Terminal Troubles

Looking back on the incident in which a CISF personnel picked me out from a long queue for extra security search at the Chennai airport last week, I should confess that the mistake was entirely mine: I did not speak or understand Hindi. This may be Tamil Nadu. And I am a complete Tamilian. Still, it was extremely unreasonable on my part, especially as this involved the extremely sensitive and serious subject of security, to be not able to converse in Hindi.

Let me explain: It was a morning flight and I was travelling on a death-related emergency in the family. Since it was a last-minute eventuality, I had to literally rush to the airport so that I can check in, as per laid-down procedures, an hour ahead of the scheduled take-off, which is usually two hours before the actual take-off.  And then there was this fear of the glass roofing at Chennai airport that has the tendency to come crashing down when someone so much as sneezed or when there is a blast at the airport in Brussels.  Also, at that hour of my check-in the temperature was already hovering around 30 degree Celsius. So it was no surprise that I was sweating profusely and looking, in my dishevelled clothes, every bit the hero that director Bala might sign up for his next film. It was then a security personnel, toting what looked like an automatic gun, walked up to me and pumped in verbal bullets in rapid Hindi, to which I replied –– in that silly perky voice and needless bright smile that we use when dealing with security personnel –-‘I speak no Hindi. Ask in Tamil or English’.

I thought I was being sensible. But he looked as if I had committed an act of sedition, as he put a firm hand on my shoulder and took me aside from the queue for a thorough check. Here I must add that I might have further brought upon extreme suspicion on myself because I was travelling with my 80+ years-old mother. If I were planning to commit an act of terrorism it was entirely logical that I would take along my barely-able-to-walk mom with me.

To be singled out from among the hundreds there for such a scrutiny was certainly demeaning, but since the search of my belongings didn’t yield anything incriminatory (even my dubious underwear seemed to have passed muster, but I don’t know how), they let me join the queue again, whereupon I was welcomed by a fellow traveller with the most sensitive and reasonable words: ‘You should have at least tried to speak in Hindi’.

‘Yeah, my bad! Next time when I have to travel on an emergency, I will first sit for the Prathmic exam and then try to take the flight’. This should have been my comeback, or worse, should have taken him out with the in-flight katti roll, but as ever I smiled weakly and proceeded for boarding.

Inside the plane, I was seated behind a … shrieking infant irritatingly shriller than Laila in Pithamagan or 150-kg bulky behemoth who technically must be loaded in the cargo section? No, that would have been too pat, as if the entire airline industry itself was working for the success of this humour column (especially when the industry can barely work for itself).  My seat was behind what appeared to be a honeymoon couple. Why I say they were a honeymoon couple is because they were totally lost to the world, I mean so lost that they –- unmindful of the fact that the entire aircraft was bound to look at them with curiosity –- went ahead and ordered in-flight food service, which was primarily a moody samosa that seemed to have logged quite a few flier points. At Rs.150 a piece, it was as criminal as any act of terrorism. The couple was the only ones to order that on that short-haul flight, which is defined as that flight service in which you spend more hours waiting than actually travelling.

The lady wouldn’t let go off the man’s hand at any point, except when he went for a short loo break, during which time she proceeded to take roughly 235 selfies. And upon his return from the toilet, she showed him how she looked like during his absence for those two-three minutes. All through, they didn’t talk much.  But it was clear that they were having a great time.

Just as well. This is the beauty of love. It is beyond all words and language. But still, for safety sake, it may be better to learn Hindi.