By Geeta Padmanabhan
My office in Chennai said, “No one will meet you at the Bengaluru airport.” I protested. My conference venue was far away from the new airport and I was scheduled to land at 6:30 am.
“Not to worry,” said the boss. “Bengaluru cabbies are honest, highly professional. Their meters work. You just pay the amount.” I checked with the Conference Secretary. “If we send a cab, we pay up and down. Just hop into one at the airport, please!” She was going to sign the bill, so…
The new Bengaluru airport is impressively large, with a glass-house terminal, neat and spacious. I stepped out and sat down on a square stone (meant for sitting?). The air was cool and bracing. As far as the eye could see, there were neatly laid flower beds dotted with saplings. When they mature, the terminal will have a wooded look. Nice.
That pleasant feeling was soon replaced by confusion. Where was I supposed to get a cab? The boards outside had no information. There is a coffee shop, airlines booths, but no info on cabs. Does one walk up and down to find one? There were a couple of parked cabs, but they had no drivers. I then noticed a few men across the street in front. I crossed, one came up. “Taxi, madam?” He pointed at some distance. “The car is there.” I carried my bag a half kilometre to the car park, stopped and asked, “Gadi kahan hai?” He said, “Bhool gaya.” I asked him what people who couldn’t walk this far did. “You would be standing at the spot where you saw me. I would bring the car.” Where I stood was a narrow pathway. What if there was a crowd?
I gave the cabbie the address. “I know Nagarbhavi,” he said. I sat back. At the exit point he said, “Please pay Rs. 100/- for parking.” I did.
For about 30 kms it was riding bliss – wooded areas, smooth roads, one-way traffic. Then the car got into the semi-urban area. Slowly, the road turned bad, the air got foul and we met heavy oncoming traffic. It was nearly 8 m. I tried to read the shop boards to know where I was. Nothing was in English. The cabbie asked, “Have you been here?” I said the place looked familiar. “The route to Nagarbhavi is always choked with lorry traffic.” We stopped, we moved, stopped and asked for directions. We reached the Mysore road, got into the University campus. Another two kilometers on a lonely road inside the campus, and we were in front of the NLS training centre. It was 9 am.
I asked for the bill. The cabbie fiddled a bit, and gave me the paper. It said, “Rs. 950/- That’s right. “It’s 60 kms, madam.” A man from the Centre came down. Should I pay? “Yes,” he said. They always charge for both ways. He has to go back to the airport.”
I talked to several people at the meetings. An Asst. Commissioner from Delhi said, “I landed at midnight, flagged a passing taxi, bargained and got here for Rs. 600/-!” A rehab officer from Andhra Pradesh paid Rs. 713/-. Giving me this information, a Commissioner from AP complained, “How can we pay different charges? My meter showed Rs. 735/-!” I tried not to laugh.
I left the campus the next day at 2 pm to catch my flight back. It was a working day. But then this was a different car, a different driver. He left through another gate which faced the main road. He took city roads I had not seen on the way down. He quickly hit the highway to the airport and whizzed through. I asked him to note the distance. I said I was writing about the journey.
I reached the airport in one and a half hours. The meter showed Rs. 700/- and the distance was 50 kms. I narrated this to the guard checking the ID at the arrival gate. He said, “If you had asked me I would have arranged a pre-paid taxi at reasonable rates.” When was this system installed?
I had a long wait. I had my overnight bag, my laptop and a bag stuffed with Conference material. I put them in a cart and looked for a telephone. I couldn’t find one. I scrutinized all the boards in the main baggage checking area. The two huge ones had no picture of a telephone. In fact, there was no indication of a telephone anywhere.
In the old airport the telephone booth is in the sitting area. In this vast modern sea of tiles, glass and high ceiling, the telephone is an obsolete device. I could have sworn there were fewer seats too.
I stopped an airport guy. He said, “I don’t know, madam. But please use my mobile. What is your number?” That is India, I guess. Ill-informed, but helpful. He offered to go with me looking for a telephone. We found a couple near the packing material vending stand. He didn’t know which one would take STD calls. He walked down to the far end, found one and called me. I wheeled the cart down and made the call. I thanked him.
I walked back all the way to the other side and had tea at the only café. It was half a regular paper cup of bad tea. I paid Rs. 65/- for it. That over, I wanted to browse at the shops. Only there were none. You take a seat and all you can see are rows and rows of airlines booths that open both on the outside and inside. The shopping area is on the first floor, up an escalator. With my three pieces of luggage I wasn’t going up. If I took the elevator (I didn’t know where that was) I would still need a cart. People I spoke to felt the same way.
This is my take on this swanky airport: it is meant for airlines that’ll soon choke the Indian sky. It is for state-of-the-art gadget users, fit Olympians. It is not for elderly and disabled passengers like me. In a melting economy it is people like me who have the wherewithal to travel. All the delegates – about 200 – flew down. They must fly. They are in wheelchairs, they are blind. They are elderly. They have money, will travel, will buy. Why doesn’t the industry welcome us, fill the seats and run profits, instead of sacking employees?
This was one side of India. During the one and half days of deliberations at the famous Law School I met a very endearing face of India in the Conference room and outside at night when I walked around the campus meeting the students. That is masala for another story.
Picture by vermin-jr, Creative Commons use.