Monday, March 31, 2008

waiting at Heathrow Airport: the mandatory Indian prison sentence

In some countries there are compulsory rules that all kids must go through. In countries like Israel and Turkey males have a mandatory stint with the army.

For ABCD's (American Born Confused Desis/Indians) we have our own tryst
with destiny. It is a painful one. It is an unbearable one.

At some point every ABCD has endured the famed 8 hour layover at Heathrow on their way to India. While their are direct flights now and better timings which eliminate or minimize this Rite of Passage, most people can anyone who had traveled to India prior to the new millennium has undoubted faced this.

As a little kid a stopover in Heathrow brought up a mixed sense of emotions. In the beginning the notion of being stuck at LHR brought about a sexy aura of coolness. When telling relative and friends of your travels (non-Indians in the states always says "ohmygod India is sooo far away!) You would actually casually infer that your sentence at Heathrow actually equated to a trip to London itself....and yet you would always mention the airport's name in your description. It's a very quirky thing if you think about. "....Yes then we go to London at Heathrow airport for half a day and then we go to Bombay....". I've traveled a wee bit and I don't know of
any other international city where I give such direct recognition to the individual airport.

Does anyone say "yeah so then we head through Paris where we have to hang around at Charles De Gaulle" ?

I think not. Did anyone ever want to actually hang around Charles De Gaulle the actual person. I think we safely say "no" to that as well.

But once you do the trip once the stopover at the center of neo-modern western civilization loses all allure. First of all, like all airports there is nothing to do there. And lemme just remind you something which everyone knows: the shops that exist in terminals today are a far cry from the nonsense that existed just a few years ago. Plus if you are stuck with your parents it's not like you can really buy anything because of them anyways. And it's not like you can text your friends or email random people. In the olden days when you were stuck somewhere you were physically AND mentally stuck there. No escaping here matey, plant yer brains in ye seat.

The hidden element of pain for all these trips was that the Heathrow stopover was preceded by some painful stop at New York's JFK airport- an airport which took the joys of conc
rete and lack of natural light via proper windows to dizzying new heights. If you grew up on the East coast then you have been mercifully spared this gem because it too inevitably was worth about 5hrs of waiting. By the time you got to LHR you were just shattered.

So today as I sit at the airport here at 7am on the tail end of a weekend that saw me visit 3 cities over 48hrs, manage to get only 7hrs of sleep including 28hrs straight, being at Heathrow is like confronting an old nemesis.

Terminal 5 delays withstanding I know this foe can't cause as much psychological harm as it did to me a decade or so ago, after all. Although spotting those weird Euro toilets and urinals always makes me cringe.

To this day the first thing I notice when I return from abroad, which makes me glad to be home, is that we have normal bathrooms.


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