A Signboard at the Chennai Airport

These are disturbed times and The Man from Madras Musings, for want of a better word, is disturbed. He hates war – MMM’s ideal world is one where everyone lives in peace and harmony. But that he realises is a pipedream. Faced with such a situation, MMM does the next best –focus on other cheering developments. Among these is the continuing wane of the pandemic and the consequent opening of travel, which in turn means reuniting with loved ones, after gaps of several months. 

When such loved ones fly down, MMM makes it a point to go and receive them in person, no matter what be the time of day or night. And that means a visit to the Chennai International Airport. MMM is not so sure about you but to him this airport always brings to mind a war zone – it is perpetually shrouded in corrugated sheets, there is work forever in progress if you can call it that, and as for the approach to parking lots and other places, it is a veritable maze that can challenge even the most seasoned traveller. It is almost as though an unseen hand keeps moving the barriers to raise the level of complication each time, like one of those simulated war games. 

And so it was that MMM drove down, his second journey in two weeks to the International Terminal, both journeys having been done in the dead of night which is when foreign flights deposit passengers in this, our land. Apparently, this is planned so that residents of first world countries don’t have flights taking off and landing during the middle of the night at their respective locations. That way their beauty sleep is not disturbed, and they can wake up each morning all bright-eyed and rosy complexioned. What about us third world people? Well, no matter how much we may claim to be a world economy and superpower, this is a small but subtle hint that we don’t really matter in the larger scheme of things. 

There is of course another and not so subtle indicator that we are not a world power or super economy and that is of course the condition of our city’s airport or what passes for it. We may of course claim we are Chingapore but our airport will very swiftly deflate any delusions of grandeur we may have on that count. First as MMM said is the war zone like environment. The next is the issuing of parking tokens. When even toll gates have now been automated, why can the issue of parking tokens not be automated in the airport? What we now have are manned kiosks where the issuer of tokens clearly hates the job he/she is saddled with and takes his/her own time to issue the token. And of course, our drivers have to pause and argue as to why they need to pay each time they enter the airport. The argument is renewed with vigour at the time of leaving the place as well. These fighters for rights are of two kinds – the first thinks it is its right to park for free and the other wants to know why it needs to pay for a bad airport in any case. 

The parking lot is of course forever full – it always appears to MMM that rather like in the film Exterminating Angel, no vehicle on coming in can ever leave the airport and so remains stuck here forever. And so, on entering the parking lot and driving interminably through crowded lanes between vehicles, you need to hunt for a space. There are people driving in behind you and they are in a hurry and so your search is egged on by a blare of horns. And finally, you do find a space, between two corrugated sheets and an abandoned and what seems to be a bombed-out building. But just as you heave a sigh of relief and begin messaging your guest as to where he/she can find you, you realise your troubles are not over. This is an airport where there are no public toilets for any driver and so the rear of all vehicles, as can be seen by a glance at your rear-view (and very aptly named) mirror is a line of men, peeing on the wall behind your car and thereby presenting their behinds to you. At other times the same space doubles as a teeth-brushing, gargling, spitting and flossing area. It also triples up as a sleeping space and sometimes quadruples as a chotta hazri area as can be judged by the number of paper cups tossed under your vehicle as you eventually get to leave the place. Which is why, in MMM’s view, our airport is the best place for you to get an idea as to what the average Ukrainian is now going through, hunkering down in bunkers. But even there the facilities may be better. 

Chennai, A Biography by Sriram V

My book on Chennai is out and is available at all leading bookstores, Amazon and can also be purchased from this blog at this link.