely use kiosks at immigration" came the announcement as we were preparing to land at Chicago.  "There will be staff to help you with the touchscreen" she added.

I was utterly disappointed.  Not because I don't like those touchscreen systems.  For the most part, I love to use those machines.  And, in the case of immigration, I can then even avoid the gazillion questions from officers who think my brown skin and a beard and traveling to a neighbor of Pakistan's adds up to a huge red flag.

I was disappointed because despite the poker-faced, stone-cold, officers, I hope against hope that I will encounter a warm and friendly face who will scan my passport and say "welcome home!"  No kiosk can provide that kind of a warm welcome.

The neon-art at Chicago's O'Hare

I stood in line after we deplaned. It looked like a crew of trainees or college interns guiding us to the kiosks.  She saw my US passport and pointed towards a machine that looked like an ATM.  Perhaps at the end of the transaction it will even dispense cash?  Nah, this is the US--no free money! ;)

I went through the questions, which were the same ones as in the form that the cabin crew had given us just in case it was not going to be the kiosks.
I was asked to look straight into the camera.
My photo appeared on the screen, and the system asked me to confirm the image.
I did.
I grabbed the receipt it printed, which included that photo, and walked to join a couple of others who were in line.

I noticed that the officers were merely checking that the photo in the passport matched the person carrying the passport and the photo in the receipt.

It was now my turn.

The officer gave me the widest grin a human--not merely an officer in uniform--could have given anybody.  He looked like he, too, was from the old country.  His badge said "Philip."

"Where were you in India?" he asked me with a smile.

"Madras" I said.  I know, I know, it is Chennai.  But, instinctively I always say Madras.

"மெட்ராஸ்ல மூணு வாரமா?" (three weeks in Madras?) he asked me in Thamizh.

I could have hugged him right there, but I didn't.

"That's not a typical South Indian name" he said, obviously referring to my last name.

"Yes, I was K. Sriram back in India ..." and he finished it for me with "oh, so you made it Sriram Khe."  I smiled a yes.

"Welcome home!" he said as he waved me through with the best smile ever.

I wish I had given him a hug.  Nah, this is the US--you would never have heard from me had I done that ;)

I grabbed a salad before boarding the connecting flight to home, sweet home.

So, why blog about it now?  So many days since I wrapped up the India blogging?

The answer is plain and simple.  I thought Philip deserved a special, a very special, post.

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