My flight isn't for the next three hours and I am already en route to the airport. Today, I tell myself, will be the day I will travel stress-free, uneventfully. However, Mumbai's charming traffic has other plans and before I know it, my bumper seems to be up against every bumper in town. I wring my hands and sigh exasperatedly to express my displeasure to my driver. He then proceeds to wring his own hands, and while this might be directed right back at me, I prefer to think he is just giving them gainful employment in our now stationary car.
We finally arrive at the airport with minutes to spare and I am greeted by what looks like the population of a mid-sized city. Most of these people don't seem to be traveling and I can only imagine that they are here to observe the Olympian sport that is navigating Mumbai airport on a busy weekday. I provide plenty of spectator amusement as my documents are presented for inspection at the entrance. The serious looking BSF officer is unimpressed by my assortment of club and loyalty cards. "Government ID, madam", he says sternly. I wring my hands and heave an exasperated sigh. It works. I'm in.
Check-in is uneventful as the airline executive is suitably impressed with my combination of club cards and hand wringing. All throughout this process, my WhatsApp has been making sounds that are vaguely reminiscent of a petulant child. I finally peer down at it and amongst the school mothers' chat (official), the school mothers' without Class Rep chat (unofficial), the cool school mothers' without Class Rep chat (extremely unofficial), I see that my best friend has called and messaged with great urgency. "CALL BACK, IMP" reads her last message and I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt too; I would like to believe that she is relaying urgency and not calling me a goblin. After years of friendship, I realize that I had best be seated for the conversation that is sure to follow.
I sprint up the stairs to a lonely Costa Coffee where a most perplexing situation awaits. The colours of the chair stains outnumber the items on the menu. How did such a limited menu manage to create such rainbows on the furniture, I wonder? I perch on one of these rainbow-hued delights (my posterior marking the divide between Arrabiata Red and Vadapav Brown) and proceed to deal with the situation at hand. My friend wants to break up with her fiancé. I cannot deal with the classic 'firing of the fiancé' problem without coffee and I decide to get refreshments.
"Cash onle" reads a hand-drawn sign at the register and I know with a sinking feeling (I do urgently need caffeine) that my wallet holds the most breathtaking array of loyalty cards but no cash. So much for organized, stress-free travel. One look at the unsmiling barista and I know that this situation cannot be salvaged by even the most talented of hand wringers. Holding on to both my pride and unhelpful wallet, I walk on to the security check.
This is my favorite place in the airport as it is usually the stage for an ensemble of characters. As if on cue, I spot the 'socialite' carefully lowering her croc Birkin into its dustbag and then into its raincoat (one must be prepared for sudden downpours inside terminals) before she places it on the X-Ray belt. One lane away is the shifty teenage 'dude' who seems nervous about the botanical products that he may or may not have stuffed into his pockets (memories can get a bit foggy). I watch him collect his bag and sprint towards the gate, looking furtively over his shoulder - sure enough, he's going to Goa.
I move towards my own gate where the airline official is gesticulating wildly for me to move towards the bus. This hurry is clearly misplaced as the bus driver languidly waits for every square inch to be filled up with body parts. Bus driverji knows if your elbow is taking up too much room or your knee can be adjusted to free up an inch. Bus driverji won't move until every person in the bus is in a space-saving aasan. And those aren't the only aasans that happen here - ever smelt a pavan mukt?
The bus trundles on for a few olfactory-numbing minutes. Once it halts, I extract myself from it, one limb at a time, and stumble up the stairs onto the airplane. I'm sitting in the front row and even though this is an all-economy flight, this means some serious privileges. The most important one is that the meal service won't run out of Potato Stix before they get to me. I take out my cellphone because by now, I have been instructed to call the fiancé in question and tell him what's what. A social acquaintance arrives just as I am hyperventilating into the phone telling someone else's fiancé to put it where the sun doesn't shine. The social acquaintance is apparently seated right next to me. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her and in an impressive display of bi-polarity conclude my conversation in the sunniest of tones.
We take off soon enough and the conversation turns to skincare. Do I know, she asks, how bad fried food is for our skin? Do I know, she demands, about the apothecary that does the most amazing placenta pills? I immediately reach for the air sickness bag but impressively manage to mumble yes I do know and that placenta sounds just delicious. That's about the time the meal service comes through and I weakly point to the jumbo pack of Potato Stix. This is the last time she speaks to me. I try to crunch quietly but I am sure she is contemplating the long-term effects of being in an atmosphere poisoned by Potato Stix.
We land in Delhi and the social acquaintance stands up before the plane can even stop moving. She seems to be in a tearing hurry to get away and for a moment, teeters precariously on her stilettos creating her own private turbulence. She sashays down the ramp. I try to follow suit but there is something about Potato Stix in my hair that keeps me from looking like a supermodel. I look at my phone in despair and of course, those two 'imps' are happily back together and have cast me in the starring role of 'villain'. There is nothing to do but wring my hands and sigh exasperatedly.
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