I’m Mumbai – Fly Me!
It was time to leave my friends in Powai and head off for my flight to Kathmandu. Conveniently they live only 4 km from Mumbai Airport, known as BOM on your luggage tag. And until last year it really was a BOM, because the old international terminal was a disgusting mess and a bomb would have been an improvement!
The first rickshaw driver must have been having some kind of trouble with his license because he refused to take me, telling me he could only go to the domestic terminal. He passed me off to the next guy in line who didn’t have a problem. Off we went.
It was 9 am and a good 2 hours before departure. Now a rickshaw ride through snarled Mumbai traffic is a bit like a pinball table minus the flippers, weaving and bobbing around stalled cars, disgorging buses, potholes the size of small cars, open sewers, piles of bricks and trash, kids on bicycles and little old ladies who are either blind, careless or protected by one or more gods in the Hindu pantheon. And there’s the ever present feeling of bouncing from car to bus to truck in the clogged traffic. I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint-hearted or those with a bad ticker of any sort especially as the driver kept turning around to talk to me. I found out in short order he’d been driving rickshaws for 20 years, two school age kids, wife didn’t work, lived in a slum, will vote for Modi (almost certainly India’ next Prime Minister ) hated his job and wanted to lose weight. I told him he should walk 5 km a day and do yoga. He laughed and asked me about weight lifting. I guess I’m a stupid foreigner. Indian men of his caste don’t do yoga perhaps… How was I to know?
He took the short cut to the airport entrance road behind the police station and about a thousand rusting bicycles stacked against the rear wall with goats wandering hither and yon and we left India, well THAT India, and entered the brave new India, the granite and steel India, the architecture of the future India, the spotlessly clean and hyper efficient India that frankly I wasn’t sure I had seen before. I tipped the fat driver generously (well percentage wise, the entire 4km trip was about 80 cents, so I gave him double the fare) and told him to eat lots of fruit and lay off the naan bread as a parting shot.
I entered an elevator the size of a bus coming up from the drop off point and walked to the check in. Oh I was in a good mood , I was even humming a tune. My jaw dropped as I entered. This was a stunning building looking like a series of inverted ufo’s with graceful fluted pillars holding up the structure. I could definitely see the essence of the architecture of Rajasthan and the classic Hindu temple motif but it was so powerfully subtle it did not detract from or clash with the modernity.
Sauntering jauntily up to the Jet Airways counter I was was told the flight was oversold, no seats left. But, but, but, I stammered, I have a paid seat. That’s a first for me.. At least with a full fare ticket. Bumped…
I begged, pleaded, implored, threatened and even involved the name of a dead Nepali government minister for a fictional but vitally important meeting. Get me a seat. Bump someone else, it’s 2 hours before the flight, not everyone has checked in yet… No dice. They had, according to the counter agent.. We’ll give you 4000 rupees as compensation and see you tomorrow..
After going on like this for 10 minutes my bluster finally worked and I was told to come back in half an hour which I negotiated down to 15 minutes. I got my seat. And the plane had about 10 empty seats when we took off.
So the building might have been space age but the systems weren’t, obviously. Same old India dressed up in a shiny new suit. What’s the expression? Silk purses from sows ears? No matter, if only LA or JFK had a terminal like the new BOM
Alighting in Kathmandu at ramshackle Tribhuvan made even the old BOM look good.. But I did get through immigration in about 4 minutes and I wasn’t bumped from my taxi into town.