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Tiffin Carrier, Color, and Queue

When I disembark in India, the first whiff of air takes me back to my childhood days. The smells instantly immerse me in memories replete with elegance, deliciousness, and warmth residing next to over-crowding, panhandlers, and open drains. The journey between the extremes requires resiliency and a strong immune system.

Tarun's battles with microbes is legendary in our family. The good bacteria in his biome abandon him when his incoming aircraft hits 5,000 feet and he is forced to activate battle-worthy defenses to cope. On every single trip! The part of my anatomy that goes wild is the nose. Sniff, drip, wipe in a repeating loop until I cannot feel my nose anymore.

Still, we come back several times a year and we let the excitement of work and the affection of family help us negotiate the hurdles.

Here I am, waiting to board a flight from Delhi to Bangalore, people-watching, blogging, and admiring how thousands are walking, talking, flying, squeezing, lining up, and coexisting inside the terminal with such ease.

All around me are quintessentially Indian scenes.

Like the couple a few rows from me, sitting cross-legged on boarding area seats with a “tiffin carrier”. It has food stacked in layers of containers neatly sealed with a stainless steel scaffold so nothing slips, slides, or leaks. I imagine that this one holds rice or roti in the bottom, a veggie in the middle and pickles on the top. With the ubiquitous presence of fast food joints, I thought the tiffin carrier is a vestige of the past and I am delighted to see it in action today!

There’s a man speaking in Hindi to my right, a couple whispering in Bengali on the left, the guy across is speaking in Telegu or Tamil and the group behind him is conversing in English. People are in colorful traditional and modern clothes with a healthy smattering of fashionable American brands.

Nearly everyone is on their smart phone, mostly Androids, some iPhones. With baby in arms or while pulling luggage or both (!), Indians show amazing dexterity with swiping and clicking. Despite the myriad languages and the unlimited dialects, English remains popular in India. In a rapid stream of conversational Hindi, I am hearing these familiar words - travel, delay, available, call, finally, and bye. How fun to move so fluidly between languages!

Looks like every other person is wearing a red string around their wrist tied by a priest during some Hindu rituals. The wearer has to let it disintegrate on its own or incur the wrath of a hefty divine line-up. Seeing the string reminds me of the intensity of faith in the fabric of Indian life.

And then there is the rowdy child teaching me a lesson.

With due apologies for the generalization - Indian kids are given a wide berth by their parents. Today there's a toddler boy uninhibitedly running around, falling on the floor, toppling over lane dividers, talking at 10,000 decibels, tussling with his hapless parents, and generally creating ruckus. Decades ago this scene would have irritated me because my own boys were not allowed this level of deviancy. But I’ve come to realize this child will be under enormous pressure by the time he hits age five. From admission to grade school to college, this little boy's mantra will be “Your life depends on this exam!” He won't have the luxury of "finding himself" or meandering to his goals in this hyper-competitive economy. Right now, I feel relieved that he can still throw tantrums and is not yet locked into the tight curve of conformance.

Everyone is young, OMG so damn young!

From the check-in agents to the bag handlers to the gate agents to the to the security teams to the flight attendants to the sales people in the airport stores - all young and hip. As if the older folks have been relegated to behind closed doors. In 2015 the median age in India was 28.1 years, which is not much different than the world-wide statistic but today I am wondering: where are the older people?! For sure, I could not get a job at this airport.

People management here is a magical combination of art and science!

On-time flight departure is a huge deal in India. I think it has to do with hefty fines the airlines incur if aircrafts exceed their allocated docking time. As a result, queue management and people movement from terminal to aircraft are superbly choreographed events. My itinerary or boarding pass was checked seven times from airport entry to plane seat.


First by the Central Indian Security Forces to enter the terminal, second during check in, third to get into the security line, fourth during security check, fifth at the boarding gate, sixth in the hallway between the boarding gate and the jet bridge, seventh in the jet bridge. Pant!! Yet, we left precisely on-time after the passengers dutifully waited in each queue. Thirty years ago, the concept of queuing simply did not exist in India. We've come a long way, baby!

Compare this to my staid travel life back in Dulles airport. Calm, quiet, disconnected. People noiselessly going about their day. I miss the peace they offer when I am in India and back home I miss the 10,000-watt sparkle of the sights and sounds of India.

I'll definitely be back soon for another episode of tiffin carrier, color, and queue.

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