Its 5:45 a.m, Wednesday morning, and I’m off on a work trip to Bombay. Ordinarily I’d be working on such a trip, but my current case is kind of wonky. Although it spans 4 weeks, I start getting data only in the 3rd week. While it’s always difficult to balance workload in a job like mine, having 2 reasonably unproductive weeks (except for work trips) is a bit much. So any way, I use my ‘unproductive’ time to write.
The one thing I absolutely dislike about being back in India is work travel in India. No, it’s not the weather, or the flight delays, or the one-day travel (thanks to exorbitant hotel tariffs). Sometimes, it’s the fact that all these things happen together. But if I had to put a finger one thing, it would be airports. It’s not the inefficient processes, pushy staff, and crowded lounges. Having spent an overwhelmingly large part of my life in India, I have surprisingly high tolerance for these things. What I find lacking in Indian airports (IMPORTANTLY, Delhi airport), is the airport smell.
Typically, all I need to do to get excited about a trip is step into the airport. Even if I’m seeing someone off, I start to plan my next travel, just by getting the airport whiff. The perfect airport experience is………let’s see….a mix of the sanitary smell of the clean and not typically crowded check-in counter, clear flight announcements, following a mild musical reminder that goes bing bong bing bong, a melange of perfume scents flowing in from the duty free, foreigners (usually white) running to catch their flights, with their kids running behind them, flat elevators (ok, travelators as they call them), perennial presence but occasional dominance of the smell of coffee, the smell of sandwiches being toasted at a small deli, and close to it, a well-lit bookstore with a friendly middle-aged guy who responds to every most of your queries with “Apologies, but don’t have it in stock”, but still helps you find some good books there, and while you’re paying for them, helps you pick a few magazines out. And me striding towards the coffee shop, in Adidas tracks, an old vest (usually blue or white) and a not-so-large backpack, just about managing to balance its weight with my own, carrying a ~300 pages book, on some silly mildly consequential war, or a travelogue on some random place which no more than a 10,000 people would have visited, or just as likely, a chick magazine, to read about fashion, celebrities and new (correction: old and over-leveraged by the editor) tricks on ‘how to make him forget everything else’.
Now my experience this morning.
The sanitary smell of the check-in counter replaced by my inability to find the check-in counter. In all fairness, my airport is under construction. And per their request, I’ll bear with the inconvenience today for a better tomorrow
Flight announcements- Reasonably clear
Perfume scents- None. May be because it’s the domestic airport, but the only whiff I got was of Ralph Lauren’s Romance, which I OD-ed on this morning
Foreigners running to catch their flights- Oh yes! Especially these 2 women, both very bohemian charging towards the ladies security check line (Pth: How do women travel in long skirts- may be because they’re tall, so their long skirts reach only their shins and give them plenty of room to walk. Sigh, I wish I were tall). I think they’re used to running at airports, because they’re on the same flight as me, and we were well in time for it. Also, I overheard the prettier one crib “Oh for once I wanna be in a more efficient airport”. Bitch! So I’m not unbiased
Flat elevators- No. Domestic airport, so unlikely
Coffee- Finally, yes! The smell, the blend, all there!
Book store- There’s one but I couldn’t go (For the nth time, it’s a work trip).
No smell of sandwiches
Me- Possible the biggest disappointment. The tracks and vest replaces, but a boring, all-black, pant suit. (Pth: Black pant suits are so not for me! I usually pass off as a 6/10 on the presentability scale, and in skirt suits, even a 7. But in Black pant suits, I slide a massive 4 points, down to a 2. I just don’t have the body for trousers. More details on that later, but if you’ve seen me face down, you know what I’m talking about), no book, backpack replaced with a reasonably good looking but heavy laptop bag and other cabin baggage
So it’s not really about Indian airports. It’s a mix of all those things I spoke about initially. And the fact that I’m in an all-Black pant suit. And that I’m shoved around until a final push throws me into my assigned seat on the plane. And that it’s hot. And that I’ll probably be back this evening, all groggy, without seeing Bombay at all, once again.
While in Singapore, I spent 5 months on a project in KL. This meant travelling back and forth every week, for 5 months. But because these weren’t day trips, I could fly Sunday night instead of Monday morning, and avoid the business suit agony. And even if it was a business suit, I’d be wearing a skirt. And not trousers. I could reach the airport 2 hours before my flight, visit the book store, sniff all the new perfumes at the duty free, run my fingers on the lovely Burberry scarf I always wanted but never bought, get coffee, sit on the floor outside the boarding lounge and burn phone cards on calls home. If there is one single thing I miss about being outside India, it’s just that- the airports.
Like a seasoned consultant should do, 3 things I love about some other airports:
· Munich: How they pronounce the airport as flukaafen or something. Spicy pepperoni. Everything else German.
· KL: The aero-train, which is absolutely redundant, but most fun. The Mango store. And the lovely people I’ve met here.
· Boston: The staff that held the Newark-Singapore flight 15 minutes, so I didn’t miss it. The row of chairs facing the runway. All the delis.
· Bombay: The new structure. Coffee Day. Crossword.
· Bali: The immigration counter which resembles a pre-paid auto line. The ubiquitous bali massage flyers. Stores dedicated to Bali oils and teas
· Heathrow: Mango, Zara and the men’s store which sells cute boxers
· Hong Kong: The pride. How everyone is dressed impeccably. And my trip with the folks.
· New York, JFK: Starbucks. Hudson News. And the round seating area in the food court, where you get to see exactly why American kids are fat
· Dubai: The fact that I spent 14 hours there because I couldn’t afford a more expensive flight. The duty free that I bought my first perfume at. The roughly equal split between American expat women, and burqua-clad women at the lingerie store, which sells possibly the sexiest lingerie I had seen until then (and clearly could not afford)
· Cancun. Yes, there eees something I like about the damn town- the airport. Hard Rock Store. Heavily discounted duty free that is temporarily the best solution to a wounded heart. Cheap tequila!
· Delhi. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Not until GMR (Thanks, Nobster) pulls up. No, there’s one thing: being home.