ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: I flew from Hyderabad to Bangalore the other day. It was like travelling through a time machine. From the future, into the past.
Having finished the semester, a friend and I took the afternoon flight out of Hyderabad to Bangalore. This gave us both our first opportunity to see the brand new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (it didn’t escape Y.S. Rajashekara Reddy‘s fetish to name all new things after a dead Gandhi) in all its splendour.
Hell, it almost made the two-hour drive from our campus to the airport worth it.
For one, the baggage trolleys had brakes! The ordinary baggage trolley is about as controllable as Harbhajan Singh on a cricket field, and the looks one gets after inevitably running into a fellow passenger with a large pile of luggage would make Shanthakumaran Sreesanth on the pitch seem positively friendly.
Imagine our pleasant surprise when we found that we could actually walk smoothly with our large piles of luggage without having to play dodge cars at every turn.
We walked into the departure terminal and were struck dumb by the sight that greeted us. This wasn’t an airport, it was a freakin’ spaceport! Any moment we expected to hear the whoosh of ion thrusters as the Millennium Falcon lifted off with its cargo.
No, cancel that.
That scruffy smuggler, Han Solo and his tin can space-ship wouldn’t have been allowed within a light year of this gleaming, shiny piece of world class infrastructure. This was a spaceport fit for the Pushpaka Vimana, carrier of choice of the Gods.
We spent a full five minutes staring at the vast vaulting roofs, the gigantic pillars, the space age architecture, the empty queues, and the efficient counters before we realized that if we didn’t fill those empty lines and test the efficiency of the counters we would miss our flight.
We were still too awe-struck to notice that the plane was delayed and I had been stiffed for “excess baggage”.
It was then that we noticed something odd and unfamiliar in the terminal.
The absolute lack of noise.
Even the announcements were barely noticeable (which was not a good thing since we almost missed the plane because of that). But strangest of all, the usual hubbub of voices, the hallmark of any gathering of more than one Indian and defining characteristic of the chaos and the disorder of the ordinary airport was missing.
Even our fellow passengers seemed to be overawed by the building, and barely raised their voices over a whisper. Plus, the whole airport was air-conditioned and one was more than adequately protected from the flaying heat of Hyderabad in summer.
It was all too… un-Indian.
My friend, somewhat of the socialist bent, disliked it. She felt it was part of a large conspiracy to make Indians docile and obedient consumers by putting them in unfamiliar, foreign surroundings. This, she pointed to the airport, was a way to entice budget conscious Indians into surroundings that would make them forget their budget conscious Indianness and spend all their money on expensive foreign goods.
I was too busy downing the overpriced latte to respond.
We finally got on the plane; performed contortionists’ tricks to get into our seats, and invoked all known deities as the plane repeatedly flew into alarmingly large pockets of turbulence. This only added to the inter-state-bus feel of flying a low-cost airline.
The comparison was complete when we landed at the Kempe Gowda bus terminus. At least that is what the overcrowded HAL airport seemed like when we landed.
Noisy fans, creaky conveyor belts, litter-ridden bumpy floors, unmanageable baggage trolleys (but for my friend’s alert intervention, I would have run over a kid with my trolley), low artificial ceilings magnifying the marginal heat of Bangalore, and a crushing crowd gathered around the baggage claim reminded us where we were.
We were back in India.