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E-Pao! Incidents - Ibotombi - From the airport, on the way home

From the airport, on the way home

A couple of stories on the way home(s) from the airports! I don’t know how they may sound to others. Simple stories indeed, nothing special about! Nevertheless, there seems to have some interesting comparisons between them – at least from the socio-economic point!

Imphal Tulihal Airport It was hot and humid at the Sahar International Airport, Mumbai. One notices not only the drastic change in the weather, when one comes back from the West, but the messy and disorganised management, outdated infrastructure, over-staff people also. When the mind is fresh, it is easy to notice. The same passengers who were following the systematic way of the West when they were there, seemed to be too impatient to go home and as a result added to all confusion and created chaotic lines in front of the immigration counter, custom cell etc. After that suffocation was over, I was out of the airport and was pondering how to reach home, whether to take a taxi or an auto. It was raining too, flooding the gardens and drainages around the airport. My house is at the outskirt of the city and so decided to take a prepaid taxi. The driver appears to be an old man. Two men came along with him to carry my baggage and put there in the car. Perhaps, they took me as a foreigner who comes from the South-East Asia or as a Nepali settled in India. Anyway I really do not care and for sure, they must not have had an iota of my Sana Leipak Manipur in their mind. And so, I didn’t allow them, for they normally expect a lot of money from the foreigners.

The driver started to have a small conversation on the miserable Indian condition and her millions of poor people including him and his family. He emphasised that I am lucky to study abroad and I must have spent a lot of money, blah blah… all that. I understood what he wanted to convey – a mere fact of what he is and the sympathy he wants from me over his plight. He is from UP like many other taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers who have migrated in large numbers from the poor villages to get some living in Mumbai. Most of the time, he kept harping on how poor he is, how much he has to work for his children, and how tough is to survive. I certainly felt pity for him, and wanted to do many things for people like him.But on the other hand, “No wonder! This guy is soon going to ask for an extra fare” for his service, I really smelt it. Anyway, I already made up my mind to give a few rupees more, not due to his story per se, but the road ahead is in bad shape and the place where I am currently staying is actually a little farther than the destination allowed by the prepaid rate. It was raining, … raining quite a bit actually. But it couldn’t do much for the bottleneck traffic near the Andheri fly over. Filthy roads, massive crowd, are more awaited on the way home. Despite the incessant and pot-holed road, we managed to reach home soon. Meanwhile, our friend has stopped talking and started making fuss about the condition of the road and the filthy slums besides the road as if he has come this area for the first time. I kept quite.

When I reached my house, I gave him a fifty rupees note as an extra for his service (he deserves – and, the exchange rate is still jet-lagged, so one doesn’t feel too much for rupee when you are afresh from abroad). But to my astonishment, he asked for another fifty…. I laughed even as I was worried that his own greed was going to wash off the all the troubled stories that he told me sometime before… and it took sometime before I made a stern reply… he was trying to hang on what he asked … but no sooner did he see my friend who has put on a pretty long beard and moustache coming down (we stay in the third floor) at seeing me, than our friend UP bhai (the driver) got back to his vehicle without any more fuss. Promptly he went away. I wish I had got beard and moustache too!

This story reminds me of another episode long time ago that I had encountered with another fellow taxi driver at the Tulihal Airport. A couple of years back, during the shivering and chilly days of winter, I went home to see my parents. I took a flight, as there was economy blockade called by some Naga students unions along both the highways by which we breathe. That was the time when a lot of preparation was going on for the then Vth National Games to be hosted by my home state, Manipur. There seemed to have got some changes and face lifting around the airport. I was happy to see that.

I didn’t inform anyone at home hoping that I would rather give my parents a surprise visit. And I personally do not like of all those ritual when one reaches home – crossing fire, crossing Suk, which is a thick wooden stick to hit paddy for removing husk. When I came out of the arrival hall, I was confronted by a man who told me that he runs a taxi and was ready to drop me to my home, which is hardly 9 Km from the airport. It was kind of 'big favour'. He didn’t say anything during the entire drive. I was inquisitive of many things in the state that might have changed during my absence, though it was hardly ninth months. So, I initiated to talk to him of the situation of Manipur. He was rather sarcastic in his answer though it was certainly true of what was going on, “We are all getting fried in the oil, nothing much to do.My graduate degree has been lying for ages.” I didn’t have anything to add! {I remember our party (a group of friends) used to spend hours at local tea stall (we call them hotels) reading an English Daily and munching some kanghou-bora. We used to discuss a wide range of topics about cricket, politics, and development issues - as if we were world political leaders. Then finally came down to who is in love with whom, so and so didn’t accept, didn’t reply letter.... all kinds of gossip used to entertain us the evening until we were silenced by some gun-shots from some surrounding area. Then the rest of the story is familiar. Some of my old chums from the party have got ordinary lives giving some tuition to schoolchildren. And some have managed to get vans for running business by transporting school children. And they belong to ‘good people’ before frustration soon takes over.}. He (driver) was sure wearing a frustrated look and must not wish to talk at length on issues that gets him on his nerves and that too with a student younger to him, and "who doesn’t know anything of Ima Leipak", he must be thinking.

In a short time, he stopped his vehicle in front of our gate. When I asked about the fare, he was busy closing door and checking his vehicle but said “200 bucks” without looking at me. I was taken aback a bit. So, hurried to say, “Wait, hang on!”. And went on to clear out, “See, 200 is too big an amount for such a small distance and I can give you 150.”. But our friend was quite vehement to agree the deal, saying, “We are unemployed and the flight by which you came is the only one a day. You know, how long we have been waiting for. And you pay thousands to fly and why can’t you share a bit of that”. A hysterical thought pricked me, “God! What happens if the flights are cancelled???” I took time to compose myself but replied firmly, “I am sorry then, I am not in a position to solve your unemployment at the moment. I am just a student – I was a student without any scholarship then. With the same amount you are asking, I would have reached Mao from Dimapur by a taxi like the one you run, but for the enormous inconvenience caused by both the security forces with numerous frisking points and random looting by hill insurgents in the name of passing there ‘land’”. I continued, “I see many people outside the airport, who run taxis and wait for the lone flight playing Ludo and cards. The flight is filled mostly by student unlike other flights in the rest of country, where most of the travellers are businessmen and professionals. I am compelled to fly for the said reason and it is not a luxury, an alternative safe route!”. I would have added, “perhaps you will continue to playing cards with this money and not going home and not helping your children in their school home-work”. But I know that you can’t speak out so much to a Meitei, like Mayangs do, and that too, to a senior. Our friend was furious, “No need to talk so much. Either you give me 200 or do not give me at all”. I refused both. Soon it led a brawl.The matter got settled only when my parents scurried from home hearing all that noise – I don’t know what they did! I was totally upset with all my wishes of wanting to give a surprise visit didn’t affect too much. My mom, “See this is what happens when you arrive home without telling us, and what is there to fight with that man who is like your brother”. And I didn’t bother to answer to her bewilderment. But said, “Ima, we are going to have fun when the hill insurgents block the air-lines in the sky too!”

By: Ibotombi S. Longjam


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