I should have remembered the story of the man from Isfahan (or Samara depending upon the version of the story you have heard) who in his desperation to outrun the Grim Reaper only ran straight into his arms… In other words, there is no point in trying to escape the inevitable and fate will always catch up on you! So why I had thought that yesterday’s airport experience would have been any different from the many I have had before, I do not know.
I really believed I had it under control and had taken all sensible precautions not to fall foul of the gauntlet of the security metal detector: no jewellery, no buckles or belt, wearing just a loose churidar and going bra-less to avoid metal wires and hooks. The buckles on my sandals probably plastic and in plain view. It seemed my passage would be flawless, until I got to the airport and read my ticket printout with greater attention… Walking through the security door was only the prelude to the real thing as frisking is ‘mandatory’ and extended to all… Only in India, I thought, rolling my eyes, whilst deciding to put my bra on after all for some protection against the probing hands and the fearless metal detector.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you, I did not even make it that far before being caught out. In Trivandrum airport, as in many other airports across the world no doubt, another trap awaited. Suitcases that are destined for the hold are x-rayed before loading and to ensure that the staff will not soil their hands on someone’s dirty knickers, this is done in your presence so YOU can open the suitcase to go on a fishing expedition for whatever offending item is lurking in between your belongings. Now, I only packed the bare minimum and arrived at the airport with an unimaginably light suitcase, so there was no leaden feeling in my stomach when my baggage traversed across the eyes of security. I had checked the list of prohibited items and was pretty sure none of those had sneaked into my luggage. But ‘Bingo’, suspicion had arisen about something and I was asked to open my suitcase…
‘Did I carry something binocular shaped and electronic?’ Man in Official Suit enquired. Really? What item answering to that description would a girl be carrying in her suitcase? The loudspeakers in my luggage, which were indeed binocular shaped, resided in the wrong corner and were swiftly discounted. I racked my brain and offered my bag of electronic gadget chargers and although my iPad stand cum charger invited some interest, it was not a good match for ‘the picture’. When Man in Official Suit demanded a closer look at my Barclays pin device, panic got hold of me as he might discover my contraband stash of rupees underneath which are not legally allowed to cross the border. But with a swift and smooth swipe, I managed to hide them quickly in between some other papers. We did eventually get to the bottom of it. By then I had almost emptied the whole of my suitcase and there is only so much technology you can hide between your clothes… My very special alarm clock that projects the time on the ceiling at night in big red digits still had its batteries in it! This had clearly not caused any alarm in England on my departure, but did not escape Indian scrutiny and, let’s face it, it was a timing device after all! Luckily, as I would only be reunited with my suitcase on arrival at Heathrow, I was spared a repeat of this unfortunate episode, if not any further inconveniences with airport security..
Well, Trivandrum clearly set the tone for the rest of the airport saga. A lengthy 10 hour stopover in Mumbai – it puzzles me why everyone in the UK calls it Mumbai when all the Indians here still talk about Bombay – did not seem the end of the world until I got to the International terminal hoping to use my Angel lounge pass and spend a few hours ‘lounging’ and whiling away the time… I duly entered the airport after being told by Security Soldier With Gun that ‘once you are in, you cannot come out again..’ and thought this would not be too much hardship. I know the ropes about airport lounges which are only accessible AFTER going through security. So I queued up, and put all my electronic gadgets in various trays as requested, and taking nothing but myself through the metal detector on my way to another frisking, I also left my boarding pass in my wheelie case… Big mistake, I was sent back through the body of waiting women and had to navigate a queue of waiting men to point out my case to retrieve my boarding pass and rejoin the ‘waiting women’ line. I patiently underwent the frisking again and proudly showed my boarding pass before intending to leave the cubicle… Intently studying the paperwork in my hand, Security Lady with Metal Detector Wand frowned deeply and queried my departure time… It seems many Indian people have great difficulty understanding the time of 02.25 hours. Unfortunately, after having been frisked twice and jumping through hoops and over hurdles to get there, she could not allow me through security as ‘you can only pass through security four hours before take off…’. ‘And what about the lounges?’ I asked… She motioned to rows and rows of empty chairs beyond the cubicle, indicating that that was what I could look forward to on the other side.. No food, no toilets, no lounge, she maintained… although in the distance BEYOND the rows and rows of empty chairs, I spotted the welcoming lights from the duty free shops glimmering invitingly.
I did not feel like arguing and found a nice, but airport-expensive cafe, where I spent the next five hours talking to a very interesting Indian man on his way home to Toronto, who was having similar issues with security. He had counted 17 security checks up to that point and also had not yet managed to get past THE real security either… Together we discussed and dissected India’s woes and put the world to rights. Not a bad way of killing time.. I did eventually make it through security and found the Angel Lounge where I continued my conversations with the same very interesting Indian man via email, not that it will have any effect on the happenings in Indian airports.
If you ever decide to come to India, I would give Bombay airport a big miss… On my return, I will be going via Delhi, or maybe Dubai or Doha, whichever way the cheapest fares blow me, but not Bombay…