There are travellers and travellers and then there is me. The night before I have to travel out of town, I have the jitters. I toss and turn in bed, wander around in the middle of the night to ensure I have carried my identity proof, print out of the tickets and enough money ( yes, I belong to the old world). I get back into bed and toss for another couple of hours and jump out of bed at 3:30 am sharp for my 6 am flight for which I have to have to be at the airport at 4:30 am. By the time I am bathed and ready to leave, I am exhausted and want to get right back into bed and I am cursing like a mad magpie. Hassled Harry the Husband has wisely learnt to keep his counsel to himself and is snoring gently on a chair as he waits for me to finish my final round of rummaging my bag for various lost things. I suspect that when he finally drops me off at the airport, he lurks around to make sure I have checked in and then does a celebratory dance to welcome blissful solitude for a few days.
As for me, I don’t know what I hate more about the time I spend waiting around in airports for flights to arrive and depart. In the beginning, it used to be the waiting in serpentine queues for the check in, the begging for aisle seats and other forms of groveling that we do if we don’t travel business class. A friend of mine once told me she arrives very late for her flight and because she is very fashionably turned out, the staff routinely upgrades her. I have never mustered up the courage to do that. Besides, the way I dress while I travel, I am more likely to be arrested for suspicious behaviour than be upgraded. Thanks to relentless travel, I have almost gotten used to cringe inducing experiences such as the occasional feel-up by the female security. Maybe it is just me, but I think they can do better than sadistically poking you in the breast with the metal detector.
I don’t know about others but there is something about me and airports. By the time I have cleared security and have arrived at the magical land of the departure area, my hair is dishevelled, my clothes are in disarray with the dupatta trailing after me like Kate Middleton’s wedding gown and my eyes are darting around wildly in search of a place to rest my butt and get my heavy bag off my shoulder. I think I have seen fellow travellers sneak suspicious looks at me from the corner of their eyes as I rummaged wilding for something or the other in my bag. I am a chronic searcher of things at airports where I misplace the boarding pass at least half a dozen times. The rest of the time I am searching for my phone which also disappears into the big black hole that my bag is.
It is usually when I am the most hassled and disheveled, that I run into some or the other glamorous people I know and who, sadly, also know me. Just the other day I was sitting on yet another plastic chair in some big city airport and looking wistfully at this glam being in a canary yellow jacket, fashionably retro skirt and knee- high boots who was pacing up and down, talking animatedly on the phone, her silken hair cascading down her back. I was eating my heart away in envy and throwing mental darts at her shapely, unsuspecting backside when she turned and our eyes met and she turned out to be this television anchor who has most of the nation- or at least one half of the nation- eating out of her hand, thanks to her blinding beauty. “Oh, how are you?” she said, giving me the once over, obviously curious to know why I looked like I had run away from the mental asylum. “I am fine,” I said weakly, trying to hide my well-used Sketchers- clad feet under the chair and kicking myself for having worn one of my ancient, comfortable baggy jeans and baggier T-shirts for the flight. I would love to be one of those gorgeous beings that arrive at the airport looking like models with freshly blow-dried hair, impeccable make up, fabulous clothes and bags. These fashionable people head to equally fashionable airport cafes or bars where they hang out, picking at tiny morsels of expensive food while basking in the envious glances of those around them.
As for me, the other day, having done a marathon flight into tech-city and waiting for my next flight home, I found myself thirsty, hungry and desperate for some nourishment. I waited in queue patiently to arrive at the food counter selling South-Indian food. I asked for bottle of water, a cup of tea and some mini-idlis, the latter because it was the cheapest thing on the menu. That will be Rs 550 ma’am, the bloke behind the counter said. What? I said, staggering back in shock.
Ma’am, it is Rs 550. Will you pay cash or by card? I will just have the water and tea, I said weakly. A 500ml of water at Rs 40 and a tiny cup of tea in a plastic cup for Rs 80. Achche din kab aayenge?
But the hunger pangs would not go away and so I joined yet another line at a cafe which promised a plate of Pav Bhaji for Rs 150 and the bonus of three pavs instead of the usual two. When I finally got my pav bhaji, it came in a green plastic tray with a weird, runny bhaji and the promised three pavs that were so tiny that I gobbled them up in four mouthfuls. And oh, I actually paid Rs 187 for it because clever airport guys don’t mention that taxes, etc. are extra.
Talking about food, can someone kindly tell me which sane person eats noodles in a cup or dal chawal on a 6am flight? The noodles or the rawa upma comes with a cup of hot water which you pour into the cup and wait for eight minutes for it to cook before you eat it. And the dal chawal comes in a paste like form that resembles baby food or baby @$#%^ depending on how charitably you are looking at it. I have taken to carrying a fruit with me when I get on these early flights. Beats the hell out of paying through your nose for the aforementioned ‘swadishtha bhojan’ that you have to pay an arm and a leg for!
You can reach her on firstname.lastname@example.org or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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