In order to escape the noisy, ear-splitting Diwali of our Idgah Hills in Bhopal, where residents have loads of money to burn by way excruciatingly loud bombs by hundreds for days before and after the ‘D’ Day, we took a flight to Goa via Mumbai. We chose Goa for our escape as Diwali there is reported to be far less raucous and much more civilized and, I dare say, certainly more dignified. The flight to Mumbai was at 7.40 in the morning arriving at Mumbai before 9.00 and the flight to Goa was more than 5 hours later at 2.30 PM.
Called Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the Santa Cruz Airport of earlier times, does not have a lounge for passengers transiting through it. We are pretty prompt in Indianising the old Western names but we are very tardy in upgrading the facilities. This is true of this Airport as it is true of many other outfits and institutions. Hence we had to wait at the crowded, rather inadequately provided departure lounge for all of those five hours and more.
Sitting on a chair that was not meant for being sat on for long hours I saw through the skylight a large number of planes fly away. Obviously, the airport was a pretty busy one, a far cry (naturally) from what it used to be more than fifty years ago. Watching the planes fly away one after another my mind flew across more than fifty years to 1955 when my sister and I were visiting during the summer vacation an uncle of ours who used to live and work in what was then Bombay and who was very fond of watching planes flying in and flying out. Whenever he could squeeze out some time he would take us out to show us the sights of Bombay. And whenever there was nothing much to do after his office in the evenings he, along with our aunt, would drive us down to the Santa Cruz airport. Parking the vehicle in front of the Airport building we would all saunter down to the arrival lounge for domestic flights. Civil aviation in India in those days was in its infancy and, hence, not many flights would be arriving. The arrival area was, therefore, largely unoccupied.
The Santa Cruz airport, barring its international arrival area, those days used to be wide open to the public. Anybody could get into it. For example, all of us could go right up to the glazed walls of the arrival lounge from where we could see bigger planes mostly of foreign airlines and Air India parked up in front. Almost all international airlines - from SAS to BOAC to KLM and Pan American down to Quantas would touch down at Bombay. It is here that I happened to see an Air India Super Constellation one of which had crashed near Djakarta in 1955 before the famed Bandung Non- Aligned Conference killing many Chinese delegates. We saw all these planes through the glass panes as none even in those days could step on to the tarmac. However, those who were keen on an unrestricted and better view would go on to the terrace of the then single storey structure of the Airport and crowd around its parapets to ogle at the aircraft landing or taking off or even those that were stationary.
Getting into the Santa Cruz airport, or for that matter into any airport in the country, just like that is impossible today. Those were the terror-free innocent days when men were simpler and uncomplicated. Securing of lives and property, both public and private, was not an activity of such a mammoth proportions as it has become today. True there were deviants even then; there were thefts, robberies, rapes and murders - the crimes that could be taken care of by the usual policemen. But, the menace of organised terror that seeks only to kill people in as large a number as possible had not yet made its appearance. All public and private places vulnerable to terror attacks have therefore had to be closed to the casual visitors and specialised security personnel have had to be engaged to guard them.
Providing security from stray unexpected bombings in dense urban areas or premeditated armed attacks such as those on the Indian Parliament in 2005 or on Bombay in 2008 or preventing hijacking of passenger aircraft like the one of Indian Airlines in1998 or for crashing into predetermined targets like in 2001 on the World Trade Centre in New York have become the most obsessive activities of governments the world over. On the back-room boys, on installation of systems for relentless vigilance and logistics of the foot soldiers of the security organisations mind boggling sums are being spent in order to provide failsafe security to people all over the world. All because some people of a particular faith do not like people of other faiths - a persuasion that is unquestionably medieval in character.
One cannot but hark back to the statement of Ajmal Qasab, the young Pakistani participant in the Mumbai terror attack who, to his misfortune, was captured alive. Sent along with others on a suicide mission he said they were asked to kill as many as possible from among Hindus, Jews and others for no apparent reason. As it appears now, preparations for this attack had been going on for at least three years. His parent jihadi organisation seems to have an assembly line that produces in continuum terrorists who are prepared to remorselessly kill or get killed in the service of their faith which, incidentally, makes loud claims to be a religion of peace. So efficient is the brainwashing of young minds by the purveyors of terror.
Sitting there in the departure lounge of the Mumbai Airport I wondered how things have changed and how life has become restricted with public organizations becoming more and more restrictive, taking away the freedom that we once used to enjoy without any let or hindrance - all because of a few thousand creepy and sneaky terrorists who never come upfront to attack but do so by stealth and surprise.
Today at the same Santa Cruz airport or any other airport of the country, forget about a casual visitor, even a passenger holding a valid ticket has to clear at least three layers of security checks before emplaning. And then one cannot carry any fluids, not even drinking water, in the plane. In the US even shoes have to be taken off for security checks as a suicide bomber once hoodwinked the security personnel by carrying a bomb into a plane concealed in his shoes.
From what is happening all around looks like there is going to be no let up in terror – hatred of one community for another relentlessly enlarging its area of influence. Those carefree and innocent days of half a century ago seem like gone forever.
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