6 July 2023

Why I love aimlessly strolling around in airports

Took a shower, grabbed breakfast/lunch/dinner depending on whether my body thinks it is in Atlanta/Doha/Chennai, finished up some important mails and messages, notified Sharmila and my brother about my whereabouts and headed out of the Lounge. This is a routine I have developed over the last few years. If I have enough time, I walk around the airport for 30-45 minutes to do some people watching and observe what goes on in an airport.

Any one of you who has traveled thru global hubs like Doha, Dubai, London, Singapore will relate to the richness of experience you are bound to have. Airports like Doha are a veritable congregation of folks from all corners of the world. Like a United Nations of Airplane Flyers. It is like humanity of every creed and credence crystallize here in a show of solidarity to be together for a brief few minutes under the same roof and then they dissolve away in their own contrails.

As I observe the scene around me, I see some are running to their gates, barely able to catch their breath. Some are browsing the expensive stores – from a very safe distance, mind you and some elderly folks are visibly ill at ease with the complexities of a modern airport.

In the middle of the airport, there is a huge yellow bear or pikachu or something like that. It is very well lit and is like the meeting point at Grand Central Station under the clock in New York. Faced with the resplendence of the area and the sheer scale of things, awe struck people gather here to perform that one singular thing that inspirational moments trigger you to do. Take a selfie!

Today, there is that dish-dash clad smart looking young gentleman in one corner taking a picture of himself effortlessly. And not to be outdone, there is that hijab-wearing elderly lady trying to do the same – with a bit of balancing act with the phone on the other side. One particular spot has been taken up for some time by this young, Indian-looking girl who just is not pleased with the amount of smile she has been putting in her last thirty selfies. Between going from an ear to ear grin to sporting a Mona Lisa version, she seems to be unable to capture the full charm of her countenance. Short of her jaw muscles giving in, I am not sure how she is going to put a stop to this.

I shuffle on. At the turn is that store that stands as an antithesis of that old “What glitters etc etc” saying. Here everything is glittering and everything is gold. In the sea of faces I could see peering into all the jewelry, nary was a person who did not have Indian descent. By mistake, a Caucasian lady stepped in to see what all the hullabaloo was all about and then swung back to her husband from who she had momentarily strayed, telling him nonchalantly: “Oh! It is gold”. Much to the bewilderment of all the Indian looking ladies who had that “What do you mean- ‘It is gold’? IT IS GOLD” look around them. The difference in values assigned to golden jewelry between the Oriental and the Occidental women is remarkable.

I continue walking and glancing here and there. There is, of course, many walking while looking into their phones. Quietly. And then there are those who are also looking into their phones but from their animations and loud volume, you know they are on a video call with their near and dear ones. Well, far and dear ones, I guess. Speaking of volumes, you might be forgiven for thinking that the art of earbuds and headphones has been lost in this part of the world. Every body invites you to overhear what their conversations are all about.

Then, there is that lady over there speaking loudly – alternately speaking to this guy – who has the hapless look of a unamused husband written all over his face – in Gujarati and then turning around to argue with the person at the lounge gate in broken English that she absolutely should be given access to go in.

Right around that lounge is the duty free shop. To keep up with stereotypes, of course, there is a turbaned Sikh gentleman studying up all the scotches on show. If you folks do not have any Sikh friend, you should make one. They are absolutely the most fun loving and trustworthy friends you will ever have. And I do not know why, they always speak in soft voices to go with their kind characters.

Oops! I almost bumped into a bunch of men. A pen in the duty free shop had caught my eye and I had gotten distracted by it. Alas! That was no fountain pen. It was your run of the mill ball point. (Then again, all ball points are run of the mill to me). But back to those men – four of them. They were headed towards A gates. Which is where I needed to be. Gate A5 to be precise. I just followed them, keeping myself out of their earshots. And studying them.

They seemed to be from the African continent. Two of them had the long flowing clothes, one had trousers and shirt and the other one had T-shirt and jeans. The trousers guy had slippers on, two others had non descript shoes but one had a flashy set of footwear. Two had fez-es on their head, one had a base ball cap and the other had nothing but a rich lock of dark jet hair. As differently as they were dressed, they all sported nicely trimmed beards and were obviously very familiar with each other, given the amount they were talking to each other.

And then somebody said something. And all stopped in their tracks. In the middle of other passengers milling around them. I stopped too. One then walked up to one of those airport folks and said something. The other gentleman nodded and my friend handed over his phone to him. I am sure you have guessed what was going to follow.

The airport gentleman backed off a few yards and the quartet took position standing side by side. As if by some elementary laws of fluid mechanics taken straight from the introductory pages of a physics book, the milling crowd started going around the quartet and not in front of them. I think this is the Law of Photo Bombing in Fluid Dynamics. For what seemed like at least ten minutes, the airport gentleman took many photos, turned around the phone, took some more photos and just as he started walking towards the quartet, my slipper wielding friend gesticulated wildly while taking his baseball cap off. Back the airport gentleman went to his spot for Take Two.

Finally, he handed the phone over to the rightful owner. The other three gathered around him as he swiped right thru the pictures only to be interrupted by the others who would use two of their fingers to zoom some part of the screen – no doubt to check how he looked in the picture. Every picture drew some approving nods but not all!!

I am sure each one of you can relate to what I just witnessed. I have seen this in every coffee meeting of our runners group, every dinner meeting, drinks at bar with friends, vacation crowd, family gatherings….

Just then, they called my flight.

As I went around my quartet friends hearing them say some unintelligible words in Arabic (except I recognized when they said “Facebook”), I felt strangely reassured by the fact that even in this ever divisive world we have today, there are some things – a bit vain as they might be – that still unites all of us in our behaviors cutting across race, color, gender and what have you!

P.S. I was not sure what picture to put for this post. So, I did the other common vain thing… I took a “selfie” after I sat down in the plane!

Posted July 6, 2023 by Rajib Roy in category "Vacations

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