Saturday, 26 December 2009

Not quite an Outsider: Random Thoughts while at Guwahati

Part I: Of airports and amusement parks

Now based in Germany, Meenaxi comes home every year to visit family and friends. The following write-up contains some of her thoughts and observations during her recent trip to Guwahati in Jan-Feb 2008

Like every year this year too I came home to Guwahati in January. It was here last May so I had not been away for too long. But plenty of things had changed in the mean time. The first development was evident immediately upon arrival at the Guwahati airport where I noticed a smartly uniformed man holding up the ASTC placard announcing an airport city service (at Rs. 60/- per trip per person) for the incoming passengers. Very good, I told myself, at least one had a choice now and was not left completely at the mercy of the uncouth and unscrupulous sumo drivers waiting outside.

However this feel-good feeling about the airport did not last long – for when we went back to the airport a couple of days later to receive someone, it looked worse than a railway station – people everywhere, the policemen being rude and arrogant with everyone, no way to get even into the lounge (entry had been temporarily stopped ostensibly for security reasons, we were told). But that was nothing compared to what happened when we saw our friends off ten days later. They were to board an IA flight to Delhi – it had been delayed but would leave at 2:30 p.m. we were told. Accordingly we urged them to go in and clear security an hour earlier. But the flight left only around 5 p.m. that day! Inside the departure lounge there was no way to get any information (the security personnel on duty couldn’t be bothered with flight details and the IA officials had conveniently vanished), no place where they could get some food (they were expecting to get lunch on board), and no way to get out again. I was deeply embarrassed – why is it that even service agencies (like the IA) who depend on customer patronage for their survival do not think it necessary to treat their customers properly. And why is it that in these modern times the departure lounge at Guwahati airport still does not have even a little snack bar?

What makes the absence even more mystifying is the ubiquitous presence of new restaurants and coffee-houses in the city these days. This seems to be the new fashion these days – going out, shopping and eating. Not to speak of shopping malls, resorts and fly-overs, this time I even saw a new amusement complex boasting of a Bowling Centre in the city! Our Guwahatians will have no time to be bored any more, what with golf courses and bowling arenas. One would imagine the Assamese are very fit and health-conscious people. But if one did a survey of how many cars the rich golfers have per family (or tried to figure out how many of that well-to-do bunch actually used a bicycle) one would get a different picture.

Don’t try your stupid firangi ideas here, I can already hear these people shouting. Where are the roads where we can go cycling? Yes, of course there are no roads, but isn’t it your cars parked on the road side that make the already narrow roads even narrower? Is it not all the rubbish people throw on the streets that make the pavements impossible to walk on? Before we accuse others for what they have not done would it not be better to ask what we can do to make things in our city better? Not to speak of walking, the city is getting so full that there is hardly any space left outdoors for the poor city-bred children to play in. And even kids whose parents are rich enough to have a whole bungalow to themselves, are actively discouraged from going out to play (for security reasons, the parents insist). Instead they are asked to “go and watch T.V. instead”! Poor kids!

Fly-overs and shopping malls are great signs of progress, but no city which has no green spaces for public use, no parks for kids, no parking lots for cars and no clean public toilets anywhere, to mention just a few such problems, can claim to be doing the right thing. No city in which the cavalcades of our VIPs have precedence over ambulances and fire-engines can claim to be part of a civilised democratic set-up where the rule of law prevails.
Posted by meenaxi at 09:41

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