I was flying back to India after watching the two semi-finals of the 1999 cricket World Cup and the line for check-in at Heathrow was, as expected, full with plenty of Indians.
This particular line included a sizeable Punjabi contingent, ranging from crying infants to bow-legged grandparents. This distinguished family, joint and double-jointed (okay, bad pun), was clearly too overwhelming for the pretty young British lady behind the counter, evident by her flustered look at having to handle a dozen tickets at one time and struggling to understand the different accents.
I noticed quickly that each of those Punjabis, from toddler to aged, had a British passport. What seemed to compound the young lady’s hassles was the fact that the elderly, dressed in typical Indian attire, couldn’t speak great English despite being in the UK for a long time. I watched, amused and admired, by the way she handled the situation. After checking all the passports and tickets, she let them all pass and took a brief second to take a deep breath and collect herself.
As she looked up and saw me standing there, she put on her best smile and did the whole hi-how-are-we-today routine, extending her hand to take my passport and ticket. I could’ve been wrong, but her look suggested that she was relieved to see a white dude who looked like he was just heading over to India as a tourist.
But that evaporated into shock when I smiled back and handed her an Indian passport.
“Oh my…” was her reaction. “Now that’s a first!”
A dozen Punjabis, both naturalized and born Brits, chattering between themselves in boisterous Punjabi, followed by a white dude with an Indian passport. I think she’d seen it all that day.
She checked me through in about three seconds.