When I was a girl, growing up in the outskirts of Chennai, the airport seemed in an another world altogether. Such was its impression on me due to my night-time visits to it.
The only member from a sprawling branch of twenty cousins to first set foot in the USA or any place abroad for that matter and get settled with the spouse was her – the first cousin who had entered the once lush green, less-polluted Earth before us.
And she always ended up choosing me and my family, alongside hers, to drop her off at the airport, where the flight would always be scheduled around three or four, the next morning. But to comply with the usual stringent security system (which I’d rather call as ‘The Disposal System’), she’d have to check in at the airport before Cinderella’s clock struck twelve.
So, after giving her a final hearty South Indian dinner (with hope that its taste and aroma and a sense of belonging to motherland would linger on even after arriving in the USA), we’d all set off on a trashy yellow taxi (only Omni vans that too) into the silent night on the muddy road with the luggage and handbag stuffed on top of us inside the already squeezed car.
I still remember the early 2002’s Chennai Airport – a long narrow road, lit by yellow sodium vapour lamps, with few taxis dotting the entrance. The chill breeze would immediately instigate a round of sneezes as soon as someone steps out of the car at half past ten.
After the baggage-weight checking (those days they had machines to individually weigh before the security check), my cousin would unwrap her bulging suitcase and draw out like the rabbits out of a small hat, pressure cookers, teapots, coffee mugs or other aluminium utensils or any other Indian snack that her mother would have secretly packed it into. I’m sure I’ve seen my cousin sigh out in relief when she doles them all out.
Meanwhile, the impatient me would keep nudging my Papa, begging him to take me to tour the flashy Higginbotham’s store. He’d then warn me that I must not pester him to buy a book or two.
Leaving behind my arguing cousin and her mom, Papa and I would scuttle towards the store, my eyes round with joy. Bright lights, red books, colourful cartoons – every damn sale-able or non sale-able thing would tempt my promise that shouldn’t be broken. Hence, sadly, all I did those days were to click pictures of them with my eyes and store them in my memory card called brain to be recovered as and when needed to dream about.
Forwarding to 2017, I’m bewildered at The Disposal System Personnel – authoritative, unfriendly, not knowing the local language of the state. They drive me nuts!
I agree such a demeaning nature is quintessential to ward off evil – terrorists, but sometimes its better to loosen down their insecure feeling and help a lost woman at the airport like my mom. I might even poise them in the same position of Mother Teresa, if they do so!
However, past all those anger and impatience transfixed faces, one is always disposed off to the waiting arena which is a feast to the eyes – the glass panel from ceiling to floor offer selfies and photos with planes on runway behind with free Wifi access for immeditate posting on Facebook with hashtags – #chennaiairport #flight #USA #selfie #terminal3 and there’s no end to this.
There are also lots of small cafes, eateries and goodies store that dot the pathway, blessing the passengers with a chance to while away the time and the left-over appetite. 😉
However, I was bemused recently at the decoration the airport had received – fairy lights across the length and breadth of both the domestic and the international airports, marked with pongal pots and Indian flag symbolizing its celebration of the state – Pongal and of the nation – Republic Day.
They appealed to me like a new circus that’s been set up in the town or the annual fair in a large ground. It beckoned me to transform into a child again, to tug at my dad’s shirt seam to take me to Higginbotham’s again.
Ah! If only time could do it..
– The Girl with the Black Bow-tie
THE CHENNAI AIRPORT AT NIGHT