Monday, January 08, 2007


For someone whose annual pilgrimage to India requires regularly flying to and from Delhi in late December/ early January, I've been extraordinarily lucky over the years. I've never had a flight canceled or even delayed because of weather. And anyone with any experience of a north Indian winter will tell you that that is remarkable indeed.

Well, this year my luck finally ran out. On a night when the fog was so thick, it was claustrophobic - like a white wall closing in on you - my flight was canceled and I was witness to the slow but inexorable descent into chaos of a full 747-load of passengers. It was certainly - how do I put this delicately - an interesting experience. Here are the good, the bad and the ugly highlights of the wait.

The Good: The airline told us right off the bat that our flight was likely to be delayed as we were checking in even as the computer monitors above the counters were showing that the flight was on time. They checked in the bags, told us not to clear immigration, asked us if we would rather go to a hotel or go back home if the flight was canceled, noted phone numbers and contact information and were generally the very model of efficiency. And I am ashamed to say this, but I was totally not expecting such professionalism and was absolutely amazed.

And the next day, when I found the same guys still on duty, still smiling, still patient as they had been all night, I was officially flabbergasted. Big kudos to them.

The Bad: Unfortunately, the airline staff made up for their singular diligence by their singular lack of foresight. Apparently it didn't occur to anyone to order buses to transport those that needed to go to the hotel until after the flight was officially canceled, despite telling everyone repeatedly for about two hours that a cancellation was imminent.

They apparently also expected the buses to materialize as soon as they asked for them, as if by magic. Which would be the only explanation for herding all the passengers outside the terminal to wait for the buses in the miserable Delhi fog. For another two hours. To their credit, no one seemed more shocked that the buses didn't magically appear than the airline staff. They worked off their frustration by running around randomly and yelling at each other.

The Ugly: Just at Indian drivers, when they get to Europe or America, develop impeccable road manners, follow traffic laws and lay off the horn, so also when Westerners come to India, they become 'Indian' in their ways a little too easily. When the first buses arrived to take us to the hotels, absolute pandemonium broke out as everyone tried to get into the bus, out of the cold and on their way. The people with the French, German, British, American and Lord alone knows what other accents pushed little old ladies and grandpas in monkey-caps with the best of them. As the chaos got worse, the veneer finally slipped from a French (sounding) couple fighting just a few feet from me and the man uncorked a "Bloody Indian Savages" salvo. The airline staff, to their everlasting credit and showing quite extraordinary presence of mind, whisked the couple away in the couple of seconds of stunned silence before they would have gotten lynched.

Two things struck me about the whole incident - one, that the couple, even acknowledging their bigotry, showed the monumental stupidity to racially abuse Indians, in India, in front of a already restless and angry crowd. That should qualify for the Darwin awards right there! And two, I had overheard them telling some people as we were waiting for the buses, that they were returning from Auroville, having gone there on a pilgrimage.

Epilogue: As I was waiting to board the plane the next day, I learnt from one of the airline guys who had been there since the night before that someone had apparently forgotten the wake-up call to the couple from Auroville and now they would unfortunately have to take the next flight out. Which was likely to be canceled because of fog.


Hrishikesh said...

Tough luck for the couple indeed.. ;-)

Kautilya said...

Yes, wasn't it? Imagine, having to spend another day and a half amongst the savages. Ooh! the horror!

Aruna said...

Hey...this one is the nicest! I can see a lot of talent for scriptwriter...Did someone talk about certain hidden talents to be discoverd?!!