Am I a patriot? Well probably. if you were to go by my conversations with friends I would be the first to jump up and defend India and rave and rant about the Indian value system and Indian sensibility.
But as we all know India as a nation is a conundrum of contradictions- contradictions that might baffle any social scientist. But we Indians can easily do away with all the accusations about contradictions in one stroke with the the much overrated 'Unity in Diversity' card.
But one area in particular that I can't reconcile to - is the major disconnect between the Indian I encounter on the street - the friendly and usually more than helpful kind and the one that I see inside airports. I can never understand what comes over the Indian the minute s/he enters the portals of an airport.
You get a taste of things to come at the baggage scan counter itself- if you have an extra bag or two and if you are travelling alone you will be passed up at the baggage scan by quite a few passengers who arrive much after you.
As you wait to collect the boarding pass you might be passed up again and again at the security check- and that computer and I-pad which was so useful for your travel is now a curse as you fumble with the bag and deposit it in the tray and look on helplessly as others gleefully inch past you.
You see we Indians don't believe in queues- what is a queue anyway - a foreign word that is as difficult to spell as maintain- so why observe it at all?
But this is just the beginning. There is more trouble awaiting the hapless traveller as most airports in India are undergoing transformation. One can pray all one want for an aerobridge but all that one is going to get is that impossibly high bus and that difficult stairway.
By the time you take the bus ride and lug your hand baggage up the stairway you are half dead and you tell yourself "A few more minutes now and then I can rest!" pipe dream actually, because invariably the space allocated for your baggage storage is grabbed by the early birds who beat you to it. So you sheepishly put away your own in someone else's spot. What the heck! "If you can do it so can I!"
I don't know why, but most airlines always seem to have this bizarre sense of time- I can almost imagine some authoritarian figure sitting in a well lit, well air conditioned office working on a 9am-5pm schedule sadistically plotting the timings - flights are most active just around midnight. So if you thought you could sleep through the flight and arrive fresh at your destination, think again. Firstly they never serve dinner until much after takeoff (well not that I look forward to it in any sense of the term - who can stomach stale highly microwaved dinner at 2 a.m. in the morning anyway) but cabin lights are not dimmed till dinner is cleared. When they finally put off the lights and you struggle to decide on the best position to fall asleep in the extremely uncomfortable seat, other factors take over and ensure you stay bleary eyed throughout. I can never understand why kids begin to cry the very moment you begin to fall asleep or why most co passengers decide to catch up on the exercise they so easily abstained from on land or even why some folks are so chirpy at 3.00 a.m. I remember one particular journey where a woman and her husband kept me awake the whole night detailing her medical history (it made me wonder what kept her alive and so voluble at that, given her condition) to a co passenger who couldn't care less-but I have since found an easy saviour from all this noise in noise cancelling headphones.
When the plane gets ready to land- the flight attendants can go on and on with their warnings about switching off mobiles and keeping the seat belts till 'the plane comes to a complete halt,' we Indians don't really care do we? because mobiles ring and seat belts click left right and centre much before actual touch down. And its a real wonder how people manage to extricate themselves, dislodge the luggage and position themselves in the aisle all in a trice, and dare I say that the queue is conspicuous by its absence.
As you can imagine, I resign myself to be passed up once again- I really don't mind getting down last -it gives me the opportunity to collect my things in peace but I do mind being hit on the head and shoulders repeatedly by missiles- sorry bags of the overenthusiastic pushing jostling crowd these bangs are serious enough to cause temporary insanity- but I don't have the luxury of wallowing in this state as I have to negotiate the entire process of disembarkation and exiting the airport which calls for full possession of one's wits.
As I live in the Middle East- I experience problems unique to this sector but that warrants a lengthy discussion rather than a passing mention. It is what Shakespeare might have called - 'And thereby hangs a tale.'
So do I love India and Indians? I most certainly do, only not the air travelling mutations!
I came across this video which sums it all up pretty nicely: