Sunday, 31 October 2010

Ah, the joys of an Indian airport

If you have had the good fortune to be in an Indian airport even once, you would appreciate the unmatchable joy of such an experience. This blogger is uniquely qualified to ruminate on this topic, since he has spent a substantial proportion of his life in the confines of the aforementioned entity. Unfortunately he continues to indulge in this hobby , despite numerous new year resolves to escape from this magical experience. Readers who have specialized in weaning diehards away from their addictions may please email this writer.

The enjoyable experience begins with approaching the airport. As you near your drop off point, you see a traffic jam a mile long. This is because everybody coming before you has parked his car right in the middle and has begun the process of unloading humans and baggage of gargantuan proportions. The famous Rajalakshmi (she of the gargantuan proportions herself) finds the act of getting off from the car a feat that might challenge Nadia Comaneci, and therefore takes a full 9 minutes to complete this test of human flexibility. Then comes the 13 pieces of baggage without which an Indian wouldn’t be caught dead traveling. Having done all this, its perfectly OK to leave the car in the middle and walk off – only 5 minutes saar, solpa adjust maadi. End result, mile long traffic jam.

Indian travelers love to have at least a dozen people to come and bid them farewell . Farewells have to be long and done many times to prove your undying affection to the departing. Hence the traffic jam of people , about 2000 of them, thronging and blocking the entrance. A few are waving wildly and gesticulating comically through the glass at those who have already gone in. The others are all in the various phases of the “send off”. One bawling baby is being passed hand to hand for an affectionate and rather wet cuddle. Other 90+ year olds are having their feet touched, or receiving an endless stream who are falling flat at their feet . Tears are flowing copiously. The departing are repeating this process for every inch they move, somewhat like an infinite loop that the coder spends his life creating (the probability being very high that the departing specimen is a coder; excuse me, IT professional) . Much jostling and pushing. Somebody has just stepped on my toe. Another massive lady has lost her balance and has caught me in a rugby tackle. Much waving is going on – on an average the much loved departing hominid has to wave 1467 times – I am not exaggerating; this has been the subject of 13 separate Phd theses at Harvard ; academicians’ research is usually on such weighty topics.

As the enjoyment of this experience is only extended to a chosen few, Indian airports try their best to exclude the masses. This is done by a laborious checking of a ticket with an identity card at the entrance. Since the guy who checks it is obviously illiterate and since airline tickets come in myriad shapes and sizes, he takes about 27 minutes on an average to accomplish the said task. And since the addiction of enjoying the airport experience is desired by many of the millions who throng India, this activity leads to a serpentine queue where you can explore your fitness by standing for 42 minutes on one leg.

After 74 minutes of an absolutely riveting experience, and one full blog post later, I have finally been able to come to the entrance of the airport. The even greater joys of being in, now await me. To be continued ……. !!


  1. At the end of all your travails, including unwanted advances from Rajalakshmi who was just pretending to trip, I hope you are at least traveling to some place fun. I think indian airlines should also charge for every bag checked in like they do in most US airlines. Everyone here hates it and complains all the time but I would conjecture that it is the most effective way to reduce baggage. Sounds like a topic for another academic study :)

  2. Ah Saare wonderful wonderful :)
    Pl do continue on what happens inside :)

  3. A M A Z I N G..I just gone 3 years back, when I usually send off most of my IT friends.. Its peculiar in India - I've witnessed and be part of it many times. You are very true, we could never see these things any other part of the planet I believe (with very little travel that I've made so far).. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post..

  4. Well. I have to admit I've been guilty for at least ONE of the contributing factors to the chaos right outside the airport. In the summer of 1999, when I returned to the US, after living in India for 14 years, I had three car loads (excluding my family) see me off at the airport in Bombay. Fortunately, at that time, I felt no guilt since traffic jams weren't a mile long like they are today at Indian airports.

  5. I have come to realize that Airports can contribute so much to modern day literature. So much to write about. And I have to say, Airports and travelling anecdotes bring out the best in you.

    I have travelled from 100ft RD (Indiranagar) to HAL airport (roughly 4kms)for 1 hr! waited right outside the Airport for another hour, after which I just grabbed my suitcase and ran for my life towards the airport. I started off from my home, smelling like a spring garden, every hair and thread in place... and reached at the gate looking as if I've fled after snatching someone's suitcase and smelling like a rotten potato!

  6. Anonymous31/10/10

    intha post nenga trafficla wait ppanna timela postinatha! :D there is an ad car ad nenakren...with similar theme :) but u knw wat..naan ithu varaikum flite ponapolam..yarumay enna send off panna vanthathilla :( but for once. oru vela ivan namma kooda return vanthiruvaanonu bayanthu apeet aaitangalo enamo :)

  7. Greater joy of being in... :D I can imagine few of the scenes that you are going to describe in your trademark style. Pls do so, can't wait to read them.

    Mile long traffic jam at the drop off point is quite irritating and getting nowhere in any of the major cities. Biggest struggle for the checker is to find the traveller's name on the ticket - believe it or not, it takes them ages to do that.

    I would share what happened to me few weeks back. One of my flight was delayed by 2 hours and the gentleman at the gate was having repeated arguments with me saying that the boarding time has passed. Since it was a non-hindi and non-english zone, all the more difficult for me to make him understand about the delay. Somehow after another 17 minutes, I could convince him that the flight is actually late. :)

  8. @J - Charging for baggage is so counter cultural in India that I suspect it will be a long time before it comes. I knew you would notice that cheap shot at academics !!

    @zeno - Will write about the inside when I get there !

    @LG - Yes the send of (and the receiving) is fairly unique to India

    @Pranav - Ha Ha. You are excused that one time ! How's life in the new place. Drop an email

    @Deepa - Bangalore is much changed. The new airport is light years ahead of the HAL one. None of the things I parodies about happens there.

    @gils- Just wait till certain events happen - you'll then be subject to lots of people coming for the sending off !!!

    @Vishal - Yes finding the name on the ticket is quite a chore. Its a useless security step - after all you can pay the entrance fees and get into the airport anyway. So why bother checking ??

  9. somehow, i have started connecting to this rajalakshmi a lot. on her side this time again!!

    keeping my business trips aside where i can just dump in a pair of change clothes into my laptop bag, i cannot visualise how can i cut down luggage (the bigger challenge of course is cutting down the gargantuan proportions myself but lets keep that for a different occassion).

    even for the recent holiday - a week long one- i had 9 pieces of luggage - a suitcase for my clothes, a suitcase for my kid and husband's clothes, a suitcase carrying electric cooker, kettle, rice, dal and all the misc cooking stuff since i still dont trust outside food for my kid, his bag full of books and toys to keep him occupied duirng the trip, a bag carrying all ready to eat and so on and so forth. the cost of the porter at each place cost me a fair share of the cost of the trip itself... but cant decide what i could have cut down. so i understand rajalakshmi's predicament pretty well.

    of-course coming to the farewell sessions - it is really very painful. especially when people travel abroad. i still have not understood why we should waste non renewable sources of energy to wave a hand from outside the airport and why we cannot wave the same hand from the window of your house. but many times, i have been a victim of this formality and wasted many hours travelling 30 kms to the new airport and return. and a relative of my mine is still very upset that i didnt make it once. these are the pains of being rajalakshmi i guess....

    i am thinking of changing my pen name to rajalakshmi - what you say ???

  10. @Sandhya - Ha Ha - did you really travel like that !!

    You are no Rajalakshmi. You are a slim svelte lady ; far from the athletically challenged woman I portray ! You can take her side though ; your good nature being naturally on the side of the underdog :)

  11. kiwibloke2/11/10

    With 97 airports in 41 countries I can very immodestly say I'm an authority on airports! On a typical domestic flight in India you are subject to no less than 7 checks, the efficacy of them is quite suspect. 1- Illiterate guard checking you at the entrance, 2-Checkin assitant checking your ticket/ID, 3- Xray and metal detector search 4- another illiterate guard checking your boarding pass/baggage tag and stamping it 5-Airline assistant checking your boarding pass at the gate and scoring off your sequence number, 6- another illiterate guard checking if your boarding pass and baggage tag is stamped 7-finally the airline attendant checking your boarding pass at the plane. Despite all this I had the curious experience of a passenger on a 9W flight bringing a 26 inch suitcase as a carry on which was kept in the aisle along the last seat through the duration of the flight. Our Rajalaxmis and Rajalaxmans are usually blissfully unaware of basic security regulations like keeping mobiles off when engines are running and seat back fully reclined with the tray tables open and laptops/ipads/Ipods on!

  12. Kiwibloke2/11/10

    PS: Number 98 coming up next week on the 9th Nov when I land in IAH (Houston for the lesser travelled)

  13. only you can make this sound like an experience of a lifetime. I read this post aloud to my Grandmom - she is 87 and has never travelled in a plane. but now she wants to go, just out of the sheer joy of reading this post.

    You are a rock Star.

  14. @kiwi - You are, no doubt, the numero uno of air travel. The to be continued bit now stands irrelevant in my post - your comment sums it up beautifully.

    Now why on earth would you want to go deep into Texas ???

  15. @Priya - Awwwww. I am deeply honoured. I prostrate flat out to your grand mom.

  16. Oh my,was to write a post on this soon,after a terrrible experience @ chennai airport,and you did that.
    But never seen new bangalore airport to comprehend yours,but the old one doesnt even qualify as a airport.

  17. Niraj Dhupia3/11/10

    I thought should mention something good here. At least in India, the security guy won’t allow non-travellers to go past the security gate. Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine a scenario, where the relatives, friends of the travellers accompany them for baggage check-in (contributing in arguments for excess baggage issues). Outside India, as you know there is no one to stop you at the airport entrance itself. Though people here in UK don’t do that (not many even bother to come to see someone off), but I have to admit that I have accompanied travellers at Heathrow till the final security check on more than one occasions.

  18. @ambulisamma - Chennai airport is the exact Indian airport I had in mind while writing this. Wishing you a nice holiday back home

    @Niraj - Yes, in most airports you can go right in upto the security checkpoint. Cannot happen in India, else no plane would take off !!!

  19. Ha Ha Ha. Saar, you reached BIA fast??? I'd have travelled almost half the way to Salem in the time it takes me to get to the airport.

    You have blasphemed the sacred Indian airport art of the group-send offs or welcome-ins. You'll pay for it. :-) :-)

    Our ATC has atlast bent its rules dating from Wright era and allowed mobile phones to be on when the plane is taxiing after landing. Get set to have 15 more minutes of loud "Hello, I have landed" and myriad phone startup tones!!!

    This e-ticket business is starting to be fun (and a security loophole as well). I can take an old e-ticket, change the dates, print it and possibly get into the 'restricted to passengers' area of the airport with an empty duffel (to get around suspicious guards). :-)

  20. @RamMmm - I have indeed blasphemed. Am sure to get my ear tweaked by somebody !!

    The ticket checking is a complete waste of time. Much of this security is senseless - its just to show a presence.

  21. Ramesh Bhai (in gujju style) - ekdum dinchak blog likhyo che... (you have written a wonderful blog).

    My whole enlightening experience while travelling through Indian airports have been the immigration officials..

    They speak such Shakespearan English that I feel ashamed at my own. Their attire is so neat that it is multi colored shades to it. Their behaviour is so congenial that it reflects the atthiti devo bhava bull sh... and to top it off they always stamp on an empty page in my passport Damnnnnnnn!!!!

  22. @Sanjay - Since when have you turned into a Gujju ??? I know exactly the feeling when a big stamp falls in the middle of the unused page you are trying to hoard for the next visa ....

  23. Good post Ramesh! The joy of reaching the entrance of the airport could be enhanced, if you catch the lonely foreigner standing with a "Free hugs" poster in his hand! :-).courtesy : Bangalore AP!

  24. @Hema - Welcome to this space. Haven't seen this foreigner as yet - shall trace him out next week on the usual Chennai sojourn. This is a unique character indeed - a huggie ??


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