Back in the day when Mumbai was Bombay, the photos were B&W, the taxis were black and yellow,the buses were B.E.S.T, the radio was Radio Ceylon and the streets were smooth and uncongested and Santa Cruz Bombay’s only airport was only a half hour ride away, going to the airport was like a picnic. Perhaps because air travel was rare we actually looked forward to drop off/receive someone at Santa Cruz. It was strange to see people dressed formally in suits, sporting flower garlands being surrounded by near and dear ones, smiling grimly into a camera before actually saying goodbye.
As the buildings became taller and the skies busier, the airport underwent a phase of modernisation and up-gradation and deteriorated into one higgeldy piggeldy mess.For several years it was hell for both the passenger and the receiver. There was no place to wait, flight arrivals were found out much like Chinese Whispers – asking the person next to you who asked the person next to him who asked the person next to him ………..And with the remodelling taking so long to complete each trip to the airport meant a new lesson in navigation! Thankfully all that is in the past.
Today’s airport is in comparison, sterile yet lively – with hundreds of people milling around, passengers trailing luggage on wheels, Meeters waving placards with names and Greeters co-ordinating transport movement with drivers in the parking bay. It all seems quite organised with airport security staff regularly clearing off people from the main exit point of the terminal and cleaning staff whizzing around on automated floor cleaners mopping up wet spots and picking up stray paper.
After several years of “up-gradation” the airport has finally become worthy of being called an airport of a big city.
When I had to make an airport pick up last week, I actually had time to observe things around me and found the most amazing shop called Caramello right outside the passenger terminal exit. This pleasantly air-conditioned shop which could be the miniest supermarket giving the maximum joy with goodies unseen in most Mumbai shops – ranging from supermarket ready to eat foods, toiletries, chocolates and cheese, ham from Spain and sanitizers from “over there”. Of course with a 400 g Toblerone being sold at Rs.600, it is not cheap, but as the lady at the counter informed me, the goods are genuine and taste genuinely different from the Crawford market fare. I was equally astonished when she told me that there are regular customers who come from all over the city just to pick up their stock of genuine imported stuff. While I was in no mood to test her claim, I did step outside to try the samosa of Kailash Parbat fame. It was good but I honestly speaking without the clamour and chaos of Colaba’s Pasta Lane, the samosa lacked some of its flavour. So I abandoned it and took my place with the others in the waiting space under the clean white canopies of Mumbai’s Legoland Airport.
I loved watching people sitting patiently on stainless steel benches looking hopefully at flat screens announcing flights or silent TV screens showing news. With a large choice of food and beverages to choose from and even a florist at hand to buy the welcome bouquet from, Mumbai Airport is no longer the welcome party’s unwelcome dream. For the first time really, I actually felt good about being in Mumbai and gave my guest a genuine smile of welcome as I saw him step out of the arrival gate.