A journey to remember – scenes from an airport

December 2008

An airport is a very interesting place to be in. U get to see all shades of human emotions on full display. And let me tell u that these displays are unadulterated and genuine. Besides I reckon if u are at an international airport like Dubai, I realized culture or for that matter where we come from has a definite bearing on how we react to situations. The Americans swear, the Australians take it easy, the Japanese are surprisingly calm even under tense situations, the Africans (old fat Nigerian ladies in particular in their traditional garb) shout at the top of their voice cursing the airport staff. Had there not been smoke detectors, they wont mind performing voodoo to incapacitate or even kill the airport staff they have a grudge on. On a smaller scale I got to see a mixture of all shades of these emotions at the Delhi airport recently.

I have to catch an afternoon flight to Bhubaneswar. While I had company on the onward journey, I am alone now. Left to fend for myself in a city I have never been to before. Last night was spent in a hotel close to the airport. I got up early to complete some pending work and hence am somewhat tired and sleepy. I decide to arrive at the airport early to avoid a long queue. Thankfully the q is manageable. I join it. It strikes me that standing is my fate for the next hour or so. The thought itself is sickeningly nauseating. I console myself . Its gonna be ok. The line is movin afterall. My alter ego says a snail moves faster. I surrender myself to providence and decide to trudge along.

Suddenly a thought strikes my mind. I decide to look around to see how my fellow beings fare in what seems to be a never ending wait for some while there are others too who wished time cud be bought (people who were saying goodbyes that is). Separation is painful indeed. I have been thru these situations and can hence relate. Maybe its good that im alone in my journey. On second thoughts, maybe not. A couple are bidding each other good bye. The small kid changes laps between the parents. A final kiss on the cheek from the dad and its time to go. The couple hold hands for one last time and leave. The kid's too young to figure what's goin on. He probably knows he is safe in his mothers arms.

As the line moves ahead a very pretty Kingfisher ground staff walks by announcing something indiscernible in a heavily accentuated voice. The old balding man in front of me salivates. I sympathize with him all the same knowing I might be in his shoes a few decades later. Someone shouts at this point saying where is the Indigo ground staff. The whole line bursts into laughter. The line moves on.

As I approach the security check, people are getting restless. The extensive checking in the wake of the Mumbai incident irritates a few. Some plead the security guys to be fast. Their pleas are met with indifference and apathy. Makes me wonder why does it take a terror attack to wake up these guys. But what is even more annoying is that the scanners in one of the security check booths isn't functional and hence a manual check of hand baggage further delays things. A Mongoloid (Japanese or Korean I guess) appears clueless. I hear a few 'maa behen ki gaalis' which seems to be on the tip of the tongues of Delhites. I don blame them. When emotions are on a high, people slip. I clear the security check on my turn. It's a big relief. My aching legs look for a place to sit. I take a seat. The empty ones beside me get occupied soon. There is some time left for the flight. I decide to continue gazing at people.

Kids play around. Some cry. The ground staff keep announcing "This is the last and final call for……". There is this indigo girl roaming about who gets a lot of well deserved attention from the crowd. Instinctively I try to find the old man. There he is – salivating again. Most of the other old men ape him some even in the presence of the old ladies by their side who counter with a look of rebuke. Im reminded of the saying 'Men don't stop trying' and smile to myself. The only thing I fear in life is old age. And that too a lonely one without someone by ur side jus like the old man. Its an age when u cant rock the bed anymore, u'll feel shy to hold hands in public, go on long drives and take turns in driving, mumble sweet nothings in each others ears. But I guess having someone to rebuke u for the faux pax gives u a sense of belonging. It tells u that u r still wanted and there is someone who stills wants ur undivided attention. Now whether the men looked at the pretty girl to satiate their carnal desires or deliberately to make their spouse jealous – I don know. But believe me somehow it made very cute scene all in all.

My flight's departure is announced. I again get into a queue. Being a programmer by profession I think why cant I join a stack which follows LIFO (last in first out) instead of a q. Whatever. The q is faster this time around. Soon after I board the plane. Its almost empty. I take a window seat at the back. In time the flight takes off. And then it hits me. Im lonely and this time there aren't many people to look at and analyze. I don have my earphones with me. The view outside is just white. Im dead. Instinctively im reminded of my onward journey. At least there was someone to talk to. I look for someone to sit beside. Where's the old man I think !!! Alas, not on this plane. Given the display of his libido earlier on I'm sure he had a lot of tales from his youth to narrate. I accept my fate and let my mind wander freely. Look back at my life and introspect. Dream of the good days and the bad ones. The people I like. The ones I wished weren't there in the first place. I think about the future too. I have plans. Big ones at that. I try to make a roadmap. Sometimes good decisions can be made in the peace and quiet of untroubled moments I say to myself. While I try to seize the opportunity, a hostess interrupts me. I take a can of Orange juice. It tastes like medicine. I leave it. This is getting worse. But I have nothing to do. Except sit back and let my mind wander aimlessly. Somewhere I fall asleep.

Suddenly im interrupted by the speaker. The plane prepares for descent. I fasten my seatbelts. As I deplane, im overcome with relief. The worst is over. In time im home. That night as I lie in bed my mind instinctively wanders to the happenings of the last 24 hours. A sudden plan, a company by coincidence, the onward journey, roaming on the chilly streets in Delhi at 1 in the night looking for an open internet cafĂ© (i actually found one in another hotel), the events thereafter, the couple separating at the airport (somewhat touching), the ground staff and the old men gaping at them, my loneliness at the return journey – it was a mixed bag but some did leave an indelible mark on memories. I smile and retire myself to a night of blissful sleep.