This is the first time that I am taking the new Air
Flight was uneventful. I learn a bit about a famous mafia hitman who loved to leave his victims to the mercy of feeding rats, and from the Hindustan Times I learn that Priyanka Chopra felt overdressed in shorts and something called “tank tops” while she was in
It takes a few days to get used to the pace and flavor every time I visit. There are little scenes that tug you towards the continuum that one was part of before leaving. A brief glimpse of a man emerging from a narrow lane, backlit by a single sodium lamp through the rising smog, the milky elaichi laced tea from a stall, the smell of disinfectant coming off of marble public spaces. I am waiting at the gate of “
As I had imagined, the morning papers have gone hysterical with national pride at the 3 medal performance of
Service personnel permeate the hotel and the airport. All kinds of customer assistance booths line the domestic airport. The staff are courteous, and quick to give assurances that do not seem to carry far. Everybody is winging it. The ground staff at the gate scratches my printed seat number and scrawls another number in by hand. Inside the aircraft, a second crew member scratches that out, and restores my original seat number back. Passengers are upset because seat numbers have been switched around. But, things settle back in the aircraft, we leave around the expected departure time and soon I am sitting with a south Indian breakfast served by the matronly Air
Aug. 22 –25
Kolkata is my favorite city to watch from the air while the aircraft prepares for landing. Part of it is the anticipation for the city where I spent a dozen of my formative years. Part of it is because it still looks like a cluster of villages stitched together in green. Circular patterned brick making kilns dot the approach to the airport. The land is a jumble of shapeless mofussil style brick constructions, palm trees and ponds. I get a SIM card for my cell phone and sign up for a prepaid taxi at the airport. The main road from the airport to the city,
The next morning we prepare to head to Guwahati. Kolkata, for a certain section of society, continues its upmarket march. I seamlessly pick up a Wi-Fi connection at
Borjhar airport, Guwahati, is my third airport in three days, and the first one not named after a warrior. Due to security concerns, this leafy suburban airport teems with heavily armed soldiers and their presence has a quietening effect on the people milling outside. The road back to the city runs along the great
The morning’s papers bring news about unrest in
This morning a cousin of mine, a tea company executive, came by to. Wild elephants roam his compound, rhinos are seen across the road from his house, and tigers are not too far away. Blessed with striking natural beauty, resources, and wildlife,
Manmohan Singh is due in
There is much construction in Guwahati since the last time that I was here a year and a half ago. The Mall madness appears to have arrived here as well. The main avenue called the
Back in Kolkata. The Tata Nano factory episode has captivated the media. Mysterious has been the appearance of a politician from Uttar Pradesh, Amar Singh, who, in supporting the strikes, appears to have his own axe to grind. Rumors abound—perhaps he wants to lure Nano to UP; perhaps he is aligned with one of Tata’s rivals. In an address to industrialists, the
Yesterday was a full day of business meetings. Between meetings I sat with a colleague at the Grand hotel bar with a pint of Kingfisher draught beer. An older jazz guitarist—the live music for the evening—was fingering through the scales on his acoustic guitar, waiting for his colleague to show up. He had a wizened face, with crows feet by his eyes, and I thought that he was Anglo-Indian though age made it one of those hard to place faces. As I got up I caught his attention and with the slightest nod of his head he acknowledged my departure. He had noticed that I was enjoying his music. I was sorry to get up and leave but I had a meeting that had been arranged that evening.
With the business and the pleasant surprise of meeting a fellow alumni behind me, I headed back in my hired car listening to “Radio Mirchi”. The night traffic along the eastern bypass was lighter, like the Kolkata traffic of the mid nineties. It is a pleasant surprise that I could recognize most of the songs -- they were from the seventies and early eighties—and I conclude that the current generation cares for this kind of music. Watching TV at home, I see an ad where a white woman chases a white man ostensibly wearing “Charagh Din” shirts. Mannequins and posters in the department stores are of European, or as they like to say—“international”, models. We view this fascination and discuss it. Are these vestiges of a sense of inferiority from the colonial days? Or are these simply an embrace of things considered glamorous for some other, innocent reason? I recall observing this phenomena in
I am sitting on a sofa at FabIndia in Kakurgachi, reflecting on the furniture displayed for sale, waiting while M finishes picking out some fabrics. We, in
The upscale stores and the mall are full of employees—young kids in store uniforms, a cell phone in their pockets--they seem insistent about responding in English. They are eager to help, three of them at a time attempting the task of one with intermittent success, and some of them are very bright and clearly destined for bigger and better things. They answer with confidence, though not necessarily with accuracy, but have a disarming innocence and approach their jobs with energy. Their biceps grow stronger by the day swinging open large thick solid glass doors for their customers, and you tend not to get excessively ticked off for their occasional pointless responses. You leave it to their youthful enthusiasm. These kids are filling jobs that were not there two decades back. Without these jobs they would be sitting in lungis by the para more, wolf whistling the girls who go by.
I am in
At night I go to Hauz Khas, to pick up M and the boys who were spending the day with one her close friends from school. Her friend’s husband is recovering from a serious automobile accident he had in Madhya Pradesh and recounted to us the absolute horror of the lack of healthcare in rural areas. Struck by a tractor trailer in the middle of nowhere, he had to be driven 6 hours and 200 kms to
The siege of Singur is now a subject of national interest. The Tatas will decide soon whether to uproot and move. Their adversary, Mamata Banerjee, who had pledged a peaceful demonstration, saw it broken within twenty four hours, and now wishes not to be perceived as a guarantor of non-violence. She is no Gandhi. The national media more or less views this as an act of self-destruction, where
We head to the airport late tonight and after checking out of the hotel, we have driven to Gurgaon, to M’s brother’s house, through the clean, wide avenues of
It is almost ten o’clock at night now and neither the heat, nor the humidity has let up. The car to the airport arrives within the next half an hour and we will head to the airport, ending what has been a short, hectic, trip. It has been a pleasure writing this journal, sometimes to while away the time on an airplane, sometimes to have something to do jetlagged in the dead of the night, and sometimes just to unwind after a long day.
After a relatively smooth transit through Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi—I am still debating whether this qualifies as an airport named after a warrior—we wait at the gate for the Air India non-stop flight to New York JFK. Security is tight and there are multiple checkpoints. In the final one, just before stepping onto the aircraft, a tall man looks at our boarding cards. He hands me my ticket back: I prepare to tuck it away, when he says “Rakhun Rakhun, shamney lagbey” (Keep it keep it, you will need to show it ahead). “Bangali?” I query, as I walk past his smiling acknowledgement.