Igrew up believing that marriages are made in heaven. Weddings take place at dreamy holiday resorts. And love materialises at airports: Two people only realise they can’t live without each other when one of them is moving countries in the hope of starting anew. Needless to say, coming from a small town that still lacks a fully functional airport, my induction into this magical and almost mythical urban forest embodying pure love and unadulterated passion was through movies.
It’s hardly surprising then that while boarding my first ever flight at the age of 18, I kept my eyes peeled for grand gestures waiting to flare up any moment around me – a secretary running into a prime minister’s arms and kissing him passionately as he comes through the boarding gate like in Love Actually, a boy breaching security and jumping over barriers to declare his love for his college sweetheart like in Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na. In fact, I was so enamoured by the romance-at-the-tarmac trope that I was more excited about being at the airport than I was about visiting Bombay for the first time.
Forgive my penchant for hyperbole, but imagine my heartbreak when I encountered the poker-faced ground staff, the agonisingly enervating security procedures, and extortion in the name of food bills for insipid meals. My most hard-hitting realisation was that dramatic declarations of love are not dime-a-dozen at these concrete mazes of runways and conveyor belts. People don’t regularly defy gravity and dive into baggage scanners hoping to win the life-long affection of their beloved.
For somebody who has been a sucker for the airport rom-com trope, they mostly remind me of all the times I have cruelly parted with my lovers. I have been in several long-distance relationships but I’ve never had anyone go down on their knees like Shah Rukh Khan’s Raj in Chalte Chalte, bang in the middle of a terminal, to convince me to come back and have their babies. And no love has been powerful enough to stall a flight like that climactic scene in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (also shamelessly ripped off in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya.)
Where the fuck was my grand airport romance scene?!
Sadly, one of my most memorable airport anecdotes is hearing a former lover (a rather asinine one, in retrospect) tell me, as I struggled to blink back tears, that our five-year-long relationship will cease to exist the moment my flight from Bangalore to Calcutta makes its landing. The flight touched the runway that day, but my heart sank deeper than that – my unhappiness wasn’t just restricted to the end of my relationship. Where the fuck was my grand airport romance scene?!
I’ve had none and I don’t know of anyone who has. Years of travelling have made me realise that airports are abysmally banal. An affair of the heart is, in all likelihood, the last thing on the mind of a traveller who is struggling to keep their calm while feeling themselves age rapidly waiting in security and check-in queues. Plus, airports are assiduously monitored and regulated. So the chance of someone dodging security guards for that one passionate kiss are as slim as your Jet Airways flight taking off these days.
Yet, despite these disappointments, each time I’m at an airport, the dormant romantic in me wakes up. My eyes search for misty-eyed lovers, and moments of passionate reunion. And I find them. Not in OTT dramatic declarations of love, but in the abundance of fond hearts around me: A student leaving the comforts of his home, bidding goodbye to each of the 20 relatives who’ve come to see him off before going away to college. A parent flying across continents just to catch a glimpse of his children. Madly-in-love newly-weds on their honeymoon, awkward and adorable at the same time. A small-town girl from a conservative middle-class family embarking on her first-ever solo trip.
There is a certain degree of thrill to their profoundly divergent paths crossing, as they scurry into the same metal tube to spend a few hours together to grumble and whine about limited legroom, bawling babies, cramped washrooms, and the involuntary brushing of shoulders. Why look elsewhere for drama, when this – this grand, inscrutable, mysterious, and hopelessly romantic world – is available for observation?
Years of travelling have made me realise that airports are abysmally banal.
Airports are an ephemeral microcosm of civilisation in the grand macrocosm of life, and that’s where the romance lies. This beautifully worded essay puts it succinctly: “Airports are dirty, smelly, and can be downright unbearable; it’s true. But they are beautiful bridges to the future, sorrow-filled castles, and hopeful islands first.”
I might never have my romantic airport fantasy, but each time I say goodbye to my mother and walk past the security gates at the Calcutta airport, I have a huge lump in my throat. I want to turn back and never leave home. Each time my eyes well up. But over the years, I have learnt not to look back. It is with the knowledge that I can look forward and find solace in the people around me.