Why Are Indian Parents Obsessed With Reaching the Airport Hours in Advance?


Why Are Indian Parents Obsessed With Reaching the Airport Hours in Advance?

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

Indian parents have two dreams. First, that their child must become an engineer, and second, that they must reach the airport two hours before the boarding time of the flight. The infamous laxity of “Indian Standard Time” notwithstanding, when it comes to boarding long distance trains and flights, desi parents operate with the accuracy of an atomic clock. Like an adarsh balak who thinks not speaking up to his parents is the ultimate form of giving respect, I – an engineer – often find myself reaching the airport two hours early before the scheduled flight. No matter how often I go through the motions, I find it impossible to get comfortable in the strange parallel universe that is the domestic airport.

When you are at the airport, there is not much to do other than charge your phone, judge other people and spend 150 on a samosa. Last Monday was one such day of despair and, as always, I had nothing to do. However, this time I had eaten a samosa outside the airport, which meant I wouldn’t have to subject myself to the highway robbery known as airport retail. So I walked from a Gucci store to a Chanel store to that big store with just “W” on its signboard, asking the prices of everything while fully aware that even an empty bag of oxygen in these stores will cost me around 999 excluding GST. After a while, the guy working at the Chanel store became convinced that I was just another cheap bastard trying to pass time, and politely declined to let me sample my 20th perfume bottle. I’m great at picking up hints, so I took it as my cue to leave.

Unfortunately, it had only been 20 minutes since I arrived. Luckily, I saw a Crossword bookstore. “Voila!” I chuckled to myself, certain I’d be able to kill an hour-and-forty minutes with ease. Now, if you don’t know me, my policy of buying books is rather peculiar. I pirate all the books on my Kindle, and if I like something, I buy the hard copy. This way, I save a heroic amount of paper, almost all of my money, and give back to the author I liked. Why can’t I apply this consumer policy to everything in life, including samosas?

As I was browsing through the shelves, I couldn’t find the book that I was looking for. So I headed to the magazine section and picked up the first magazine that I saw: Conde Nast Traveller. Maybe if I flashed the magazine, I’d blend in with the Armani suit-wearing, Louis Vuitton luggage-toting airport snobs who were filling the seats in the passengers’ lounge. For the humble price of  150, even you can look like the most pretentious guy in the airport.

When I boarded the flight with my fancy magazine clutched to my chest, everyone looked at me like I was Amitabh Bachchan waving to the crowds outside Jalsa.

When I picked up that magazine from the shelf, the shop attendant came up to me and said, “Sir aap Reader’s Digest hi le lo.” My ego asked me to punch his face but I, having saved my money by not eating that damn airport samosa, took out 150 from my pocket and picked up the Conde Nast Traveller.

Announcements for boarding had begun in that noise-free airport. People with the inability to sit and wait for five minutes were already approaching the 60-person-long queue. About half of them were still figuring out if their kids had eaten their boarding passes. I nonchalantly flipped through my newly acquired magazine while chaos unfolded around me.

When I boarded the flight with my fancy magazine clutched to my chest, everyone looked at me like I was Amitabh Bachchan waving to the crowds outside Jalsa. I am pretty sure I even spotted some tears in the eyes of an old lady who was holding her Gucci bag very closely to her chest as if it were her child. The Armani suit guy offered me his window seat and asked if I was doing well or not. The stewardess told me that even though it is a domestic flight, they will make an exception and serve me whatever alcohol I’d like to have.

The world came back to normalcy when the word “Haywards” escaped my mouth. The rest of the flight was uneasy as I was turning the pages of my Traveller sitting in the middle seat. Oh yes, Armani guy asked me to switch back, with a look of disgust normally reserved for broken toilets.

I realised, that as a middle-class Indian, unlearning the cheapness that I have been brought up with is not going to be easy. However, I now know how to avoid feeling like a penniless outsider when I reach the airport two hours before boarding time. That’s right, eat a samosa outside, carry a nice pair of shades for that #airportlook, go to Crossword and pick up a pretentious magazine. If the secret to getting rich is to look rich, maybe a few years down the line, I will be able to afford that Chanel perfume too.