Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Traveller's tales - waiting at airports

Kolkata(way out) - Waiting alone in the upstairs lounge of the rather ramshackle Netaji Subhas Airport. Calcutta seems to have gone to the dogs since the center of power shifted from here to New Delhi in 1912, or may be it was when Netaji's army got trounced (according to General Slim of the "Forgotten 14th army") in the Burma campaign. The viewing gallery upstairs is rather empty and desolate, there is vomit on the floor, I remember coming here nearly 20 years ago to see my father off to Kenya. The will to do something on their own among Bengalis seems to have been broken when they saw their hero fail at liberating India, or it might have been the last 35 years of communist rule which has exposed how the state functions to the people. The Catch-22 of modern economy is that the state puts the currency in place, yet it is supposed to let the market control it. In Bengal people simply aspire to join the state in controlling the market and take home a fixed salary every month, they endlessly sit for the exams to land them government jobs or serve as party cadres in hope of a reward when their candidate gets elected.

Kathmandu(way in) - Paid the price for being unprepared with a visa by jumping through Visa-on-Arrival hoops. Some enterprising locals charged me NPR 400 for a couple of photos printed from a Canon Selphy CP800 (I had left mine in Kolkata). Met some interesting people in the queue, a Baptist volunteer looking after the welfare of Nepalese women repatriated from India after working in the prostitution industry down there. Seems like exoticism is in demand everywhere. And a mother-daughter duo from Brazil who graciously lent me a few US dollars in exchange for NPR's and a sketch.

Kathmandu(way out) - Flight to Kolkata was canceled due to Bandh (Strike), there would be no people to pick up in Kolkata. So they put me on a flight via Delhi which would arrive late at night and depart the next day. While waiting I met a Dutch lady doing strange no gaps/black areas crossword, need to get one of them in English or design one for myself. To pass the time I drew some people listlessly waiting for the often delayed flights, out of the window was the unwritten rule for asking people before drawing them. Met Mr. Morning Agarwal and discussed demand of steel and coal in India and the mining business, apparently his family is from a mining background. Much has changed since wildcatting early days of mining in India, but as is the case elsewhere the wealth and assets from the early days persists. He was interested in Aerial survey and selecting right areas for ground survey since permits are expensive and requires lots of palm greasing.

Delhi - We are greeted by an Air India employee gathering all the passengers going to Kolkata in a pile to ease hopping the barriers which are in place to prevent rather irregular use of the transfer facilities we were about to make. The mudras in the entrance hall and concave and convex mirrors, made an impression about the culture India wants to portray to the rest of the world. Altering the Air India bookings and getting past airport security without boarding passes produced jokes from the IT folks. Mr. Zeus Beater was holding the magic Manifest with 9 names on it. I chatted with someone attending weddings in India as part of a business deal. Here you do not get married to your wife, the marriage is a social and economical transaction. Words floated about Kidd street being a bad area. I tried to explain how aerial survey can help locate aerials which allows Airtel to stay on air, I think I tangled it up as people joked about bad reception in the terminal.

Kolkata(way in) - We are back to base, strolling out of the airport is easy. Everyone from Kathmandu got their luggage together. I walked outside and waited for my new acquaintance to arrive. He rode with us to his large property near Ballygunge. Few acres of land in a prime location in Kolkata, guards at the gate and rows of rented shops outside - the tenants have long stopped paying rent. The reality of holding land and economics in the city.

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