A little Lila on the way to India . . .

Everyone on my tour to India was scheduled to take a JetAirways flight from New York to Brussels, and continuing on to Chennai, TN, India. The flight was to leave JFK at 6pm on the Dec. 30th, and arrive in India in the first hour of the new year.

My own JetBlue flight from Denver to JFK was supposed to leave at 12:30 am on the 30th, and arrive at 6:30 am in NY. JFK had experienced major snowstorms in the past several days, but I checked the status of my flight right before I left for the airport, and it was still on time. But by the time I arrived at the airport, my flight was canceled. The JetBlue agent tried really hard to find a way to get me to JFK by 6pm, but with all the canceled flights, there was nothing available. And there was a storm coming to Denver in a few hours.

I spent a sleepless night in the Denver airport trying to find a way to get to India. I really wanted to fly there with the rest of the people on my tour, but I could not find a way. I did find out during the night that JetAirways has only two flights from US soil, one from JFK, and one from Newark, NJ at about the same time every day. Both go to Brussels, where the connecting flight to Chennai can be made.  From my journal:

Dec. 30, 6:30 am. This is when I should be arriving at JFK, but I’m sitting in the Denver airport because my flight was canceled. Not sure how to get to JFK or Newark so I can get to India. The East coast airports are a mess, and a storm is coming into Denver this morning. There were terrorist threats in India on the news too.

Two more hours until the JetBlue counter opens. The wait on the phone to get a JetBlue agent is “more than 60 minutes”; not sure my cellphone battery would last that long. I’m now hoping I can get to India one day late, then catch up to the group. Crazy foreboding feeling running through me now: just my fears? Or intuition?

When the JetBlue counter opened, they said they could not get me near JFK for a few days. I went to some other airlines to see what was possible, and no one could help me; people were stressed out. The super nice JetBlue agent who tried to help me last night had been at the airport since Christmas day; he looked ragged, but his attitude was great.

Now I’m feeling a bit panicky and not sure what to do. Part of me wants to bail on the whole trip, but that’s just not an acceptable option. I realize I’m in over my head, and I need an expert to help me out. So I called my friend Steve, who’s wife Kristi is a travel agent, and a longtime lover of international travel. She’s calm and collected when dealing with the chaos that can happen during travel. She would be in her office by 9:30 am, so I left an urgent message for her there.

I got a hold of Kristi around 9:40 am. She was brilliant! She almost instantly found me a flight on Continental for $600 that would get me to Newark. If the flight left on time, I might even be able to catch the Newark flight to Brussels and meet my group there! I dashed for the Continental gate to make my flight, and checked in just in time.

I was aboard the Continental flight sitting on the Tarmac in Denver with snow beginning to fall. They had to de-ice the wings before we left; since there was a lineup of planes, it took almost an hour. Unfortunately this made it so I had no chance of making the flight from Newark to Brussels today. It was a close call anyway, so I had left that as an unlikely possibility even before the delay. I got to Newark without incident, had some dinner, and booked a hotel.

The hotel shuttle was supposed to come every 30 minutes to take people from the airport to the hotel. I stood in the cold for 55 minutes waiting for it to arrive. The roads were icy, and the driver probably skipped one loop in order to sync his schedule to the appointed pickup times. I finally checked into the hotel around 10:15pm. The hotel had a pre-new year’s buzz. I had not slept in 41 hours at this point. I had only to send an email to my contact in India to let them know I would be arriving a day late, then I could sleep.

The hotel had 3 computers for people to use. After putting my bags in the room, I came down to send the email, and all three were being used: Two giggling Jamaican teenagers on Facebook talking back and forth about the boys they were dating and communicating with, and a woman trying to make some travel arrangements. I had to laugh at my additional delay. Lila was in charge here, not me. It was not too long though before the woman left and I was able to finish my task. I would check for a reply in the morning.

Jan 1, 2011; 9 am: I’m sitting in the Brussels airport. Kristi “Saved” me and got me a flight to Newark. My plane to Chennai is in 2 hours.

I’m very happy to be on a clear path toward India. Just 24 hours behind the group. There is supposed to be a driver, “Kumar”, waiting for me in Chennai. He will drive me to the hotel with everyone else. I had some good sleep last light in the hotel, and some on the plane too. But I’m pretty stupid right now – I tried to take my water bottle through Brussels security – they were not amused.

My reactions to the canceled flight were interesting. I had two inauspicious feelings:

1) Why me? Woe is me!, etc. The standard human reaction.

2) New age magical thinking: If I just take the right attitude, then things will fall into place.

Both of these are full of self importance. Lila was playing with me with her Agora face, and there was not much I could do. As Douglas Brooks says, “Lila happens: when you like it it’s a miracle, and when you don’t, it’s shit.” The more auspicious way to deal with Lila-Agora is to know the powerlessness of my position, and to deal with the circumstances as calmly as possible. The Goddess can mess with any of us at any time she wants. Don’t take it personally. The same holds with Lila-Shri; don’t take the good things personally either.

The flight from Brussels to Chennai was a little delayed; I arrived around 2am on Jan 1, 2011. I got my bags and left the airport. There was someone waiting for me with my name on a sign. Soon I was riding through the streets of India on my way to the Mamallapuram Hotel Chariot Beach Resort.

The driver had a little trouble finding the hotel. He called to get directions, and soon we arrived. The entrance to the hotel had a gate on it; the gate was closed. The driver honked and honked. After a while the driver got out and noticed the gate was not locked. He pushed it open and we drove in.

The lobby of the hotel was open. I gave them my name, but they did not seem to have a reservation. I explained that I was part of a group. A little back and forth and then we found my name on a separate list. Everything was on paper, no computer. I arrived in my room at 4am, waking up my roommate Greg Yamada. He was super nice and understanding, we talked briefly, then tried to sleep. I had arrived!

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