Monday, May 01, 2006

Thoughts on the 'fly'

I am writing this sitting in Lufthansa with about less than 2 hours to hit Meenambakkam. This trip that began 16-17 hours ago was, as usual, a fun trip. I was packing until the last minute and beyond. I redifined 11th hour so much that the airport-shuttle-ride lady appaled at my total lack of respect for her time almost yelled (no in fact she really did yell) at my friends. When you rush to the vehicle, throw in your stuff and sit there sweating and looking out the window on the way to the airport - there is whole background program that runs - right? You are running through a checklist of things you should have done and desparately search for stuff you forgot. I discovered that I forgot things which would probably make my wife not talk to me for like a week. I am DOA.
I am not sure if this is common, I have my own idiosyncrasies when I travel. Its a same standard bag that holds my passport, tickets, cash, batteries, discman etc. The same cabin baggage that I bought from Witco during the ice age, with the same set of things that go in it. Its like the comfortable space I get when I keep these things in their usual place.
This whole flight, I stress tested this new Sony Noise reduction headphones. It does really eliminate noise. Not the noise that comes when loud music is played outside or when people talk - but it completely eliminates the white noise caused by the flight hum. A very useful thing in flights. There is a world of difference between having them and not having them. A friend of mine put in a big sales pitch for this and since the missus wasn't there to stop me, I bought the Sony. She must be thanking me, I could have gone for the Bose one. Anyways, as I once again ignored the horrible airline food and turn to my cereal bars a curious thought struck me. Its kinda 'out there' and wierd, so humor me.
Flight travel is a package set of fun and nuisance in its own way. I find one thing very interesting. When you leave from Madras via the 1:15 AM flight, You board on the same Lufthansa flight that dropped off a bunch of passengers in Madras at 11:45 PM. When you are leaving Madras - your last view of Madras is when you walk in to the airport at around 11:45PM, you do a bunch of check-in/immigration related things and finally fly-out at 1:15AM. When you fly in to Madras, you land at 11:45PM and do a bunch of check-out/baggage/immigration related things and see Madras back again at 1:15AM. I find the the whole thing kind of nice. Well-rounded. See, Madras does not change when you leave it. Its like - time freezes in India when you leave and you just unfreeze it during your next trip and pick up where you left off. Its something like - you went into the airport at 11:45PM did all the check-in and at the time of boarding the flight you change your mind, decide not to fly and come out. In this case nothing outside the airport changes significantly - in those 2 hours - from the moment you went in and the moment you came out. I am saying the second case is no different. Coming out this way at 1:15 is no different from coming out a year later at 1:15. Except people who are receiving you outside are slightly more bald. You go back in the same call taxi, it is the same watchman, same "parru kuzhambu/beans poriyal" waiting for you. Its a whole "sliding door" thing. Nothing changes.
They have changed the gate in Frankfurt from where LH 709 usually leaves to Madras. They have changed the terminal itself. Its now a crappy old terminal where the restrooms are horrible. I walked into one and took a look at the wash basin. There was stuff there which I think would continue to spoil my apettite for like a year. I still shudder when I think of it.
Walking to the gate that takes you to the Madras flight is interesting. Some of the things that I have been seeing for N years hasn't stopped. If you are having doubts on whether you have come to the right gate or not don't worry. There are a list of things that lets you know immediately that you are standing in the right gate. No! its not the thick dark moustaches that tell me these people are going to Madras - its the safari suits. Seriously, isn't this like a 80's Indian civil services style thing. Why are Tamilians still roaming around with this crazy dress? Its like I show up at the gate and am going on my little checklist (a) thick dark moustache - check (b) Old ....very old people - check (c) kids with specs (not one or two..all kids have specs) - check (d) old ladies wearing salwar kameez with "power" white running shoes - check (e) Safari Suit - check. Just for fantasy sake - I'd like to hire an army of barbers and shave off the moustache bearers of Tamil Nadu when they sleep at night - starting with my dad. Nobody will show up for work the next day. I am sure walking around without a moustache is like walking around nude in this part of the world. My dad really thinks this is true. Its hair-growth on your face. Why attach attributes like, courage, bravery, style to bunch of hair underneath your nose? Grow up!
And almost everybody in the gate has this mean, nasty look about them as they survey all the other desis in a condescending way. Its like "let me see the sample set of indians going to the US and find out if they are as good as I am". The Green Card/Citizen folks must be thinking "anybody can come to the US nowadays"- the F-1 folks look at the "H1-B parties" - who are invariably wearing full-arm brown shirt tucked into black jeans pant and won on top of shining white reebok shoes(ofcourse they have a thick moustache) - and must be thinking "who let these people in" - the H1-B parties are thinking "kid with t-shirt shorts, cultural depravity - why is he putting on a scene".

Invariably the small children (with specs) are running around and making unbearable noise. You keep hearing (in thick indian accent) "rohan you will fall down. dont go there" and the kid - who could easily pass off as someone who plays around by running along a spare typre by rolling it in the road with a stick on teynampet roads (remember these kids?? huh!), replies (in amayrikkan accent) "no! mommy! i like this mommy". Usually its not a pronuncable name like Rohan, it is a complicated name that has a meaning, 2 stories and rhymes with Dhrishtadyumnan and the likes - and is usually taken from some unseen corner of the Vishnu Sahsranamam. At this point I am seriously thinking - "lady get up and give him a slap, he is annoying". However, she goes "pattu thangam. No chellam. please dont do it" (honey buns etc). The kid obviously ignores her. All the other passangers are annoyed. Whats more everybody would do the same thing if they were the kid's mom. Its funny that things look so annoying when somebody else does it and so natural when you yourself do it.
Oh! and there are always 2 people - strangers - who manage to strike up a conversation on the topic of "returning to India". The lady wears a dress that doesn't fit her (its two sizes bigger), its a full-arm t-shirt with stripes in arbitrary directions. I think there is a special store in US which sells this to working Indian moms. She asks (watch the sudden use of her husbands name when she hasn't even told who the hell that person is) "Madhu and I are also thinking of moving back. we are only worried about kids you know. I heard India is improving nowadays. What do you think?" and that person goes " I got citizenship and moved back to India 2 years before. I am happy. I mean,I had to adjust but it worked out". The lady goes "but didnt the kids find it i dont mean horrible in that way but didnt they find it hard to adust".... : btw this is a real conversation, I heard today. Now what do I think when I hear such conversation? The lady obviously is not going to base her decision on this conversation, she isn't going to get his email address and start asking him detailed questions later (try giving her your email address, she will get freaked out), she isnt counting and the moment she sees 74 thumbs-up for return-to-india, she isn't going to pack her bags and leave. Its all this ego massaging, friendly sparring that goes on. Its "oh! I have many options and India is one among them..ooh! I am so big that I can talk about moving to India in a condescending way". Not that I am patriotic, because I am not. It is just the whole fake conversation thing that puts me off. If I were the guy, I would just reply "dont move. India is a bitch. Its a horrible 3rd world country". The look on her face should be priceless.
Then comes the announcement, which asks all passengers to leave the gate and come back showing their boarding cards. I swear this has been happening for the past 8 years. They let all of us in the gate area and 30 minutes before boarding kick us out and let us in one-by-one with a boarding card check. There is a mad rush to get on the line outside the gate. Invariably Lufthansa would make you check-in your hand baggage also. The key to avoiding the so-called crappy jet-lag is to not sleep during the entire flight. I know it goes against conventional wisdom. But it is true. I always fall asleep in the Euro-Ind sector. Thats the reason why I screw up. You have just slept for 9 hours, you land, you go home and you can't sleep. My return journey is usually not a problem because I sleep on the first flight from Madras to Frankfurt and then it is atleast 12-15 hours of no sleep, so I can sleep at night. They key is to not sleep.
Ofcourse, in another 50 minutes I am waiting for that landing in Meenambakkam. It really pushes some adrenalin into my body. I dont know why? Its like the feeling I get when I cross Arakonam and I see each sub-urban station like Avadi, Perambur cross by. Its the high, I get when I cross the Basin Bridge station and see the 2 railway tracks mutating into thousands of tracks. The slow approach the train takes in to central station and you start seeing people waiting on the platform is a near orgasmic experience. It is like the bus ride into Madras in the 80's. Where you have croossed Vandalur etc and you are waiting in Tambaram traffic knowing Saidepet bustand is somewhere round the corner and you ask your mom "madras vanthacha!?"(has madras come?) every 2 seconds (I know - like that annoying kid above minus the accent). The excitement of this landing never dies. They have announced "Chennai Maanagaratchi Ungalai Varaverkirathu". So I'll stop writing and prepare for the descent.
P.S: I read in some blog about the smell of urine that greets you just before the immigration counter. Yes it is true. Its so conspicuous that they should change that. However, there are some positives. For example, the immigration counter is now a larger area and the throughput was much faster this time. They did not throw the luggages in two baggage carousels, which really helps.
P.S2: Back to the age old sacred ritual of morning filter coffee, reading The Hindu and listening to old people on their thoughts about who will win the election.
P.S3: The first thing i did was to go to my favorite barber shop for some oil-head massage.


Anonymous said...

"My dad really thinks this is true. Its hair-growth on your face. Why attach attributes like, courage, bravery, style to bunch of hair underneath your nose? Grow up!"

haha... I'm sure you dont have even an iota of that facial hair.. thats why you are a little cranky abt that stuff... LOL

Hema said...

Wow....enjoy your time in Madras. I am jealous...been 2 years since i have seen singara chennai with no concrete plans of visiting this year. I feel home sick and am really waiting for a chance to run away to the nostalgic days in my own world to Tiruvanmiyur....hmmm....

cerisecarnations said...

"The lady is invariably a person who married nano-seconds before her husband got a green card. She immediately start producing kids and finds herself a 'saaftwear' job. She wears a dress that doesn't fit her (its two sizes bigger), its a full-arm t-shirt with stripes in arbitrary directions"

you talk like getting a software job and having kids is a crime or down market.The reason these women wear such weird over sized clothes is because
they are out of shape and i rather see them covered in over sized clothes than figure hugging t shirts .that wuld be night mare.its like the eroines from 80s-90s tamil movies.luckily actresses in tamil movies now r more slimmer.

Sridhar said...


I found hawkeye's biting sarcasm enjoyable. There is something about that stereotype that makes it open for sarcastic comments.

Hawkeye said...


point taken.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anu said...

@ irritated Anonymous
Why don't you stick your nose elsewhere if you find people's thoughts on missing their hometown 'irritating', instead of leaving a 'good for nothing' comment on this otherwise wonderful post?

Anonymous said...


You forgot the classic conversation between 2 complete strangers in the Frankfurt airport who are both visiting their sons/daughters in the US.

Goes something like 'unga payyan enna panran?'

'Computer pannaran'. Unless your son is michael dell, this cant be true.

'Endha ooru?'

'Tuckson' People from Tucson, AZ will shudder.

Its amazing how some of these things never change, even after a decade of flying...

Have fun in chennai, try not to get roasted in the agni natchatiram.


Hawkeye said...


thitratha iruntha ennai thittapa.. mathavangalai thitaathe

Hawkeye said...


the same 'kompootar panraan' can be seen during exchange of horoscopes.

"intha O-hee-yO lernthu chicka-go oru 2 havars irukumaa"

Alpana said...

What about overdressed B1 visa holders? The women who look like they have come to the airport straight from a beauty parlour. Or do those sorts only exist in Delhi?
Here via Anti's blog.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading you blog for a while and the humor improves with each post ! I am a northie so don't know much about south india but your blog is a good way to learn about it.

I didn't know they played cricket at ann arbor. nice !
btw, am an incoming first year so will try to look for you when I get there in August.

Teju said...

I came back thro Mumbai last month...

the language's a bit different... but the scenes are same in Mumbai too :D

good one hawkeye

Valli Doll said...

I totally agree abt the Basin bridge aspect, an awesome feeling! Man, I miss it, what with the 5-6 trips a year that I used to have to Chennai....I am sure I will feel the same when I land in Meenambakkam, sometime at the end of this year!

Ronald said...

Nice post. You made me really really really nostalgic and I'm feeling home sick now. Waiting to see Meenambakkam soon :)