Saturday, May 7

Mercury Rising

The PA crackles out loud: "...the outside temperature is 33 degrees" in a typically disjointed flight attendant's voice. It sounds ominous for the Cinderella hour, but Delhi May heat is rarely for the faint-hearted. Nonetheless, it offers me little succour: an uncommonly rude landing has woken me up rather unceremoniously, arms flailing, a few moments back. Perhaps its one of those pilots selected for nepotist reasons (I have followed that story with more than passing interest, including to check if my preferred airline finds dishonourable mention. None yet, but tonight's rough touchdown suggests that may merely have been good PR). Welcome to India's corruption capital.

These thoughts run through my half-awake mind as the aircraft taxis interminably to the dock. I wonder if I should switch the phone on (I ought to be contrite but I don't know any other rule that tempts me thus with any regularity). Perhaps I don't need to do this surreptitiously but my guilt has not lessened despite sharing with a planeload of passengers, flight after flight. A mental shrug later, I decide to wait. (It helps that the late hour rules out folks waiting with bated breath to hear of my progress through the space-time curve.)

At long last the aircraft reaches the gate. This is cue for two-thirds of its passengers (its a full flight) to rush into the aisle, much like our parliamentarians troop to the Well in Zero Hour. Everyone seems ready to risk life and limb (not their own, surely) to pull their carry-on luggage out of the overhead bins. A few moments of heaving and panting and they are ready for the charge, undeterred by the knowledge of a wait before the aircraft doors open (the continued analogy with similarly puerile calisthenics by our Hon'ble MPs is striking). I want to get up and stretch a leg but settle for making the most of the extra space in the exit row. It does little to uplift my mood.

Minutes later I am part of the Indian file, my solitary piece of luggage, a laptop bag, slung over my shoulders, negotiating my way out of the evening transport. I try my best to reciprocate the deliberate enthusiasm in the cabin crew's goodbyes, but make do with a smile I hope is bright enough. My perennially-in-meeting-mode phone whirs to life with sundry messages enticing me to assorted properties in Noida, and one that reassures me I am not alone in the world. It cheers me up a little and there is almost a bounce in my step as I climb aboard the travelator. One of the last flights of the day means that, but for my co-passengers, there are no milling many, sporting bored scowls and assorted attires that mildy hint at their ports of embarkation.

Not for the first time, passing many empty arrival gates, do I wonder why we docked at the farthest end. Perhaps it is FIFO but it sounds too simple and logical for any self-respecting sarkari decision-maker! In any case, even at the end of a long day, the physical exertion of a walk through the terminal's brightly lit but desolate confines easily outscores its mad-dash predecessor (unless you crave the excitement of a wildly careening bus-ride lurching your way over the asphalt in the darkness, desperately trying to retain a modicum of balance while the beast hunts intermittent islands of light in the daunting expanse of a large airport).

Used to long strides, my progress on the walkway is typically brisk, though in fits-and-bursts as I encounter slower moving traffic. My stock response to such interruptions is to wait and take advantage of the travelator's section breaks, and occasionally to edge in sideways. Today I stick to patience-pays, perhaps due to a renewed wave of grogginess as random sounds of our progress through the terminal prey on my mind. The muffled pitter-patter and bolder clickety-clacks of miscellaneous footwear distinctly lose to the grating noise of assorted stroller-bags being dragged over the metal. It is an uneven crescendo that threatens to jar the senses, much like an orchestra spinning out of control. This pipe music adds a laconic twist to the sight of one in stilletos, positioned plumb in front of the ladies room but thinking the corridor a better place to powder the nose than the privacy inside. Perhaps this one seeks comfort in the crowd. Whatever.

Down the escalator and past the palm-mudras arrayed in greeting, I near the exit. Expectedly I spot some of the prominent members of the push-away-like-no-tomorrow specimen of the flying species head towards the conveyor belt to await their registered luggage. Without such baggage (pun intended) I continue straight and hit the Meru counter a minute later. Surprisingly there are no cabs at the ready (I see smallish queues at the other radio taxi providers too) and I wait my turn, OCD-heavy as I count off the six folks ahead of me. Tonight cabs hunt in pairs, like fast bowlers, and my ride arrives soon enough. I jump in with a few minutes to go before midnight, but sure I have not had the last of the portended 33 degrees...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yawn ;-) 33 F is so different, but the rest could be equally true in Newark as much as New Delhi! I would personally prefer to moan over red-eyes a lot more though -- may be some day :-)

And I did not miss either the stilletos or the meeting-mode phone -- your record on the latter has only slightly improved post BBM :-/

Keep going!

-A

Sridhar said...

I am waiting for the second piece detailing the cab ride from T3 to Sohna. That would be killer, I am sure..