Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 22, March 16-31, 2021
Circumstances have so arranged themselves that The Man from Madras Musings has had to travel quite a bit around our State. In the past month he has travelled by road and air and oddly enough not at all by rail, a mode of transport he is partial to. MMM has during these journeys been a model of good behaviour, (not that he has been otherwise at any time), wearing a mask and if given them wearing protective gear – complete with plastic visor and robe. But he sadly did note that several of the fellow travellers just did not bother. This despite the fact that the airline crew repeatedly requested that the protective gear be donned. The pleas fell on deaf ears. After some further attempts the crew gave up and left everyone to their fates.
The flights that MMM took were all to what was once referred to as the mofussil – the deep-down south towns and so you may be pardoned for assuming that it was the unlettered lot that refused to comply. But that was not the case. It was the so-called lettered lot that just did not bother. Perhaps they had all had themselves vaccinated. MMM however is doubtful. He attributes it all to a couldn’t-care-less or an it-wont-happen-to-me attitude.
Not that the mofussil types fared any better. A cab driver in one of the towns sneered to MMM that COVID was something that came to those living in the big cities. Those who lived in the rural heartland he declared, had natural immunity owing to their living in the open and enjoying fresh air and water. MMM did not want to pick up an argument on the subject, the discussion being at one of those regions of our State where men are wont to quickly take offence and while doing so expressing themselves with a scythe that they dangle down their back, suspended from the vest – for illustration please see any Tamil film with a rural motif. But the driver’s opinion had MMM going back to some mid-Victorian novellas where the hero leaves the sylvan countryside, trading its ‘pure joys’ for the evil ways of the rank city. Such people usually returned to their homesteads, repentant but afflicted with some unmentionable disease. It appeared to MMM that his cabbie had categorised MMM and others of his ilk as people who had contracted clap or something like that.
But to return to the flight experience – MMM wondered as to what people did with the face shield/visor, the robe, the mask and the sachets of hand sanitiser that the airline staff religiously dole out to everyone once they have checked in. He found several thrifty souls packing the entire set into their hand baggage. In short, they viewed all of it as not so much protective gear but as a take home gift. MMM wonders as to what people do with all of it. Maybe they wear them at home and live out their fantasy of being Batman or Superman? Of course, it is quite likely that such secret lives give them the belief that they are immune to Covid.
Now with such strong faith in the supernatural (and in the natural), it is therefore no surprise that our frequent-flying brethren and sistren follow absolutely no protocols while deboarding as well. The crew, whose repeated entreaties for this, that and the other kept bringing to mind the beseeching devotees in saintly chronicles, insisted that disembarking was to be done row by row, the remaining passengers to be seated till their turn came. This incidentally is universally accepted disembarkation etiquette in many countries, no matter whether there is a pandemic or not. But here, in this our land, where stampeding to the exit is the norm, such discipline just cannot be expected. When MMM asked his (unmasked) neighbour as to what was the hurry, he was told that after having been in an aircraft with recirculated air and probably plenty of viruses floating around, it was best that everyone got to fresh air as soon as possible to avoid Covid.
The late Chief rarely liked The Man from Madras Musings to continue on the same theme for an entire column but he did allow it on occasion. And so, MMM continues with his airborne experiences. Only here he would like to dwell on the mofussil airports – not that the one in Chennai is exactly an urban equivalent. But it is nevertheless large and does cater to more flights than the ones in the hinterland. MMM has of late been to locations in our State where just one flight arrives and takes off each day. If you miss that you have no option but to stay on for another day, unless you take to the road.
It was at one such town that MMM, always somewhat of a nervous traveller, found himself having to catch the only flight early in the morning. He hardly slept the previous night and so made it bright and early to the airport, which as he had noticed even while flying in, was constructed more on the lines of a bungalow than a terminal building. Driving up MMM found there was hardly a soul in sight, which to his panic-stricken mind indicated only one of two possibilities – his flight had either been cancelled or had left already. The security guard was however all assuring – nothing of that sort had happened he said and if MMM would just go ahead with his check in formalities and wait, he would soon find other passengers joining in.
MMM went in accordingly. There was no other passenger but the process went on like a well-oiled machine. MMM was checked in, his bags taken and then asked to proceed for security check. There were still no other passengers. Having been frisked, checked and scrutinised MMM took his seat in the empty waiting area. There was a prolonged wait. He was informed that the incoming flight was delayed which he was not so concerned about as much as he was about the continuing absence of other passengers. Was he, MMM, the only person to fly that morning, MMM wondered. He debated on the possibility of the airline cancelling the flight owing to there being no other passengers. He wondered as to how the airline could be viable if it flew just one person. And finally he pondered over a Tamil film he had seen recently which was on the travails of a common man wanting to start a people’s airline. In that fairly enjoyable movie the hero famously declared that he would operate his flight even if there was only one passenger, namely his wife. It appeared to MMM that he was soon to witness something on those lines.
Suddenly there was a flurry of excitement. The incoming flight had been sighted. It came roaring in, touched down, taxied and finally came to a halt, disgorging passengers. Here was hope, reflected MMM. But what delighted him was the sudden arrival of outbound passengers – in fact the terminal filled up in no time with the happy chatter of people and it appeared that contrary to MMM’s gloomy predictions there would be a full outbound flight.
MMM asked one of the security men about the sudden arrival of people. He was informed that this was a regular feature. Apparently the only airline that operated jets to and from the town was not very true to its name for it cancelled flights often. So, people watched from the terraces of their homes for the incoming flight and only on sighting it did they leave for the airport! Of course, the traffic being light, they made it well on time. There is much that we city people have to learn from our pastoral counterparts.