Commonwealth Games Blogs

Waiting for India

MUMBAI, INDIA - "Wait," the visa personnel at the Indian High Commission in Nairobi told me, shooing me away with his gold and ruby-encrusted fingers

But frankly I had waited (semi-) patiently for two days in the dilapidated office surrounded by lopsided 1980s tourist photographs, and I wasn't sure how much more "wait" I had in me. Getting a journalist visa to cover the Commonwealth Games was proving harder than I imagined.

No one had yet applied for a journalist visa for the Games, so there was no protocol. The official's tactic was to make impossible demands for reference letters (from the Commonwealth Games Association), and when I met those, to simply say he couldn't process my request. "I can't leave my post, you must wait," he said, with another wave of his hand. "Come tomorrow."

I pushed my mouth through the hole in the Plexiglas window so he couldn't get rid of me. "This is my second time here, can't you decide now, or give me some instruction as to how I should proceed

"Wait," he said decidedly.

And so, slinking away to the back of the room, I waited. The room was filling up quickly with applicants who, like me, had lost the battle and re-joined the queue in waiting.

It's who you know that counts

I came back to the Commission the following week with an accompanying letter from a well-known Indian lawyer in Nairobi. I maneuvered through the security and went straight to the back office. My visa was ready within a couple hours.

Over the last several weeks I've read dozens of reports about mismanagement, leading to construction delays. The Financial Times visited the weightlifting stadium at the end of August: "workers clambered across the roof to plug leaks, while an engineer waited for permission to enter the stadium to test electrical equipment. Even with preparations for the Games way behind schedule, however, security guards spent ages debating whether to allow him in because his pass had expired."

I try to remain optimistic about these things. After all, the press said the same thing about South Africa's venues before the World Cup, and that went off without a hitch. But after my experience at the Commission, it was too easy to draw conclusions. Could every interaction, every decision, be so entirely consuming?

Bombay calling

As always with things concerning India, despite the hassle, everything works out in the end. And a couple days later, I found myself at Gate 8 of Nairobi's International Airport.

The plane had been delayed over an hour and by the time I got there, my fellow passengers had nestled cozily into the plastic chairs and along the walls, opening various tins of homemade snacks (I admit to having one, too).

The air was ripe with the smells of baby powder and curry. Several people had turned their phones into tiny ghetto blasters, which belted out Bollywood anthems. When it was finally time to board, I filed in behind a group of women in beautifully embroidered bright cottons and silks.

I woke up a few hours later as we descended into Mumbai.

From the plane window I could make out the lines of decorative lights flashing in staccato bursts of red, green and white. The last several days have been what's called Ganesh Chaturthi, a celebration of the birth of the Hindu elephant-headed Lord Ganesha - the god of wisdom and Remover of Obstacles.

My neighbour broke into a meditative bhajan, truncated only by his neighbour's outburst of phlegmy coughing.

Drunk with sleep, I stumbled out of the airport and let the mosquitoes have their first taste.

taxi-mumbai.jpgI had been to Mumbai once before but several years ago now. The city has grown into the economic hub of the entire country and is a unique blend of old and new. Glistening high rises overlook ancient temples and mosques. And the scaffolding of new projects rise in geometric shapes over the rash of shanty homes and shops.

I smiled to myself as we streamed past old black and yellow 1950s Ambassador taxis and barely avoided a line of water buffalo, which seem to have taken nest in the construction site for a new overpass. The animals' bodies were glistening grey with cement.

The adventure had just begun.

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