Monday, 18 March 2013

Airport Agony

Come April and it will have been eighteen years since I first embarked on international travel.Those were the days when a few Indian parents were just waking up to the fact that a Masters Degree from the United States Of America for their little (Parle G fed) geniuses was literally a passport to a green card which in turn was a great way to finally get rid of the blue passport which is anyway frowned upon at most immigration counters the world over! So barring a handful of students who had managed financial aid, some workers bound for the Middle East and a few business executives (information technologists en masse had yet to really take off and jobs hadn't been 'Bangalored' yet!), there really never used to be too many people at any of the international airports in India. New Delhi,of course,being our capital was a notch above other airports, where footfalls were concerned.
Terribly rich Indian families used to take a break in Europe or the States once their eldest child had appeared for the first hurdle in the Indian system of education-the tenth standard board exams! It was completely unlike today, where every vacation right after pre-nursery to the post twelfth standard entrance exams merits a visit abroad and there are even loans available to fund such trips! So one can imagine how deserted and desolate Mumbai Airport used to be....Friends of ours knew the Airport Manager and he was kind enough to let us wait in his personal cabin till it was absolutely imperative that I started the preboarding the formalities.Yes, those were the days before 9/11 and 26/11 and before the Kathmandu hijack. The world of international travel was comparatively a safe and secure one, open to the privileged few.
Hand baggage was not even weighed in those days, as long as you carried just one it was fine.No Indian can ever travel light and I often had as much stuffed into the strolley as I had checked in!Jackets were not X rayed separately and I ensured each jacket pocket was filled to overflowing...Oh those were the days of royal travel for sure!
Then my daughter was born, followed by my son and from being a lone traveller I got accustomed to travelling in threes! (My husband zips in and out of airports as his schedule permits and it is rare for him to be free exactly at the time school closes or reopens so most of the time we have to battle it out on our own!) We saw many airports across the world being given face lifts, we saw ever increasing queues for immigration and check in (this despite numerous counters being opened up, compared to the six that Mumbai had earlier!) and we stumbled upon huge (pun absolutely unintended!) joint families bonding over parathas and pickle, thalipeeth and theplas at international airports, as they embarked upon a Dilwale Dulhaniya Lejayenge  inspired Swiss holiday or a destination wedding...
As the years went by family and friends often compared our airports, especially the one in Mumbai, very unfavourably with others across the world.I used to be up in arms at once and protest vociferously in defense   of our own.After all,I argued,where else in the world is one passenger accompanied by at least five other people who have come to bid him good bye?Can we blame the airport authorities if there is a jam right outside or if the washrooms are unable to handle this extra load? We should be the change we want to see... And so on and so forth.
All this changed last Tuesday.After a quick visit home it was time to fly back and we were at the Mumbai international airport.Since I practice what I preach,the children and I had come from Pune (our hometown) alone and the driver dropped us right at our terminal gate, bang in the midst of a traffic jam accompanied by the cacophony of horns.
The trolley bay there was empty and so I asked the kids to wait with the luggage while I walked a kilometer across to the other end to get a trolley.After pushing and shoving the trolley through a stream of people yelling out bon voyage to their loved ones, I managed to get back to the kids,only to find that the bay behind them had finally been replenished and my daughter had managed to lay her hands on a trolley.Unfortunately they were standing right outside a reeking washroom and when we finally loaded our luggage and began entering the airport, my son whose nose and ears are way too sensitive, could not bear the olfactory overload anymore and threw up in the first washroom we came across inside! What a start to our long journey across the Indian Ocean!
After standing in the now mandatory queues, we finished all the formalities and finally settled down for what would be a long wait as flights from this airport are generally delayed due to long lines of aircraft waiting for take off on the tarmac.. I asked the children to settle down as best as they could and to try and catch forty winks. Little did I know then that the worst part of the nightmare had yet to be.Almost immediately we were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes! We changed places twice but all in vain.The children were bitten so badly in a short period of time that both of them were in tears! I could not believe this was happening to me, in my own country to boot!At this rate our government should give up the fight for the patent for Basmati rice and take out exclusive patents for dengue,chikungunya and malaria as we are surely exporting these diseases from our international airport. Complaints were of no use at all as I was categorically told no spray works on these giant mosquitoes! Really? Well,those mosquito repellent  adverts on television that we are constantly bombarded with, certainly had me fooled!
Using the washroom unleashed a further wave of these monsters as they were thriving in the dark, dank depths of the commodes and the children landed up being bitten on hitherto unbitten parts! I ,as a mother, have never felt so helpless and I was immensely relieved when our flight was called and we entered the aero tunnel to board.My relief was short lived!The mosquitoes had bypassed immigration and customs and were merrily entering the aircraft along with all of us! I spent half the night swatting mosquitoes around us!
India may or may not be incredible but the way these insects are ruling the roost at the airport certainly is!They have subjected us to two types of agony-the physical agony of being bitten from head to toe and the mental agony of now being in quarantine for so many dreaded diseases!The female anopheles mosquito certainly gets crowned for being a 'femme fatale'!


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