Airport Observations

I hang up my phone in amusement. My ride was still at home, in a half-sleep stupor but awake enough to brush away my insistence to take a cab. I didn’t mind hanging around for a while. The arrival section of the airport is a lovely place to people watch and I’m usually in such a hurry to leave that I pay little attention to my surroundings. I settle down in a corner, with my luggage at my feet and a book on my lap so that I don’t feel too awkward.

The duration of the flight is visible on some passenger’s faces as they make their way past me. The long haul flyers have pained looks on their faces as they lug around their screaming children and attempt to balance hand luggage, infant, headache and trolley. Too tired to muster a thank you to the cleaning lady who helps them with the trolley, they don’t walk; instead they flop with fatigue towards the luggage belt.

I spot pockets of women wearing abayas but minus their head scarves. My curiosity is piqued. This is rare. The abaya is always, always accompanied by some form of head covering. I suddenly realize that the Middle Eastern flights must have landed and these must be housemaids (or Domestic Help, for the politically correct) returning home. Having landed in Katunayake, they had clearly discarded  the head covering which is compulsory for women in the Middle East.

There are certain staple characters at every airport and as I sat there, I spot a few.  There is the Frequent Flyer. Usually a business man/woman, impeccably attired – not too casual, not too formal – completely at home in the airport, equipped with a enviable mastery of being able to stuff a week’s worth of clothes and necessities in a smart, medium sized travel bag (usually a Samsonite).  I say, enviable because I’m usually the Overweight Passenger (luggage weight, not body weight. I feel it necessary to clarify this) who resolutely attempts to get the poker faced flight official to wave the few excess kilos away. I’m not proud of it but I’ve reluctantly come to terms  with the fact that I will never be able to travel light.

Then there is the Well Dressed Woman. You know the kind. The WDW is a rare species which steps in and out of the flight flawlessly attired, lipstick immaculate and hair in place. While the rest of the populace attempt to smoothen their plane hair (twice removed cousin of helmet hair) and crumpled clothes, she breezes through the airport in 6 inch heels effortlessly without a single trace of the flight visible on her demeanour.

There is the foreigner who has arrived to ‘find herself’ and immerse herself in the Exotic Orient. Harem pants, beads, tattered backpack and a Lonely Planet guide are key indicators. There is also the Elderly Traveller with a perpetual look of bewilderment, determinedly clutching onto their baggage and passport lest someone runs away with it. Every flight is a new adventure and the ET is usually the only person who pays close attention to the emergency rules announcement at the beginning of a flight.

There is always a tourist in every airport. The Tourist travels in packs or clusters of 5 or less. The more obvious Tourist is usually found with a fanny pack and sports shoes. The clusters are loud groups which congregate at the airport, cracking jokes among their peers, crumpled printed itineraries stored in their bag.

I hear someone call my name and I look up in surprise. There’s a face looking down at me expectantly and I find myself in a SSM (Small Social Pickle). I know I know this person but I can’t remember how or where I know him from or what his name is. One of the things which strike me as I struggle to place him is that he has a kind, sympathetic face and I experience a strange déjà vu  feeling of having this thought before, when I first met him years ago.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Clearly I’m more transparent than I realize. He remembers my name and so I’m forced to lie to save face. Of course, I do, I reply. He’s nice enough not to call my bluff and after some cursory small talk, he leaves and I return to pretending to read.

The Duty Free heavy weights are making their way. A mother-son pair emerges from the lift. The mother is beaming and there is a proud (but not in an arrogant way) tilt in the son’s chin as he pushes a fridge on a trolley. A gift for his mother maybe? As I sit there, the flight crew of various airlines pass by frequently. I keep a lookout for familiar faces – a few friends work in the industry– but don’t spot any. There was a time when the travel perks of being a part of an airline had a strange fascination for me (and seemed worth the toil and flak I’ve seen cabin crew put up with). I was much younger and the attraction of a new country every week was extremely alluring.

There’s a man hunting for a pen to fill out the declaration forms for his brand new LED TV. He’s approached four people by now and the frustration on his face is apparent. He’s yet to ask me, strangely. I’m afraid my Alone Face is also my Leave Me Alone Face – a Delhi survival mechanism I have unconsciously adopted – and I probably don’t look very inviting or pen-friendly. I take out a pen from my backpack and signal him over. His furrowed face breaks out into a grin and he heads over to the other side of the lounge to fill out the paperwork.

My phone rings. My ride is here.  I’ve only read 6 pages of my book. As I clumsily get my belongings together, I realize that I’m exhausted. The frantic dash during a brief transit was finally taking its toll.   It feels good to be back. I wish I remembered that guy’s name though.




A blazing wave of heat has surged over Colombo.

In the bus, the man in front of me takes off his cap, produces a large checked napkin from his pocket and proceeds to wipe the damp on the back of his neck with slow, deliberate strokes. The third beggar to board the bus in 10 minutes,waves a stump for an arm in my face and has me scrambling for my purse.

The couple in the corner exchange vows of undying love over a packet of manioc chips. He feeds her. She blushes and giggles coyly behind her handkerchief. How adorable.

The kid in front is fast asleep, sprawled across her mother’s lap – face shining with perspiration. Her brother on the other side of the aisle, sits with his shoulders slumped forward, the occasional polyphonic tune pealing from the phone clutched in his hands.

Gray faces and clothes covered in dust all around. I huddle in my seat, suddenly feeling exceedingly conspicuous in my too-loud mustard top, fervently wishing I hadn’t refused my father’s offer to pick me up.

People with forced smiles on garish posters flash past in a technicolor blur – all of them telling me that I should vote for them. For the betterment of our country, of course.

It’s too damn hot.

I don’t think I can take this anymore.





First, the cacophony of sirens. Go downstairs. Turn on the TV.




A battered bus. Misshapen metal. Shards of glass which crunch under the boots of khaki clad policemen. Distant voices of army personnel, shooing the swarm of people peeping over the yellow tape. Necks craning, eager for a glimpse. My mum flinches at the slow trickle of blood, forming red rivulets on the roadside. Fist stuffed in her mouth, she doesn’t notice that her cup of oats is dripping, forming white pools of their own.




The scene changes swiftly.




A mass of attendants dressed in crisp white. One surreptitiously pats his hair, preening at the cameraman, enjoying his 2 seconds of fame. Another blusters around, ordering people here and there, the corner of his eye fixed firmly on the revolving camera. An ambulance drives in. Dozens of hands reach out for the door. Blood spattered and dazed, a lady is lifted and laid on a stretcher. More tumble out. The interior of the hospital is shown. Vesak decorations and colourful streamers still adorn the ceiling: a stark contrast to the dismal scene.




Visuals of the explosion are shown again.




The blood still drips from the foot board. Deliberately slow.




Will this ever end?



>When We Were Young


Do you remember…

How we used to play hide and seek in your grandmother’s living room? When she called us, we would pretend we didn’t hear and escape upstairs.

The way we used to ‘cook’ sand and leaves in coconut shell pots. At least I cooked; you would sit afar and tease me

When we sat under the maara tree and ate achcharu. You know the kind. Ambarella, with lots of chillie and pepper and just a hint of salt.

How I laughed at your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bed sheet, and then went home and begged my mum for one of my own.

Our swimming lessons. When uncle Daya asked you to push me into the deep end because I refused to jump in. And you, with an apologetic look at me, did so. I haven’t been able to swim since, let alone go into the deep end.

How the simplest wounds were cured with the milk from the frangipani trees. ‘Tear the leaf like that, rub the juice onto the wound and keep it for 5 minutes’, that’s what you said.

The Christmas party we went to. We all went gleefully on the merry-go-round except for you, because you thought it ‘babyish’.

Eating candyfloss, sticky fingered and bright eyed. And once ours was finished, swiftly eating your brother’s one as well.

How you licked the icing off my birthday cake. I refused to talk to you through out the entire party.

That you were the first to see my new roller skates. And the first to see me fall with them.

How I punched you because you cheated at snake and ladders. And you went crying to your mum.

Running alone the beach. I, screaming when the frothy waves lapped at my toes. You, already up to your waist in the water.

Do you remember?
No, I don’t suppose you do.

Because you’re all grown up now.
And I-

I’m still young.