Travelogue: On Change

[ Author: Prabir Chetia ]

Things have really changed –unlike me, it took good 6 weeks to put “pen and paper together” or should I say “fingers rolling over the key board” to put some thoughts on what has changed. Lot has changed like the phrase – had it been a decade and a half back, when I had the opportunity to make my maiden trip abroad, I would have preferred writing this note using pen and paper and eventually might have got it typed.

Interestingly not too early, it was winter of Y2K when I first stepped into foreign soil. The euphoria leading to it is what I always miss. When I first received a call from my boss one late evening asking me to get ready to travel to France, I had to call up my parents at Guwahati to give them the news without realizing that its late November evening. The landline kept ringing for a while. Half asleep, my mother finally picked up the phone. She wasn’t very sure how to react. Late calls to Guwahati means there must be some emergency and such news was not in the list of expected probabilities. Things have changed now, late evening calls are mostly the norm and for my parents there is absolutely no excitement or expectation from my abroad stints. Rather my mom says “kiman ghuri furo aru” (…means why you have to roam around so much)

The euphoria continues, neighbors’ envy, family pride and in order to meet all these expectations there is a shopping list for gifts that one has to bring from abroad. Thanks to those souvenirs that you get to buy in couple of Euros, otherwise personal loan or credit card installment would have put anyone in a spot of bother. Nevertheless, I did make a trip to Carrefour and lay my hands on some merchandise. Short shopping excursions did continue for some time and I won’t deny that excursions are continuing to happen but what have changed are the gift items one used to shop earlier. Nowadays we leave all shopping to be done in the airports, may be because what we need is best available in the airports and restricted only to LCF at DFS (…reads Liquor Chocolate Fragrances at Duty Free Shopping). Nice feeling though that our country too has progressed in last 15 years – airports definitely have changed.

There are many such things that have changed with time, and the list is endless. From high roaming bills to using calling cards, from being averse to drinking tap water, having cold food, realizing that when you book your accommodation in a Ramada or Holiday Inn it will most likely be like one of our desi Highway Inn and not what you associate with such brand names. In every trip of mine there are many such instances of change that I have noticed across geographies, but one thing that remains constant is that you always feel positive about such changes.

In order to summaries what according to me is the most significant change, I would definitely like to highlight the economic conditions as being the most visible one, more so in the last one decade.

Early this year, me and two of my colleagues went to pick up some stuff from an outlet mall in Columbus, OH (these malls primarily have factory outlets, offers discounted products and are mostly located outside city limits). We went into a major apparel brand showroom to pick up some merchandise. We purchased apparels which collectively was costing us around $87. At the cash counter, I produced a $500 American Express Travelers Cheque (TC) and asked them whether they take TCs. Lady in the counter responded positively and took the TC from me. She even put the store details and asked me to countersign the TC. So far so good!! Now instead of printing the bill and giving me the refund, cashier went on for an impromptu meeting with the Store Manager. After waiting for 15 minutes, both returned and what we heard reinforces the fact that change in economic conditions is pretty evident. Store Manager said “sir, my apologies but we don’t have enough cash to give you change and I don’t think any of the stores around will be able to give you $500 change”. Further she added saying “In my 5 years of retail career I have not seen a travelers Cheque amounting to $500”.  Shocking really!

Blame it on American Express or Travelers’ Cheques or low or no cash transactions in retail stores or sheer co-incidence; I leave it to your experiences and judgment to draw conclusions. But the fact of the matter is lot has changed and I truly believe that it has changed for good.

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