Now that India is flying as never before, the mores of travel have changed, and so has the landscape. Indians are quickly finding out that airports are not railway stations. We often land up in zany situations as a result, mainly on account of the unique way in which us Indians have been used to travelling.
Traditionally, we always packed our chutneys and oils of all kinds in our baggage, and got away with all that. We would only travel by the all-embracing bus or train, in those halcyon days. But these days unending queues at airports are an indicator of just how much we have begun to love air-travel.
Over the decades, Indian aunties and uncles had become accustomed to dumping all sorts of seemingly useful things into their luggage. Even ‘bistar-bandhs’ or beddings and sleeping bags were permitted aboard those large-hearted long route trains in years gone by. Some families undoubtedly still carry on in the same vein, and a visit to any railway station is clear indication of this. There we can easily spot ladies and kids sprawled on none too clean floors. In evidence, surrounding them, are quaint objects like little boxes, ‘potlis’ of clothes, milk cans, straw mats, little stools, ‘dholaks’, small suitcases, shawls, blankets, pet cats and even hens at times.
And when these families commence their lifelong tryst with air travel, they necessarily have to adapt to and adopt security linked dos and don’ts. Out go the little liquid-containing ‘dohlus’ and sundry other basket-type containers. Also not permitted are unstructured items like hot water bottles and quilts which can be carried on to buses, but not on to planes!
Thus a new paradigm of travel has to be laid down for the Indian air traveller. And at airports, one finds enough evidence of the pressing need for this. The Sharmas and Khannas and Patels land up at airports with little time to spare and much to do, you see!
A non-busy onlooker would find it amusing to spot a family alighting from their taxi, arguing briefly, for want of time, with the cab driver over the fare and scurrying towards the entrance. The security person would raise his eyebrows a few times, waiting patiently, while the head of the family tries to find the ticket on his phone device, and the wife admonishes him in full public view for not being efficient enough. The tables are soon turned though, when the lady cannot find her photo-id, and the hubby starts growling.
Also not very pleased at this collective tardiness are the harassed looking passengers in the queue behind them. Thus the very act of entering the airport becomes one that necessitates stress management exercises by those involved!
The electronic kiosks and baggage screening points present another firewall of sorts to these hapless travellers. And of course the young lady duly appointed by the airline will assist them at both. Yet, no one would have bargained for the fact that the little darling of the family, the chubby looking Pintoo would need a pullover from the big suitcase since he would be feeling cold! Thus, the heavy case would be opened in full public view, with all kinds of tidbits spilling out, and the desired article being retrieved from it, thus causing a requirement of another round of screening, and further delay.
At last would the family reach the check in counter, with the airline staff making faces at their being late. And if their baggage turns out to be too heavy, which is quite a possibility, arguments would result and the already harried passengers would surely lose their tempers. Anything could happen after that!
Perhaps someone needs to organise mass training programmes for passengers and significant others. Even airport staff is often ill trained, and not adequately prepared to handle a bevy of ‘difficult’ clients!
And not to forget the aspect of making one’s way to an airport through maddening traffic. Somehow, railways stations are always more accessible and easier to approach. As George Winter said, “If God had really intended men to fly, He’d have made it easier to get to the airport!”
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