Airport tales as different as night and day
Airports are happy places at 8am on a Monday morning. The lines are short. People are civilized
Shoba Narayan
First Published: Sat, Jul 13 2013. 12 18 AM IST


A sparrow is eating a masala dosa in Bangalore airport. It doesn’t even bother to lift up the remains of the dish and fly off like a furtive crow stealing a vada. Rather, it hops on the white melamine thali-plate that is neatly divided into sambhar, red chutney and white chutney; and picks on the turmeric-yellow potato filling. I half-expect it to dip the potato into the radish sambhar. “For added taste,” as the man behind the counter said, when asked to explain what the “Mysore” adds to the masala dosa. “Mysore masala dosa is coated with hot paste,” he said. “For added taste.” The sparrow has figured this out.
Sparrows have disappeared in Bangalore. We have bulbuls, Brahminy kites and ravens, but no birds of the Passeridae family. An NGO is making valiant attempts to revive them. They distribute sparrow nests to interested citizens and ask us to hang them on windowless balconies to lure back the sparrows. What they really need to do is raid India’s airports and mop up these masala dosa addicted birds.
I am eating a Mysore masala dosa at the airport. I made a big show of eating oats at home before leaving and feel that a reward is justified. So I order the dosa, which appears like a golden rocket that has fallen sideways. The best part of being at an airport is eavesdropping on conversations all around. Nobody does this any more. They all walk around with phones to their ears.
Two fat women sit behind me. Usually, I can spot the power equation in couples: who kow-tows to whom. But with these two, I am unclear.
“It was raining in Madrid last week,” says one.
“Also in Chandigarh,” says the other.
“And then we went to Lisbon and Barcelona, which were terribly hot.”
“It was hot in Chennai and Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) too.”
What takes one woman to Madrid, Lisbon and Barcelona; and the other to Chandigarh, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram? Are they in the textile trade and comparing how soggy the yarn is in Madrid relative to Chennai?
Two bearded men walk by, eyeing our plates like clients scouting prostitutes. They are figuring out what to order. I feel compelled to chew my masala dosa with great gusto, silently signalling to them that they ought to consider it. I do everything short of giving them a thumbs up. When they return with exactly what I had ordered, I feel stupidly pleased—like a salesman who has slam-dunked a sale.
Airports are happy places at 8am on a Monday morning. The lines are short. People are civilized. “Pehle aap,” they say. “After you”. Businessmen in black suits walk with a spring in their step, hopeful about closing the deal or whatever it is they are on their way to do. Women in beautifully pressed saris saunter forth, searching for their gates. You can tell that they are going for a wedding by the amount of jewellery they are wearing. Even the woman who cleans the women’s toilet doesn’t look bitter about her lot in life.
It is only at night that airports become depressing. Those men in crumpled black suits return like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. They are wounded warriors who have realized that the thing they made the trip for is a lot harder to achieve than they thought. The client didn’t bite; the proposal wasn’t approved and on Delhi flights, the minister didn’t give audience. These men walk slowly down the arrivals hall, swinging their briefcases, making a bathroom stop, seeking sympathy for their troubles but knowing full well that they won’t get it at home.
As far as their wives are concerned, going on a business trip is equivalent to a vacation. Some of the wives have spelt it out. Others think it.
“You get to go on air-conditioned planes and have a conversation without interruptions. That, baby, is a vacation. Meanwhile, I dealt with cranky kids, nagging in-laws and resentful maids. Welcome back home. F*&^ you,” is the response that these travellers will get when they go home.
The men who get off the last flight know this. You can tell by their conversations. As soon as the plane touches down, they whip out their mobile phones. “Mein aa gaya (I’m back),” they say, and you can see the hope seep out of their voices. Within a moment, their chest falls. The woman has lifted the proverbial middle finger. What did the man expect with his announcement, more suited to victorious Rajputs than salesmen in tight suits?
The next call is to the driver, who is more sympathetic. Everyone inside the plane is doing this: calling their drivers as the plane taxies to a stop. I wonder if this causes a collective revving in the parking lot as countless drivers wake up from their slumber and start their engines.
The women don’t call home. They are too fraught with guilt at leaving home, hearth, hubby and babies for a day or three. They know better than to call their spouse and announce, “I am here.” It takes confidence (or a tone-deaf ear) to do that.
Women soft-pedal. “Landed,” they text. They hope that their man is enjoying a single malt. They hope that the children are in bed; they hope that the Indian team has won the match because he will be in a good mood. They spray some perfume to ward off the stench of body odour all around; and hope that the scent of their tired bodies does not cause their mate to get horny.
Airports are happy places, except at night.
Shoba Narayan gave the sparrow some of her Mysore masala dosa. It didn’t bite.
Also Read | Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

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