Saturday, January 20, 2007

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport

The Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport is as much an assault on the senses as its name is on the tongue. As I walked into it, my legs rejoiced at their new-found freedom, while my eyes complained at the sudden influx of bright neon light. But despite themselves, they opened wide.

The farther you are from home, the stranger the first few moments in a foreign land seem. I noticed more things in those first five minutes in India than I did in the whole eight hour plane journey before them. I saw in pin-sharp detail the dirty whitewashed walls from which all of the buildings in the country are made; I noticed with a smile the scraps of out-of-place tinsel that hung from various stern-looking statues; and I observed with a sense of impending doom the line of viciously bored, sleep-deprived bureaucrats that sat at passport control, with their pens, papers and questions at the ready.

Yet in spite of all this, it took something else to make concrete in my mind the fact that I had truly arrived at my destination. In the end it wasn't the rapid Bengali chatter that suddenly surrounded me; it wasn't the humidity (though it was the middle of the night); and it wasn't the slightly metallic smell in the air (though it was distinctive), that told me that I was where I was supposed to be.

No, it was the sign composed of bright pink letters on a dull brown background, proudly proclaiming that an "upgradation of the toilets" was underway, that proved beyond all doubt that I was in India. This just couldn't happen anywhere else.

For a nation that contains more English-speakers than any other, the level of language that I encountered on my trip was shockingly low. Lower even than in the intellectual slums of London. "Do Not Force Open Please" was politely written above the heavily guarded doors to the terminal's waiting lounge. Machine-gun-wielding guards stoically regarded it without a hint of irony. Sometimes I prefer to think that the average level of English here is actually very high, and descends into self-parody only to please the tourists.

Luckily, the signs weren't the only things in the terminal designed to please the tourists. A couple of dingy shops and kiosks lurked in the corners of the room, surprisingly open considering it was the early hours of Boxing Day. I watched as a couple of Swedes, who had accompanied us all the way from Stockholm, were drawn towards some rather unappetising snacks like spotless moths drawn to a particularly sooty flame. Unbelievably, one bought something. She'd learn. (And if you don't know what that means, so will you).

But unfortunately for me, these moments of morbid amusement were sandwiched in-between one of the most agonizing waits I have ever had to endure. It's not the flight that kills you, it's the wait at the airport afterwards. You see, we had to wait until sunrise to be picked up, as driving in the dark really wasn't worth the risk. So we waited in the lounge, and yet again I couldn't fall asleep. This time sleep buzzed around me like a mosquito, again just out of reach.

But I'd made it, in body if not yet fully in mind. And my stay had just begun.


Pouria said...

Excellent Pascal.


Red Wolf said...

What a great description!!! It makes Skavsta airport look like heaven!