I remember the old days when I used to return from Ahmedabad to Bombay by the night Saurashtra or Guajrat Mail. Somebody would go early to the station and reserve a berth for me. Then, at the last minute, I would arrive, laden with Ahmedabadâ€™s mawa halvas, say goodbyes, get into the train, and promptly go to sleep. The only dreams would be of voices calling in the distance: garam chai, chai garam. And in the morning I would be in Bombay and at home.
I used to think how fast travel was, and how convenient. Now I find that it has becomes faster and even more convient.
After some 20 years, possibly more, I had the occasion to go to Ahmedabad. The city has grown, not progressed. And this morning, I returned; not a moment too soon, I said to myself.
There was no question of train this time. The areas around the railway station are under curfew. And my friend, Keikobad, who used to go early and occupy a berth for me, is dead. I returned by air, spanning the distancein a brief 50 minutes, courtesy Indian Airlines and a Commander Took or Toque or something like that. I always find it difficult to follow the accent of Indian Airlinesâ€™ stewardesses.
The Boeing that brings you to Bombay, first flies in from Bombay, the first of several trips across the country that it will be making during the long day.
It flies to Ahmedabad in the night, darkness still enshrouding the landscape. I heard it coming in, like a giant, pre-historic night bird, roaring to a halt on the tarmac, lights flashing through the high windows of the terminal building.
Then, accompanied by stores of Gujarati yuppies (baggy jeans, highcollared tailored white overalls, fancy hairdo and fancier luggage), on their way to the USA via Bombay, I boarded the aircraft. It is a fact of life that while the poor Keralities and others have suffered because of the end of the Gulf boom, the Gujaratis, who have scorned the Gulf and aimed for the US, are continuing to prosper.
Commander Took or Toque proved to be an excellent flier; he took the Boeing out on the runway, wheelded it around and directly took off, without the usual buildup of warming the plane, revving the machines.
Out on the horizon, an orange sun was coming out, beginning its journey across the skies an hour after the hard-working Boeingâ€™s, lighting the arid Gujarat countryside.
The monring papers had flown in with the plane from Bombay, which was a relief, reading the 28-page Bombay Times as against the 12 page Ahmedabad Times. But there was little time; one bun and one orange later, Commander Took or Toque was landing at Santacruz with the same precision that he had shown while taking off at Ahmedabad airport.