As a journalist who does not believe in slander, but does believe in justice, I do not intend to name the airline by which I flew back from London to Madras; but I will say, though, that there was a changeover at Bombay, and a stopover at Ahmedabad about which none of us knew, and that it took me twenty hours from my departure from Heathrow to land in Madras. Besides, the food was stale and possibly comprised leftovers from the previous flights flown by this airline. I'm sure this is enough information to give most people a fair chance at guessing which airline I'm referring to. And if not, this will clinch it - the Map channel did not work, so that none of us knew where we were at any given time; and we had a choice of two movie channels, and Hindustani music on the audio channel.
The changeover at Bombay was the beginning of a series of nightmares; first of all, I was to have two and a half hours to kill, and was considering meeting a friend of mine, if she could take time off from her production house (which is incidentally run by an incomplete reincarnation of Vishwamitra, without the wisdom). I dedicate this entry to you, Anjali Iyer (well, that is her name). Now, I had a half hour, and in that time, I discovered I was running through a security check as part of new regulations. Wonderful.
As I got myself X-rayed, I heard someone screaming, while flashing my bag "kiska hai yeh? Oye!!!! Kiska hai?" and I said, "excuse me, that's mine" and one guy said "come with me, please, madam!" and pulled open my laptop bag, scattering everything in it. He then nearly tore open the polythene bag which had recently been exhibited. Then he pulled out a bottle of Bailey's and demanded to know where it had been purchased. I assured him it was from a duty free shop. Once he found out it was liquor - sorry, liqueur from abroad, he insisted it could not be carried in flight due to government regulations. When I protested that I had been assured that it could be, if it were bought in a duty free shop, he asked me to speak to the customer care desk. I was shcoked as he tore the tags off and then left me to repack everything, inclusive of my needlessly opened laptop bag.
"Whole process repeat, madam!" he said, looking at me with derision.
I ran to the Customer Care desk, and they said it could be sent as cargo. As I got back to the security check, my plane's check was over and a check was on for Mumbai-Dubai, and a woman would scream out, "Please come in the line!", assuming that I had jumped the queue; I assured her that that was not the case, but she was not convinced. A well-dressed man told me, "Anyway, we're all going on the same plane, it makes no difference" and I said, "is this the Bombay-Madras plane?" and he said "no", even as someone called out, usefully, "it's called Chennai now, and this is Mumbai". Well, the security officials gave me flak again, especially the woman who was doing the beeping (I'm sorry, I don't know the formal term for it). So I went to the Customer Care desk again, and this time, an official came with me, and told the security people to try and send it as cargo. But he told me they could not give me a receipt for breakables. I mentally bade goodbye to my Bailey's, but tried my last tactic - tears.
I didn't have to put my acting skills to test too much - the idea of missing my flight, and being stuck in Bombay while my heart was crying for home (which can only mean Madras, or grudgingly, London, because of the way that city grabs you out of the air and enfolds you in its arms) and losing my Bailey's on top of that, were enough provocation for my tear glands to start warming up. A kind-looking "Sir" - things work in India when you kiss the feet of the small fry - agreed to give me a receipt...and who should start arguing with him when he was writing it out but Mrs. Please-come-in-the-queue - "Is ladki kaise ithna bada whiskey bottle lehkar jaa sakthi? Aur main khyoon lipstick meri saath nahin lehkar jaa sakhoon?" (If my Hindi is un-understandable, like it usually is, she said - How can this girl carry such a big bottle of whiskey with her while I can't take my lipstick with me?) whereupon "Sir" began to argue with her instead of writing out my receipt.
It was 2:38 p.m. when I got into my flight and 2:50 pm when it took off. Tears were pouring through from a sense of humiliation and rage; my bottle arrived safely in Madras, and the airport staff here were as friendly as ever, but I was left wondering - what is it about a woman travelling alone with a bottle of liquor that makes people think they should try to stick out a leg in her way and watch her trip over? The question arises because I saw a couple claim two bottles of whiskey at the Madras airport; they were on the same flight, and had not been harassed at all. I am not a feminist by a long shot, but there are times when it strikes one how unfair it is that liquor, drugs, cigarettes and sex are bracketed together, and one demonstrating acceptance of one thing inevitably demonstrates acceptance of all.