A Tale Of Two Airports

Part 1

We are all set for the journey back home. Our bags are neatly wrapped up not exceeding the permissible 15 Kilograms per head. Of course it means we leave a few clothes and books behind. The e-tickets are printed out to gain admission at the airport as we are not yet confident of retrieving the same on our smart-phone. I double check the tickets for baggage rules. That’s when a wisp of a cloud appears in the blue sky: 15 Kgs per head alright, but how many pieces? I scour their website high and low. On one of those pages it mentions at one place one piece per head. FAQ has no queries at all on baggage. Obviously mine is a unique problem. I try calling the support numbers. I give up on not finding an option for queries on their voice activated telephony organized into nested levels deeper than those Matryoshka dolls. In parallel my energetic young nephew sets aside his academics for a while, pulls all strings, spends over an hour, stops just short of reaching the Prime Minister’s Office and at the end of it confirms it’s one piece per head. Panic ensues. More stuff gets off-loaded. Finally somehow four bags full get crunched into two bags hoping the seams and zippers don’t give up the fight.

The lady at the airport check-in counter clarifies on domestic travel there’s no limit of number of pieces subject to the limit of 15 Kgs per head. It’s all stated very clearly on their websitem if only we looked at it. Our mistake we didn’t find it. Also she tells me to sign at some place to release them of any responsibility for a handle that’s already broken on one of the bags. Sounds fair – I do so without reading the 8-point print.

Nothing much to report until we arrive at Mumbai ten minutes ahead of schedule. The flight is like cutting thru breeze, absolutely smooth without a bump. While landing I could have had coffee without spilling a drop. During the flight there is even a simple dhal-chawal meal served! Disregard the sniggers – it is quite comestible and good for immediate sustenance. Though the oft-quoted anecdote does come to my mind about some airlines saving by the sack full over time by cutting back on a few olives they customarily served. The coffee is the standard-issue tasting like run-off rain water, an amazing hard-to-beat consistency achieved by airlines across the world.

Part 2

My good friend, TRS, insisting on meeting us at the airport despite his busy schedule – he manages a large medical diagnostics chain – calls me.

‘R, have you folks landed in Mumbai?’

‘Yes, TRS, just now. We’re exiting the aircraft and proceeding to collect our baggage.’

‘How many pieces?’

‘Two checked in and two in the hand.’

‘Ok, I’m nearby. As soon as you’re out, call me.’

‘I’ll.’

My wife and I trudge along what seems to be an interminable stretch of travelators, so many of them laid out end to end, carrying hand bags making us puff and pant. I don’t recall doing this before nor seeing those huge art canvases filling up the wall on one side of the walkway.  But then it is quite some time since I travelled by air last. Perhaps this is all part of sprucing up that one often hears about? It all looks good.

Even as I struggle with the effort, I recall the gag:

‘Why do they make you walk so long at these airports?’

‘So your baggage may reach ahead of you for collection.’

Presently my wife does not have it in her to smile or frown at the jest.

My friend calls: ‘R. where are you?’

‘We’re waiting for our baggage to be disgorged.’

‘After you collect your baggage come straight out to where private cars come into the terminal for pick-up.’

‘Okay.’

I stand resignedly as for me this baggage business has always been first-in-last-out as also last-in-last-out. Fortunately this time the wait isn’t too long. I snatch the suitcases off the belt, pile them on to a trolley that stood there forlornly not catching anyone’s eyes and we make for the exit. We don’t. The trolley has other ideas – it simply turns on its wheels to the left in a circle.  Now I know why it was readily available on hand while everyone fetched his from a distance. I go and get another one and subject it to tests along all degrees of freedom. Finding its performance acceptable, I transfer the baggage and we finally exit without further hitches. Not before leaving the deviant specimen in a far corner not anymore in a position to lure the unwary.

The board outside the exit helpfully points us to the auto-stand/bus-stop.  But where do the private cars come in? Without further help from the official signage’s, I check and double check with a few visitors milling around. In one voice they tell us to head for the auto-stand/bus-stop. So when TRS calls me next to find out our whereabouts, I tell him to come in on the auto/bus lane to find us and not take the lane for private cars because there isn‘t one. TRS doesn’t sound too happy about it. What does one do but grin and bear things far beyond one’s control! If the blessed airport doesn’t want private cars whooshing in, well, that’s it. Who am I to bitch about it? I do not let these thoughts distract/disturb me from the main task on hand – connect up with TRS and as quickly as possible get away from this sticky heat into the comfortably air-conditioned insides of his car.

Shortly after TRS calls: ‘Have you come out?’

‘Yes, we’re at the pick-up point on the auto/bus lane. Incidentally I do see a car lane too, just beyond and running parallel to the auto lane. So it’s okay to take whichever lane.’ Here I correct myself for unfairly attributing to the authorities earlier a certain dislike for private cars – surely nothing more than a trifling omission of the signage on part of their contractor. Of course I keep the thought to myself for, I suspect, TRS would not be favorably disposed presently to hear about my sense of fairness.

A little later, ‘Look, why don’t you come to the end of the auto lane? That’s where I’m. These guys won’t let me stop anywhere in that lane.’

They won’t let him stop for picking up passengers? Surely they don’t expect senior citizens to jump right into a moving car? Sounds weird. May be they shooed him away as he intruded into the auto lane? The end of the lane he refers to is at least 100-150 yards away on the way out under the hot sun.  I leave my wife behind with the trolley and plod my way to the end of the lane. No sign of him.

He calls: ‘Where are you now?’

‘At the end of the auto lane just under the huge Samsung bill-board.’

‘I see Samsung, Samsung is not you.’

‘Well…’

‘Can you see those gorgeous traveler’s palm trees, two of them?  If you find them you’ve found me.’

A travellers palm (Ravenala Madagascariensis-Botanical name) tyy

‘Traveler if anyone is me. Palm trees? Yes, not your kind.’

‘Ok, let me go around and make another pass.’

‘Wait. Rather, let me go over to the point where you enter the lane. I’ll stand out on the road. You can’t miss me.’

We agree. I go over to the beginning of the lane 100-150 yards on the other side of the pick-up point.

I stand there on the road deftly evading the occasional vehicle coming in and considering if I should wave both hands to help my friend locate me. What would people think? Well, I’m at an age when I freely scratch my arms in public or let out a loud belch without a thought.

TRS calls: ‘Where are you now?’

‘I’m at the point of entry to the auto and car lanes, standing on the road. This is near and away from the toll to the right running along the front of the terminal.’

‘I’m here in front of the toll with a dozen guys honking away behind me and I don’t see you. Tell me you look your usual massive self as I’ve known or you’re masquerading to evade your pursuers?’

‘Come on…listen, don’t enter the toll. You’ll end up in the multi-level parking lot with a hefty toll to boot.’

‘What are you talking? There’s no multi-level parking lot in this airport.’

Now I begin to see: one of us is surely not seeing things right.

And, here, it is – I mean the parking lot – right before my eyes. I’ve even used them years ago.

I pinch myself just to be sure. Oh, my, it hurts!

That’s when the penny longtime coming finally drops.

I’m absolutely mortified at my rank goofiness. How could I?

‘Oh, TRS, we’re at Sahar. I didn’t realize…don’t know why we’re not at Santa Cruz…I’m so sorry.’

‘What? Oh, sh.., I’m here at Santa Cruz…No wonder…I should have checked…’

For those not familiar, domestic flights land in Mumbai at Santa Cruz airport while the international flights at Sahar with some exceptions. Looks like our flight was exceptional, confirmed by a subsequent examination of our tickets.

‘I’m so sorry, TRS…Please don’t trouble yourself anymore…we’ll take a cab…’

My good friend would not hear of it. He drives down kilometers from Santa Cruz to Sahar and takes us home. This time there is no trouble in spotting us – my directions, flawless as always, airport specified.

On the way home and thereafter, not a word or gesture from him betraying irritation or impatience. And we know him to be a man who doesn’t gladly suffer goofiness at all.

Guys, you too have friends like I’ve?

End

PS:  Well, the story doesn’t end here. Later at home on unpacking I find I’ve left a trail of things behind me, notably: my pouch containing debit card and other cards of commerce and memberships at the house where we stayed, my new laptop at the security station at Chennai airport, a few usb storage devices god knows where…

My nephew, deep into academics, swings into action right away and locates the concerned official at IAAI, Chennai. I speak to him. He confirms his office receiving an unclaimed laptop. He tells me about the documents I must produce to claim the laptop. Fearing my goofy spell may not have ended yet, TRS troubles himself to arrange for all the documents to be sent to my nephew. Following day, the young man goes to the airport, meets the officer and presents the documents. When they call me for verification, I tell them what and where they’ll find in my laptop. The officer hands over the laptop.  My nephew carefully packs it along with my pouch of cards retrieved from the house we stayed and couriers it. Mercifully normalcy largely returns on the third day after the string of goofs.

Do they still make nephews like mine?

Really, the end

Advertisements

From My Dairy

29th Nov 14

Today was one of the two mandatory days in a week for me to a session at the gym, part of a regimen prescribed by the docs in cardiac rehab. Going to the dentist to pull out a rotten tooth is any day a far pleasanter prospect, I thought.

As I was retrieving my track-suit from the cupboard, on a chance, I looked out of the window and spotted the old man settling down on the pavement just outside our gate. From the folds of his clothes he pulled out a small cloth pouch. I couldn’t see what he was doing with it.

Just then the watchman of the building across the street about fifteen feet away shouted:

‘What are you eating?’

The old man waved a sache at him.

‘Tambakoo? Who gave it to you?’

‘No one. I bought it from my own money. Five rupees it cost me.’

As I moved away from the window, I heard the watchman call him ‘bewda’ (a drunkard) – didn’t know what was the provocation – and receive a mouthful from the old man. Whatever else he might be, he is certainly not a ‘bewda’ as far as I could see.

Not an infrequent scene – these days I find youngsters passing by, tradesmen, courier boys, all taunting him for no apparent reason and the old man responding vigorously.

Meanwhile, my wife from the other room wanted to know why it was taking so long for me to get ready for the gym. Was I planning to skip the work–out?

I assured her the thought had not entered my mind and proceeded to share with her what I saw and heard from up here.

She already had it mapped out: ‘I told you time and again never to give money to these folks. You give him money and see what he does with it. If you feel like giving, give him something to eat.’

I know from first hand they prefer to receive cash that lets them buy food of their choice.’

art-the-farmers-wifes-hand (1)

For some months now, the old man, is a regular, squatting at a spot near the head of the street for a good part of the day. It is one of those places in his daily rounds he is likely to receive food.

Must be well into seventies, short and lightly built, dark complexioned, skin in wrinkles all over like a shrunken fruit, a face permanently set in a grouch, very live eyes narrowed by thick folds of skin, straight-backed though his neck bending forward a bit, clothed in traditional dhoti and shirt crumpled and a little untidy but without tear , trudging along with his thick stick, his chappals scuffing the tar underneath – this’s him. And top it with a booming voice that lied about his age.

Early on, he appeared to be a little more cheerful than what he is now. That’s when I ventured to ask him some personal questions without the fear of disagreeably receiving his stick. He told me he has a wife and a daughter living in the same area. They don’t take care of him, so he is on his own. I tried to counsel him softly it is unwise of him at his age to stay away from his blood relations. Of course I didn’t seriously expect him to change on my say-so and he didn’t. I left it at that.

Whenever I see him on my way to the market – that would be twice or thrice in a week – I give him ten rupees. Eases my guilt a wee bit. It started out as twenty rupees but cut back to ten once I added a few more guys to the list. Clutching the ten-rupee note, for a moment his sunken cheeks puff out in a hint of a child-like happy expression, closest to a smile – a sight firmly etched in my mind.

Resuming the narrative: As I hit the street heading for the gym, I saw him ahead of me plodding along tapping his heavy stick. In minutes I surprised him from behind and thrust his due that he has come to expect. This time, I broke my stride and asked him:

‘So you take tambakoo from the money you collect, eh?’

Tambakoo (raw tobacco leaves supplemented with god–knows–what is leisurely chewed especially among the poor) is identified as the chief cause for contracting oral cancer.

‘No sahib, with the money you give, I buy myself vada–pav (an inexpensive local burger–like snack) at the stall near the post-office. He gives me an extra pav (bread loaf), you know.’

He saw me waiting still for an explanation for chewing tambakoo.

‘Sahib, I know what you’re getting at. But that’s the only way to control my hunger for a few hours till I get something to eat.’

I moved on.

I wish I had not spoken to him.

End

.
.
.
Credits: mnprairieroots.com

Odd’s On A Sunday Morning…A Vignette

[Vignettes are short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give one impression about a character, an idea or a setting]

Retirement is a miracle that packs more than sixty minutes to an hour! That’s not all. The vision gets more sharp unaffected by the cataract of professional preoccupations. Small things catch the eyes. Here’s the catch of odd scenes – nothing to grab headlines – brought back from a short walk on a Sunday morning.

Part 1: Where the bus stops…

This was on a Sunday two weeks ago. It was usual for Chemburkars to laze in the bed until late. The chill in December ensured folks stayed in bed longer than customary. I was out on my morning walk and also to the neighborhood saloon for a hair-cut that was overdue by at least a couple of weeks, the hirsute growth framing me with a distinctly simian aspect.

There was occasional car swishing by noiselessly. A few pedestrian forms – no features could be made out – swathed in bundles of drab colored woolens could be seen briskly rolling towards the Diamond Garden. Half-way to the market was the bus-stop. This was one bus-stop that, curiously, as far as I could remember, never collected a crowd – yes, these days it is an amorphous crowd and never an orderly queue – even during peak hours. May be that the buses from that stop went straight to the nearby abattoir, no one’s destination. On this day, in its place stood the newly-erected all-metal bus-stop that I couldn’t have missed – the paneled front, the support poles and the hand-rails, all in metal; and as a concession to its hassled customers, some ten-inch wide sheet-metal seat running along its length, hinting strongly to a longer wait henceforth? Right off the bat I could see the designers had committed a boo-boo – the six inches were hardly adequate to support in full the substantial posteriors of the Mumbaikars whose only claim to physical exertion is their daily commute to and fro work-place. Perhaps the designers ran out of their budget and/or metal. Or, intelligently, they did not want the homeless that drift towards these shelters to get comfortable at night?

As one thing leads to another, next my gaze went to the closer of the two occupants of the bus-stop and did a quick double-take: Quite unlike someone waiting impatiently for his bus, he looked more like one peaceably lost in a book while waiting out in an airport for a flight delayed by hours. Engrossed in reading some English newspaper folded thick to a column width, oblivious to the surroundings, and there was another bunch shoved into his trouser pocket yet to be perused. Perhaps another unhurried guy in retirement. Nothing odd there, eh? Only, it was a much younger man, his face gaunt with sunken cheeks and unshaven, clumps of unkempt hair on the crown and his shirt in tatters on the far side and unwashed.

I didn’t think he was looking at the column on job openings. Was he a white-collar – never mind in actual it were not white and in tatters – roughened up in a scuffle with a rival (workers’) union? Or worse, a school teacher taught a lesson and more for failing the politician’s son? What was his story?

I didn’t ask.

(To be contd.)