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   Last night, at the airport... (February 5, 1991)

Last night, at the airport, as Singapore Airline flashed its immigration and security sign, I stood at the entrance and watched the world fly out.

Mostly it was the Sindhi world that was flying out - to Singapore and Hong Kong and places where they have made their homes and shops and lifestyles. Wobbly old men in dyed hair and sneakers, and large, well-fed women, with bulging Kala Niketan plastic bags and piles of papads (pappadum).

And everybody was carrying mangoes: cardboard boxes of Dhoble's mangoes, wooden creates of mangoes. Not just the Sindhis, it looked like everybody was going home with mangoes - the Chinese, the Japanese (you either have to stay in the farthest East, or to be an expert, to distiguish between the Chinese and the Japanese), the Arabs who left from Terminal I.

I had gone to the airport to see somebody off - a first-time filer. Nervous not over flying the first time, but because of all the elaborate procedures that a person has to go through befire flying out. Not that I was much use. A ten-rupee ticket takes you three steps into the inside, then there is another barrier beyond which only the bona fide passengers are let in, like patients being wheeled into surgery while the visitors stand out.

So I stood at the periphery of the two worlds and watched the activities increasing as the night advanced. In Bombay, as in other airports of the inpoverished East, as the domestic airport closes down for the night, the international airport comes awake.

Flights originating in Europe in the convenient hours of the day come in, flights that will terminate in Europe the next morning go out. That is the way of the world, and quite right also, till we become first world and somebody else at the other end of the journey becomes third world.

And because this is the third world and impoverished, there is a lot of petty crookedness also, I could see it through the night: taxi-drivers, mainly from the five-star hotel ranks, demanding and getting large amounts of fares from the foreigners; unlicensed porters grabbing baggage from passengers' hands. There is a new racket on also. I could not see a single baggage-trolley along the entire frontage of the terminal. But there were shifty looking young men, who, for a sum of money (not just Rs. 10,) would go round some corner and produce a trolley for you.

But the night was advancing, more passengers were coming in. a group flying out to catch their ship; Gulf-bound workers, looking generally miserable; NRIs to East Africa; an elderly lady with a walking-stick, who must have in her lifetime put in more flying-hours than a young pilot. Finally, the Singapore Airlines' cabin crew, like fraglie piece of China. With girls like that to fly with, who would want to fly Air India!

I came home, stopping on the way for a meal at Sindhudurg for which I was atrociously overcharged, slept, and in the morning rang up a given number in Singapore. My passenger had reached - safe and on the dot. And the moral of the story is: Travel Singapore Airlines.

 
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