Watching Airports

Life ticks on when you don’t go anywhere and you start to see the wonder in the small things in your little patch of the universe. But when you travel it’s like a rush of visual stimulation. So many people, so much to see, so many new things. And then there are the things you don’t want to see but you can’t help but looking at… I hopped across to Coimbatore for my sister and aunt’s joint birthday celebrations and travelling through many airports in such a short span of time I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t want to see.

The world is made up of two kinds of people – the Watchers and everybody else.  The Watchers are people like my mother in law and sister in law. We love to check in early and settle down to watch people. There are various watching tactics like using your peripheral vision instead of staring directly or watching people over the newspaper or book you are pretending to read. And then there’s outright gawking when the action is just too entertaining to draw your eyes away. Occasionally you catch another Watcher, watching you, watch other people. Or you’re both watching the same thing. The reason it’s so entertaining to watch people is because when at airports people tend to enter their own little bubble and they think that no one’s watching them. The Watchers out there know who they are….

As I got my bags and waited for my sister to disembark from her flight, I waited at a Cafe Coffee Day just inside the airport’s exit, sipping some horrendous sludge they told me was coffee, which I actually paid good money to drink. It was quite late and I was starving. They began neatly stacking sandwiches and pastries in to the glass counter and I was ready to cough up for the over-priced dry cardboard they called food. I was curtly informed that the sandwiches were not for sale tonight but were being saved for tomorrow morning. The mystery of why airport sandwiches taste more stale than anywhere else in the world has finally been solved. They’re not interested in selling now and making money. They are the prima peddlers of stale overpriced food.

Seinfeld asks, “Do you think that the people at the airport that run the stores have any idea what the prices are every place else in the world? Or do you think they just feel they have their own little country out there and they can charge anything they want? Stale tuna sandwich, 28 dollars. I think the whole airport/airline complex is a huge scam just to sell the tuna sandwiches. The terminals, the airplanes, the parking, the giftshops, it’s all just to distract you so you don’t notice the beating you’re taking on the tuna.”

Although I do recommend the food inside Bangalore airport just before you board your flight. Hot pav bhajis, samosas, aloo tikis and dosas – Indian tiffin or snacks beats a sandwich any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I had plenty of watching opportunities while waiting for my sister and drooling at the tandoori tikka sandwiches and double black forest mousse they had laid out to taunt me. As the passengers from each flight made their way out the airport I couldn’t help but notice the most well dressed, well co-ordinated, smart looking people with trendy gadgets and great looking luggage all streaming out of one particular flight. These people were not just well dressed but they were confident. Even the little kids and families looked non-irritating and sane. I could only assume that this was the flight from a city on the move like Bombay or Delhi. After a while another group of people trooped out of the exit and these were grubby looking, tired people with shirt tails hanging out, slouching, sweaty, wearing slippers and carrying scuffed briefcases with messy hair and badly co-ordinated everything. They got together the saddest group of people and had flown them to Bangalore. I think they came from Trivandrum or Raipur…(apologies to anyone reading from either of these cities).

You can tell the origins of a flight by how well or how badly its passengers are turned out. From Coimbatore to Hyderabad your co-passengers are well dressed business types or traditional looking mamis with diamonds and pattu saris. But from Hyderabad to Vishakpatnam, the riff raff come out – the seat back is never upright, one guy’s mobile phone rang in the middle of the flight (he attempted to answer the call before the flight attendant wrestled it out of his hand), the seat belts are off at the very second the wheels hit the runway, less than average intelligence children get stuck in baggage trolleys and  scrambling for bags meets an all time high level of chaos with toes being crushed by heavy bags coming off the carousel and trolleys with uncooperating wheels.

I think the most shocking sight, that not just me but everybody taking a Jet Airways flight from Bangalore on the evening of March 23rd, had to suffer through were the two Australian travellers who looked a little worse for wear. They had enough money for a flight ticket but clearly not enough for clothes. Every Indian knows that foreigners and I mean specifically white foreigners who visit India are always incredibly shabbily dressed. Indians travelling abroad are the opposite- we take our Sunday best and nothing less. But with white folks it’s like they pack their worst clothes that they may or may not have washed since their last trip to a tropical country. They just let it all hang out. And no more so then the two Aussie men we encountered at Bangalore airport as we snaked our way through the barrier tape to the check in desk. You know how young kids today wear their jeans below their underpants in an attempt to look. I guess, cool. Well this guy was pale and pasty, badly out of shape with a belly like the Buddha, with his beach shorts hanging so low that his blotchy, speckled white ass was hanging out of it. And he wasn’t even wearing any underwear. There was his bare ass, on display for all to see. He must have known because it had to have been pretty draughty in that area. His friend was no better. He lifted his dirty brown T-shirt all the way up to expose his hairy chest and proceed to slowly and loving scratch and fondle the dense foliage that covered his belly.

I really wanted to go up to him and tell him to put his ass back in his shorts cos this was a family airport. My sister dared me, saying she’d have huge respect for me if I did. I have to admit I was tempted but I guess I haven’t risen in my sister’s esteem. See, Watchers are just not used to getting involved. I was watching the other people’s reactions to this act of full disclosure. People didn’t want to look but then they just couldn’t look away. My husband is not a Watcher, he gets involved. He once spotted an Indian family who were all jabbering away in American accents throw their McDonald’s wrappers and drinks cans on the floor of the new Mumbai airport when a dustbin was close by. He was quick to shame them asking if they’d do the same in an American airport or do they only revert to such barbaric acts when they come back to the homeland and then curse that India is so dirty. Stay in America, is what he told them.

Moral of the story, Watch at your own peril for you might have to get involved.

About nonsense girl

Galley slave, qualitative researcher working in development, married my best friend, writing about my life, my family, my dog, TV, Indian culture, astronomy and my garden.
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