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Travelling Blues


Fahima Yousouf

I looked at the helpless face of the dark-complexioned man sitting across my desk in Bourgeois Logistics and Services. He had just finished explaining his woes of the unavailability of air-tickets in the peak season. He looked very miserable that I desperately thought of a way to cheer him up. His sister’s marriage was due next week. Staying away from his relatives in a remote village of the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India for over three years, it was only logical that they wished for him to attend this auspicious occasion. He got leave permission and everything but the problem was he couldn’t get a ticket. He visited a couple of travel agencies but they told him their bookings were full and they had put him on waiting list. It was high season too so he ought to have booked a few weeks earlier. He was an illiterate chap too; he worked as a peon in the company. He didn’t know how to explain if other connecting flights were available and sought me for help. I agreed to take over the matter and promised to find a way out.

I worked in a multinational shipping company in Dubai, U.A.E. as a branch manager. I lieu of my job, I dealt with various travel agencies and shipping lines. I knew it would be a cinch to arrange a ticket for Selvan, the peon guy. I called my good friend John Abraham, a travel agent in Al Tanveer Travel Bureau and explained the situation to him. He worked his magic on his networked system and promptly responded that the work was as good as finished. He said that if Selvan could come the following day, he can purchase his ticket. I passed on this info to Selvan. Just when I thought I had extended my helping hand enough, he dragged me to oblige him again.

“It’d be very nice of you to accompany me tomorrow,” he pleaded. “I might have trouble communicating with this guy; he isn’t a South Indian, is he?”

I shook my head, slightly perturbed. I had a wild idea of buying him a ‘Rapidex Spoken English” course book so that he wouldn’t trouble me whenever he met English speaking people. I arranged with him to go the place next evening.

We were welcomed warmly by Abraham as we entered the modest office of Al Tanveer Travel Bureau. He chitchatted with me for a while before getting down to business. He complained that even though computers have made his work simpler, it was not long before Babbage’s handy invention took over his job. Online booking web sites took over 75% of the job of travel agents. Ticketing programs and flights management databases were revolutionizing the travel industry. Sensing the impatience of Selvan, he cut short the talk on travelbiz and handed over his ticket. He explained him the details of his connecting flights and said he had to disembark in Bombay for a couple of hours.

I became busy with the process of translating all the details to Selvan in Tamil. But I was unprepared for the questions that this uneducated fellow traveling to India for the first time from UAE had to ask me like, “Do I have to collect my luggage in Bombay? I heard Bombay customs are terrible” “Don’t I need two tickets?” “How will I tell in the Bombay Airport that I need to go to Chennai?” I patiently explained that he just had to go through transit and he didn’t have to worry about his luggage, they would be automatically shifted. As we left, Abraham gave me an exasperated look that told me plainly what he was thinking.

The day of Selvan’s departure arrived. It was a Wednesday night and he was on duty till that evening. I met him sometime around the afternoon and asked him how things were going. He told me that he had to be in the airport by 9 pm as the flight would take off at half past midnight. I told him to be careful with his passport and ticket and once again went through the details of his transit in Bombay. If everything went smoothly, he’d be in Chennai by 9 am the following day. I wished him bon voyage and saw him off for the day.

At 5 pm, I came out of my office gleefully, all set to enjoy my precious two-day weekend. On my way home, I stopped at a video library. It was a customary family tradition that we enjoyed a movie on a weekend night. My kids begged me to take them to------- to celebrate the ending of their finals, to which I obliged as I too was in a happy mood. We got back home at 10 with a takeaway order from Pizza Hut. As my son loaded the VCR, I sat back and perceived happily that it was being just the relaxing night I had so badly wanted after five days of sweat and toil.

The phone chose such an ill-timed occasion to ring furiously. I looked irritably at the caller ID wondering who was calling at this late hour. I couldn’t identify the number and I picked up the receiver almost sure that it was a wrong number.

I could hear someone breathing heavily on the other end. Before I could open my mouth a voice that I so badly didn’t want to hear said, “Sir, it’s me, Selvan. I have a big problem here. I can’t go to India tonight...”

I looked up at the clock which showed 10.40. He must be in the airport by now, I thought.

“What’s wrong, Selvan?” I asked as calmly as I could. I raked my mind thinking of the possible problems he might be facing. Probably he had excess baggage (I knew how much loving brothers and sons carry to their homeland) and the customs were asking him to pay for it. Or else he might be facing some problem at the immigration clearance.

“Sir, these people at the airport are saying there is no flight to Mumbai today.”

I wrinkled my eyebrows in confusion. “Show them your ticket,” I spoke acidly. “How can they say there is no flight when it is clearly given in your ticket?”

“That’s the problem, Sir,” he said innocently, “they are saying my ticket is not valid. Because it is a ticket for yesterday’s flight.”

I fought to control my annoyance. I took a deep breath and said, “Please read to me the date and time on your ticket.” After a massive search through the maze of letters and numbers and impatient explanations from my side as to how to find the required details, it came to me like a slap on the face. He had a ticket for Wednesday, 0030 hours. Which meant he must have gone yesterday, that is Tuesday night itself. And this dimwit had been declaring so long that he had his flight on Wednesday.

I closed my eyes, trying to suppress my frustration. I told him to call after ten minutes and called Abraham, disturbing his beauty sleep. He sounded sleepy at first but the bolt I gave him struck him through causing him to be very much awake. He shared my view that I should have babysat Selvan till he was off. But now it was too late for such talk and something had to done to straighten things out. I put down the phone, half-happy that I had shifted the burden elsewhere, half-worried that now that fool was stranded in the airport. The phone rang after a couple of minutes and Abraham asked me to tell him to get back home. He had made some calls but there was no other flight flying to Chennai via Mumbai for the next twelve hours. His ticket had to be rescheduled and I have to escort him again to Abraham’s place for that task. I explained this to Selvan when he called next. He almost let a howl of distress, but restrained himself when he realized he was talking to a superior officer. As I hung up, putting an end to the night’s calls I looked around myself, finding that everyone had retired to bed, tired and irritated by the continuous calls. I had no choice but to do the same and fell asleep cursing my fate.

Only after personally seeing Selvan safely off at the airport did I plan my happy occasions.

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