Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Seen and heard in Kashmir

Seen at Srinagar airport, on my way back from covering this story:

Large groups of tourists, possibly religious tourists, working themselves up into an aggressive mood.

They were waiting for a Spice Jet flight. Since it had been raining, many of the flights were delayed, including mine.

These tourists decided that they would not wait any longer and starting queueing up (though theirs wasn't a queue, you understand; it was three or four thick and a random zigzag long) at the departure gate. The harried airline officials tried to reason with them, but to no avail.

Across the glass doors, your could see a Spice Jet plane arrive. This group decided that they were going to board the plane, and were unwilling to accept the fact that this was not 'their' flight and that people cannot just up and board any plane, not unless a departure announcement has been made.

This restive little group had been shouting 'Har Har Mahadev' for a while now. The Kashmiri policemen had not said one word, so far; had been unfailingly polite, smiling while explaining that they would have to wait until the airline officials gave them the signal to board.

Some of the men began to press against and bang on the glass doors of the departure gate. Some began to hunt down airline staff and in aggressive overtones, demanded to be put on a flight - now! The staff quickly escaped to the other side of the glass doors and made themselves as inconspicuous as possible.

More shouting of 'Har Har Mahadev'.

An old, old woman, with thick glasses and a rather marvellous, old black burqa with satin trimming, pulled at my hand and asked me to sit beside her.

"Don't stand there. It's not safe."

And then she told me all about how she had a wedding in the family and how her daughter was dangerously sick, and how she was waiting to go to Delhi. And looking at the voluble bunch of tourists, she said:

"Junglees!... Are they not?"

I said, "Er... hmm.... er, I should go and find out about my flight."

I saw her catch at the passing hand of another young woman, bidding her take the empty seat. The wedding, the sick daughter, the flight that had to be boarded.

And then, another woman.

And over strange shoulders, the resounding cries of 'har har mahadev' and harassed police officers, trying to be polite while pushing back something not unlike a mob.

5 comments:

anangbhai said...

Someone told me a similar story, which seems to happen a lot apparently. Traveling to Bombay on a plane. The pilot makes the announcement that he'll be descending in a few minutes to the airport, and all the passengers got up and made a beeline for the door, as if they were in a local bus and were just going to jump off when they saw their stop.

David Raphael Israel said...

Belongs in a surrealist movie, seems. The way you report this (all description, no comment) brings out the oddly aesthetic affect.

annie said...

anagbhai: yes, they do. rush forward to catch the bus afterwards even though it is clear that the bus is not leaving until it is full. and rush to climb into the craft, and jostle at the baggage claim, and elbow at the taxi counter and rush towards taxis...
david: was not surreal while it was happening. it was a rather unhandsome display of aggression and arrogance.

dipali said...

Sounds positively terrifying. How do apparently reasonable human beings allow themselves to turn into a mob?

the mad momma said...

at the risk of sounding elitist, this is what happens on railway stations all the time and cheap tickets you can expect it at airports too. though knowing you, you were probably not very shattered you brave girl.

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