The long queue outside is nowadays usual. But I was unperturbed. I had come in early and there were the Hajj passengers to photograph. The cat strolling through the airport was somewhat amusing. A man, who could have been Chinese, gave it some food. The cat knew his way around the place. I had found cat pooh on several occasions before, but now I had the source file!
Alarm bells should have rung when I found no notice of the flight on the electronic board. The lack of people at the Biman counter was a bigger case for alarm. My friend Porimol, a journalist from the Daily Star, who was also going to Kathmandu was in the queue. At least I was in the right place! It could have just been “Biman Time” I convinced myself. When no one had turned up by 10:00 am, we all went off to the Biman Sales counter. At least there was a Biman employee there. “We have had nothing official” they said, but hear that the flight might be cancelled. They had no arrangements for rerouting, or any other arrangement. Their excuse for not letting passengers know had some logic. Since they themselves hadn’t been told, what could they tell us?
?Ah GMG? When to come when to go. Nobody know.? At least the guy had a sense of humour. I?d woken up at a ridiculous hour to get to the airport on time. The flight was scheduled at 6:45 am. Reporting at 4:45. Putting my battered arm in a sling, I had set off in pitch darkness. There were no counters marked GMG at the airport, but asking around they pointed me to row 4.
The monitors showed KU, the code for Kuwait Airways, but there were other passengers waiting for the same flight, so it looked as if I was in the right place despite the empty counter. I was heading to Chennai to train Indian photojournalists in a workshop arranged by the World Association of Newspapers WAN-IFRA. I hadn?t fully recovered from my recent accident, but since the participants were from all over India, and they had also advertised my lecture widely, it would have been awkward for them to change dates. Sadek, my physiotherapist had given me a big list of don?ts. There was no reference to standing at empty airline counters. The Haiku response by the airport official didn?t really help.
I did have a close connection and thought I would check. ?No general enquiry counter. Not inside the airport,? explained another airport staff. ?Try the GMG office on the 2nd floor.? The 2nd floor office was also closed. A hand written note in Bangla, gave the number of Mosaddek. A man answered, ?I know nothing about the flight, please try the ground staff. Office in other terminal next to the Gulf office on 4th floor.?
The journey continued. A young Indian man, also a passenger, joined me. The GMG office along the way was closed. ?There is one round the corner,? said a man in the corridor. ?That flight?s been closed for 4-5 months? said Mr. Anwar when we finally found a GMG office that was open. Both he and his colleagues were very helpful. ?We?ll endorse your ticket and make sure you get there,? they said. ?We don?t get passengers. There were a few flights during Durga Puja, but otherwise we don?t operate this route. Please get your ticket and we?ll arrange something.? So with my dud arm in sling and my young friend in tow, off I went. Continue reading “The New Leaf”
With the characteristic swinging movement of the head interspersed with pendular oscillations that is characteristic of India, Sri Lanka, and to a lesser extent Nepal, Madhav Lohani at the GMG counter in Kathmandu replied, ?The flight is on time, but one hour delayed.? While similar, the movement has different meanings in these countries, but the wisdom of Mr. Lohani?s statement removed all ambiguity.
The 12:20 flight which had been rescheduled for 20:20, was now scheduled to depart at 21:20. The TV monitor meanwhile still kept up our spirits with the 20:20 departure time. I was meant to have been traveling on the Biman flight earlier in the day, but that flight too had been cancelled. No one from Biman had been on the counter to explain, so I only learnt of the news when a friendly porter confided in me. Had Mr. Lohani been there, surely his head would have nodded while he said, ?The flight is on time but one day delayed.?
My friend also arranged for me to meet the station manager, and his generous embellishment of my CV with appropriate gesticulations convinced the official that I was an important passenger. In a country where VVIPs lurk under every blade of grass, the station manager was not going to take a risk, whether the plane was ?on time? or not. The plane from New York had never arrived the previous day, the hapless official explained. He himself had only been informed an hour ago. He left with my ticket, my porter friend in tow. The necessary endorsement was done, and my friend returned with my ticket, with appropriate scribbles on the backside. He refused bakshish, but helped me through the reverse journey through security. On the way to the taxi, he did whisper that the Biman salary was very low. After nearly twenty years in service he was still hired as a daily worker and received no pension. Having convinced himself that I was important, he felt, I could perhaps make a difference. The right word to the right ear. He didn?t quite believe my answer when I explained I had no such powers.
I had no way of knowing why the flight was delayed. There had been no announcements, and certainly no one at Biman had felt the need to explain or apologise, but one can guess. Rahnuma, on hearing I was trying to catch a GMG flight had sent a warning SMS. Yesterday?s GMG from Delhi had been delayed from 10 in the morning to 10 at night. Even then it had arrived at 2:48 in the morning rather than the ?expected? 1:48 am. ?The flight had been delayed, but was not on time.?
Harun ur Rashid of GMG did under siege from enraged passengers admit their flight had been grounded, as had another flight the day before. Predictably, the ?on time but delayed? flight, became an ?on time but cancelled? flight. We made new friends on the microbus taking us to the hotel. Biman jokes appear to be the new fad. The fact that GMG had asked Biman to come to their rescue brought the house down. Our choice today of rescheduled GMG or Biman flights was particularly ironic.
Apparently the chief adviser had been flying on the GMG flight from Delhi. The traffic jams every time a VVIP passes through the streets are things we have reluctantly become used to. Roads may be dug up, barriers placed, a meeting arranged in the middle of a busy street or an office unexpectedly closed, for some reason that the public would never be informed about. Public servants never considered themselves the servants of the public. Elected representatives never felt the voters had entitlements. Who will remind our VVIPs that it is the taxes paid by all those people, bumped off planes and stranded in hot streets that pay their salaries? Lack of accountability is a dangerous disease. A government that has come in with the express intent of establishing accountability and transparency needs to set a very different example. Not the message one gets on hearing ?the election is on time but two years delayed.?
Stop Press: As we prepare to board the coach for the airport for the now ‘confirmed’ flight at 4:00 pm, Sweta from the hotel intercepts us by saying, the flight is not confirmed and there is at least another two hours delay. It might be a long two hours!