I had to drop a friend at the Santa Cruz airport this morning for the Indian Airlines 0600 hrs. flight to Bangalore.
It is always a good time to take a flight out of Bombay, once you have gone through the arduous task of waking up to the eight musical tunes-plus-Big-Ben-Chimes alarm and getting out of bed. The dawn is still a glimmer in the sky and, but for an occasional Aaret van or milkman on cycles or an unusually empty BEST bus, the roads are empty and you can do the distance from Churchgate to Santa Cruz in a flat 20 minutes.
We sped down Marine Drive, taking in the ozone, past Chowpatty with the neon signs blinking their final messages of the night, over the fly-over, through Peddar Road, recognising the many house we have stayed in over the years, some unpleasant memories of wicked landlords and greedy house-brokers, mostly pleasant.
There were several naka bandhis along the way, police parties suspiciously peeing into vehicles, asking where you are going, as if anybody goes anywhere but ot the airport or the railway station at that hour of the morning and with luggage on the seat next to him and tied on the top of the vechile. I have never been able to figure out what the police are looking for at that hour. Sometimes I wonder if the police thesmselves know what they have to find.
The approach to the airport is signal led as usual by the warm glow of the honeycombed Centaur Hotel. And, also as usual, the airport is as busy as ever. But it is an organised sort of being busy. Net orderly queues at the counters, planes departing on the scheduled dot. Later in the day, the scene would turn into mild chaos with fretting passengers and harassed (or resigned) staff, as the departure of the flights would be progressively delayed.
Santa Cruz is an interesting airport, more interesting than Sahar Ė passenger-wise. The businessmen in their safari suits (I wish Indian businessmen would learn to dress appropriately, either in a proper jacket and tie or in a soft dhoti and crisp white long coat with gold buttons) are leaving for their 37th trip (in the present series) to Delhi to get a business licence or other perfectly legitimate document from some political broker in ministry.
And the tourists are there; groups of elderly Americans in charming hats being huddled like school children on a picnic towards the security check for the flight to Aurangabad or Udaipur. A Trade Wings guide is instructing them in a loud voice: "Please write down on the luggage tag your names, this is important, and your flight number, I a fifty-six, five, six."
And there are familiar faces, friends and acquaintances leaving for Jadhpur, Rajkot, Hyderabad, Comibatore to proceed to Ooty (lucky). The Calcutta flight is boarding. You can always tell a Calcutta passenger, he either looks like Jyoti Basu or M. J. Akbar.
But most of the familiar faces are or the Delhi flight. I look around for Murli Deora, he is always flying to Delhi, with or without the chief minister. For once, Mr. Deora is not there, but his brother is there, going to meet the commerce minister at 10 a.m.