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

True Fiction

Part 1

‘As they say right, money goes with money,’ I said without a tinge of envy.

‘How do you mean?’

‘I hear Harish’ sambandhi (bride’s father) is a politician here. And you know what that means.’

‘No, No, you don’t know Varadan Sir. He’s not like others. People here like him, respect him…I’ve not yet had the occasion to see him.’

‘Tell me.’

We’re a bunch of class-mates from school, gone different ways later in life. But we do try to meet up on happy occasions such as this wedding of Harish’s son. Coming in a little early at the wedding hall, here I was ‘gupping’ with Raju, a cousin of Harish and a pucca local.

‘It was entirely due to his herculean efforts, the newly laid trunk road segment now passes through our town. Coming from Chennai, it is now Pudur to our Vaeppakkam to Medu and through to Trichy. Why, you must have reached here taking that road. How did you find it?‘

Varad 1 rk_narayan_1_20071029

‘Yes, it was very convenient. Saved me a lot of time and bother as I didn’t have to change buses at Pudur and all that. You know what, Raju? I had always thought it was most logical and shortest for the road to go this way to Trichy. I’m glad wisdom finally prevailed. So what is the big deal about Varadan Sir making it happen?’

‘Ohthere was a hare-brained plan almost finalized to run this road some twenty miles to the east punching through Kollanpatti completely bypassing Vaeppakkam again.’

‘So he succeeded in bringing to you more noise, fumes, drunken driving and possibly accidents not to speak of a host of law and order problems?’

‘Consider the enhanced connectivity and convenience brought by buses plying this way. Faster movement of goods, easier access to Trichy. You saw those eateries lining the trunk road and a few lodges…vehicle repair-shops? All generating good number of jobs. You would have also seen a good number of peddlers on foot busy selling flowers, cool-drinks, biscuits and toffees, balloons and toys and what-not at the bus terminus. The road and the private/public vehicles on the road have added a totally new dimension to commerce in this small town. We would have lost out all these had they bypassed us. Whatever you said is a small price to pay.’

Varad 2  Highway gsagri04

‘I was kidding, my friend. I told you I found it very convenient. It is well-established better connectivity means better services and more commerce. But tell me why were they planning to bypass you incurring a lengthy and meaningless detour via Kollanpatti?’

‘You know, initially this was the route the highway guys had planned when the project and funds were sanctioned as part of the state’s initiative to improve connectivity through incremental efforts.’

‘Then what happened?’

‘Some crazy guys from here went up to the District HQ at Trichy making a hue and cry about the planned route overrunning their agricultural land argued for shelving it or finding an alternative. The authorities buckled and redrew the lines completely missing Vaeppakkam. When Varadan Sir got wind of it, he took it up with the babu’s. He fought it out for nearly a year to get the original plans restored. And it took another year to construct the road. ’

‘How did he win?’

‘Well, I don’t know how he managed it – he must have compiled a strong case for it.’

Just then quite unexpectedly a voice said: ’I can tell you what happened if you let me…’

Part 2

The voice belonged to a stranger, probably in his mid fifties clad in a spotlessly white dhoti and kurta, seated couple of rows right behind us within earshot. He had the manner of being important belonging to the bride’s or the groom’s party.

‘I don’t mean to butt in. I just happened to hear your talk…you see there’s nothing else to do here with no one around yet. Besides, I happen to know

In smaller towns, a chat on a public figure cannot remain private.

Unsolicited, he jumped right in and told us all resistance was finally won over by the simple expediency of quadrupling the compensation payable to the affected land-owners. Even this solution was at Varadan Sir’s suggestion.

My opinion of Varadan Sir, the politician, moved up by a few notches.

Our stranger-friend suddenly lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper: ‘Would you know not a blade of grass grew on that land?’

We chorused: ‘So it was a mere drama played out by the land-owners for a higher compensation for their land that didn’t?

He looked around and hushed us down: ‘There were no land-owners save one collecting the wind-fall compensation. ’

Seeing no light on our face, he continued: ‘You must have gone to see puppet shows? In there do you know why Rama fights the ten-headed Ravana?’

varad 3 Yakshagana IMG_5303

We didn’t see the connection: ‘Why? That’s the way the story goes.’

‘No, it’s only because the puppeteer so pulls the strings and arranges the fight. It is entirely another matter why he does that – yes, because the story goes that way.’

Now it dawned: ‘OMG, you don’t mean the whole thing was stage-managed from the beginning?’

He nodded with a smile seeming to say ‘Dumbos, now you got it.’

Is life like those TV mega serials or the other way around?

Raju was properly hurt at the insinuation: ‘No, my friend. If you’re implying Varadan Sir was behind it, let me tell you all this compensation from the government – must be small change for him. In fact he has enough, I hear, to compensate the government.’

Precisely at that moment the marriage party of the bride entered the hall for the finale.

Varadhan 4 south Indian reception hair style (2)

Some men from the party rushed to the side of our stranger-friend:

‘Sir, we were looking for you all over the place. Something to be done here? Tell us, we’ll take care of it. Today your place is by the side of your daughter, Varadan, Sir.’

Varadan, Sir? Bride’s father? The man we were talking about?

We froze.

Before joining them our stranger-friend turned around and winked at us: ‘Sorry guys, I pulled this on you. You gave me an entry that was too hard to resist. My apologies again. Do stay back for the wedding till the end and bless the couple. Wont’you?’

Varadan 5  1_3356186060240_259437494_n

We nodded weakly, looking redder than a ripe tomato. Luckily I didn’t think I said anything scandalous about him beyond his own account.

He left us standing with ‘And Raju, thanks for standing up for me. I appreciate it.’

I received a ‘I told you so’ look from Raju.

Part 3

I was on my bus ride returning to Chennai, my eyes on the rural landscape rushing past and thoughts swirling in my head. Quite naturally I went back to the chat with Raju and Varadan Sir. A rogue thought entered my mind: If a story is so plausible with no loose ends, might it be the truth? Told perhaps by the man’s vanity? You know vanity sometimes is more potent than any truth serum.

The line of thought did not persist for long, dissolving into the cute distraction the child was in the seat in front.

End

.
.
PS: babu’s = bureaucrats, pucca = completely, purely, gup = talk with no serious purpose, Rama and Ravana are from the epic Ramayana, Dhoti and Kurta = men ‘s wear.
Credits: Images from thealternative.in (international-folk-festival-yakshagana-ancient-art-puppetry-lives), openclipart.com (Highway gsagri04), R. K. Laxman‘s cartoons and the net.