Chennai is said to have an international airport by which term The Man from Madras Musings presumes what is meant is nothing more than that a certain number of aircraft take off for foreign lands each day from here and as many flights arrive from those exotic locales. Certainly there is very little in the view of MMM that makes this facility in any way international. Those who follow MMM’s writings (and may their tribe increase) are aware that he has written frequently on the shortcomings of the place, beginning with its tendency to drop its ceiling tiles upon the floor beneath, rather like the quality of mercy. Those like MMM, who lack protective natural headgear, are advised to go in only if they are wearing helmets.
Another aspect of the place, which gets MMM’s goat, is the necessity to have all checked-in baggages scanned before handing them over at the counter. This practice, now done away with in all but the most primitive of airports, flourishes at the Chennai facility. By itself it is nothing other than one more queue, something that our airport specialises in. But its outcome, a plastic ring around the zippers of the suitcase or bag, is a major nuisance, for, in MMM’s view, there is no scientific method of taking it off.

MMM has been advised by several that the process is fairly simple. All you need to do, they say, is to give it a powerful tug at a strategic spot and the ring snaps into two. As to where this weak link in that binder is, MMM has not been able to fathom. He has tried the tugging procedure only to find the ring tightening and clamping the two ends of the zipper as if it were a vice. What MMM has therefore taken to doing is to carefully pack in a pair of small scissors in an outer zipped enclosure of his suitcase. On reaching his destination, MMM simply pulls out his scissors and cuts the ring asunder, rather in the manner of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot.

There is, however, one pre-requisite in the successful execution of this procedure – namely the packing in of the scissors. And last week, MMM having arrived at a hill station to take a temporary break from the Chennai heat, found himself devoid of scissors. The opening of the suitcase was an absolute must and, so, MMM had to come up with some creative solution. Knowing that previous attempts at tugging at the ring had proven futile, he attempted twisting it this way and that, only to have it recoil that way and this. MMM then tried inserting a teaspoon, provided rather thoughtfully by the resort where he was staying, into the ring and sawing at it. Nothing much happened other than the spoon becoming completely bent in the manner of Quasimodo.

Rather desperate by now, MMM put his finger into the ring and tried tugging. He leapt back with a howl for the spoon had serrated the inner edges of the ring and this caused a series of cuts on MMM’s finger. At his wits’ end, MMM rang for housekeeping and asked for a knife. But this was not forthcoming – the hotel clearly had its doubts when a guest suddenly called and asked for a knife, preferably a sharp one.

It was then that MMM discovered a candle and a matchbox left by the bed. This being one of those hillside resorts where power supply could be erratic if the weather turned nasty, such appurtenances were essential. On seeing these, MMM had a brainwave. It was the work of a moment to light the candle and hold it under the plastic ring. There was a cloud of smoke and a nasty smell but when it had all cleared MMM found the ring had given way. The edges of the suitcase zipper were somewhat charred but they could now be opened. Such then are the perils of travelling out of Chennai by air.