D-Day finally arrived. My travel partner (referred to as TP) and I literally bounded to the international airport in Bombay to fly to Tel Aviv. Did not realize that Mr.Murphy was hanging on my back a-la betaal. Our very entry into the airport (involving a simple procedure of flashing the passport and ticket) took us half an hour. And then the El-Al drama began. Israel as a nation was founded as a country for Jews. And non-Jew Asians being notorious squatters(read illegal immigrants) are subjected to extra scrutiny at the airport itself.
We waited for almost 40 minutes before they called us in for questioning – at two different tables. It was like some tandem competition – any question that my TP answered differently from me would be put forth to me again and again and again, faster and faster each time… now I had no idea what my TP had said, so the answers they got from me were the same... again and again!I felt as though I was in a Hollywood movie, being interrogated by an FBI agent! The supervisor came in after his minions 'failed' to 'extract' top-secret info from me.He tried interrogating me to see if it really made sense for 2 Indian mothers to leave their children behind and travel (of all the countries) to Israel… my retort “Why Not” left them stumped.
Finally after almost 45 minutes of intensive questioning, (during when I noticed 2 fellow travelers being asked to leave), the El Al guys (who I think were Mossad agents getting trained!) checked my profile online and 'almost' figured that I wasn’t going to bomb Israel or steal the Wailing Wall or liberate Palestine or more probably immigrate to Israel as a domestic help. Finally, they asked me one last question “Why only Jerusalem, why not Bethleham”. At this juncture, I lost my cool and went into my 'bhaashan' mode....I 'declaimed' that I had no ulterior motive and as a practising Hindu my attempts to understand other religions deserved applause, not reproach. Also, I was contributing to their country’s travel industry, so they ought to welcome me with a glass of Israeli wine, rather than interrogate me. Tired of my tirade (or perhaps convinced), the supervisor finally ‘approved’ my travel and I got my ticket to the Holy Land.
TP and I literally ran through security (wasting precious time with a STUPID travelex chap who insisted that as per law I could only convert 7500 INR per passport, thereby increasing my stress levels) and finally made it to the flight in time.
El-Al as an airline is quite decent. Tasty airline food for a change, pleasing crew, ontime departure and arrival and terrible Israeli wine!
One more round of questioning followed in Israel where a moron stamped my visa with a ‘work permit’ stamp. Some more interrogation (yawn!) Once the officer-in-charge figured we were in Israel on a holiday, she almost hugged us for our chutzpah and ‘shalomed’ us to Israel! The grand journey begins…. ‘
Moral of the story: Always eat before you reach the international airport, otherwise you may eat dinner (however good and hot) at 2.00 a.m.the next day.