There is a rail bandh in Hyderabad. About two hundred trains have been stopped. I wonder when and how will I reach Gwalior. Still Diwali is far. So not very worried. These kinds of strikes can suddenly paralyze the whole system and create a lot of inconvenience. I remember the last year while coming to Hyderabad, the train was stopped at Kaghaz Nagar. Imagine seven hours without a/c and no water or food. It was terrible.
My other nightmare was in London. The London blasts crippled the entire normal life. The tubes are the life line for hundreds of commuters in the city. They are like the local trains of Mumbai. Efficient, fast and cheap. I always preferred parking my car in the suburb and traveling by them. But after the blasts, things changed. I had never seen such frightened commuters in London. They were always polite, smiling and relaxed. But now even an empty cigarette box was enough to trigger panic.
Yet train travel is my most preferred mode of travel. I enjoy the bliss of solitude and peace. I avoid mobile, watch or pen. It is close to nirvana. The only accoutrement I allow is my laptop. I can read, write or simply mull about things which we don’t get chance to think about.
But if even if I dislike Air travel, I can’t ignore it. After a decade of overseas living, at least now I have an option. But for overseas travel there is no option.
I remember once at the Amsterdam Airport, there was a snag and the plane had to be routed to Canada. Another plane then carried us to Miami.
Another time I was caught in a hurricane weather while returning from New York and then the plane had to make an emergency landing at the Palm Beach Airport. It was the same tale. No air conditioning, no water. It really helped put things in perspective. We take things for granted. Its only when we suffer do we realize the value.
Every thing changed drastically after 9/11. USA was never the same. Their security increased. It became more detailed. They became xenophobic. Racial profiling came in our lexicon. The Americans became less friendlier. Now they have even installed X-ray machines which can actually see through! Every time I walked through it, I wanted to cover myself with my hands.
Long back I was returning from Lome in West Africa. It is the capital of a small country Togo. Africa is a strange continent. Every country is ruled by a dictator. There is so much violence yet the Africans are a very fun loving lot. One African boasted that they don’t have many prisons. But you could hear bullets fired even from the airport. It was Kinshasha Airport I think. That told another story. Maybe that is why they didn’t need prisons I thought. I wanted to share this thought with that man. But he was over six and a half feet tall and weighed more than twenty stones.
I wanted to leave that place as soon as possible and heaved a sigh of relief when the plane took off. But that relief wasn’t for long. The plane developed some mechanical fault and we had to stay overnight in Nairobi.
Nairobi is a great city. It has some of the most amazing wild life. I saw more Gujjus there then I saw in Ahemdabad. The moment any Indian saw you, he presumed that you spoke Gujrati. After a while I too joined the fun and started addressing anyone I met
“ Kem che! Majama che?”
The airport even fifteen years ago was much more posh than Mumbai airport which was considered to be the best one. Today we can boast of some good airports. I would rate Hyderabad airport as the best.
The closest to an accident I came in India was once when we were going to Simla. It was a small plane with a seating capacity of hardly twenty. The exuberant pilot, happy to see that lovely hill station tried to touch the land a bit too hastily. We landed almost close to the airport which then was nothing more than a small building. A bit too close for our comfort. As we walked the tarmac, I joked with the pilot that he made me feel like I was chauffer driven. He wasn’t amused and simply glared at me.
It was such a cold one that I almost caught a flu.