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!