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The Lost Moment in Time

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on January 21, 2009 2 Comments

As Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the forty-fourth president on January 20th, I was dozing off somewhere high over a deep turquoise Atlantic Ocean.

The nightmare began on Saturday night…dense fog enveloped New Delhi, India, as I headed out from the ‘burbs to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. On the way over there we counted seven major accidents: trucks, lorries, autorickshaws, motorbikes and cars had crashed into each other because of the fog. We drove at 15-20 km/hour for most of the journey since visibility was close to zero. Nearly 100 flights were disrupted that day, including my ill-fated British Airways flight 142. We returned from the airport after being told it was canceled, and then were called back minutes after reaching home. When we returned to the airport a second time in three hours, we were informed that the flights would not leave till 24 hours later. At that point, a major verbal fight broke out: the two customer service reps BA sent to pacify the 300+ crowd of angry passengers were cornered and blasted. A six-hour standoff ensued. The fog, apparently, was not the culprit: BA did not have a crew ready to fly us out for some unexplained reason. What followed next was a series of “mortifying” events (as a BA pilot described it): 20 hours later, we returned to the airport, only to be told the flight was delayed by 3 1/2 hours, which meant we would miss most connecting flights from London. Beyond the usual worries about missing the first day of class and work, I was most pained that I would miss Obama’s-our-moment in history.

In London, after a 2-hour queue at the flight information counters, we were told there were no flights out to SF, and we would be forced to spend the day and night in London. I was informed I would arrive in SF around 1:30 pm on January 20, 2008: several hours after the inauguration. I teared up as I told the BA employee that this was unacceptable, but she simply pushed a hotel voucher towards me and signaled me towards immigration: “Ma’am, there’s nothing we could do. Thank you, bye.” She turned to the next person in the queue: the conversation with me was over. The immigration officer wasn’t very sympathetic: he said it was not his fault that BA142 was delayed, and UK immigration had no responsibility to issue me a transit visa so I could spent the next 20+ hours in the BA funded hotel room; according to him, I should have gotten a UK visa in India…that’s the practice if one has a UK layover of even one hour, and one has no intention of leaving the airport. I was too astonished to speak. Very reluctantly, after some pleading, he gave me a transit visa…

An uneventful day and evening in London later, where we stuck close to the hotel, we were airborne the next day, and all I could think of the entire time was how I wanted to be there listening to his speech. Live. I kept thinking of last year: of following the primaries, the presidential elections, the news stories, the blog posts, the video clips, the door-to-door campaigning I did in Reno, attending his rally, the phonebanking till minutes before the polls closed in Pennsylvania, the tears, the hugs, the screams of joy as he was elected president in a resounding victory that was ours as much as it was his. At the cottony clouds drifted past the plane window, I couldn’t help but feel cheated.

After I arrived in Berkeley, I checked out the Youtube videos of the inaugural address, the parade, and saw slideshows of the inaugural photos (here and elsewhere). My Facebook page had exploded with inaugural fever as well. Through all this, I kept thinking how it was not the same thing…I still teared up during Obama’s speech on Youtube…but…I had missed the moment.

While new technologies allow us to watch events later as they were captured live, they cannot capture the magic of events as they unfold, once they’ve happened.

I watched the same event you did, but I wasn’t there as the moment unraveled.

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2 Responses to “The Lost Moment in Time”

  1. Youki on: 21 January 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I remember cutting across the Chavez student center with Dave to try to get a better view, and seeing students inside a classroom watching the inauguration on a screen. I was slightly boggled.

    A memorable moment was when Bush was exiting towards his helicopter and seeing people in the crowd mockingly wave goodbye to him, some even jeering and booing.

    I can’t believe you were cheated of the moment. I’m glad you got back safely, though! Hope overall it was a great trip 🙂

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 21 January 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Yeah…that was memorable. I also caught another video of Bush being booed…and for those of you who would like to revisit the moment, here it is:

    I am happy to be back safe and sound…and yes, the trip was fantastic!

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