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A few years ago a Hollywood movie  named ‘Love Actually’ had released. I was not particularly impressed with that movie and its medley of half-baked characters except for one aspect — the beginning of the movie. The movie starts with a touching note on the victims of the 9/11 attacks and on those who were on board the two airplanes that crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The movie claims that almost all those last frantic messages sent by the passengers on board the two planes were messages of love — of intense love for those who got left behind, their near ones, friends, spouses, beloveds, parents and children. It starts with the note that at death we do not hate, we love…. So let me dedicate today’s post to those who loved and lost, to those who were left behind and to those who are in a hurry to move ahead in life and in time. This is an article about the departure lounges and the people whom I have observed/met, seeing off their near-ones either to meet again or to part forever.

I am apologizing for the somberness of the tone of this post, but sometimes life also means pausing by, observing, sighing and then moving on. I hope I do not get blamed for being sentimental or for making my readers bored with teary gibberish. Actually, on the contrary getting blamed is a privilege of the privileged. So, I am willing to face the consequences of being called a ‘moron’ or a ‘bore’….

The world is so full of the wonders of technology and the brilliance of what I name as a ‘fast-food noodled’ life that we take a sadistic, pervert pleasure in being called ‘rational’ and ‘calculative’  and take a pride in ‘moving-on’ (speaking about technology and science and its wonders, let’s face it — the best part of it was the joy of discovery and invention and not consolidation and gain).The reasons cited for this ‘moving on’ business are innumerable, sometimes wrapped as a determined decision, sometimes called helplessness and sometimes duty. Fine…understood and noted. However, what is the consequence of this ‘final rationality’, what do we gain? If you calculate the number of enemies you made in your lifetime or the number of friends whom you lost on your way, it will certainly outnumber the friends you have at present. Well, there is another side to it too, if someone decides to board his/her life’s airplane through the departure terminal of a close one’s life then you certainly cannot stop him/her from this ‘moving on’ business.

Before getting into the metaphoric aspects and rhetoric of the departure lounge, let me narrate three incidents where either I was a participant or was an observer of the events at departure lounges. You must have seen the departure lounges and the departure terminals of airports. While the arrival terminal has something cheerful and some anticipation about it, departure terminals have pathos and sentiments for their part.  Let me begin by turning a few leaves of my personal experience. A few months ago I had to leave Mumbai after perhaps the most important four and half years of my life.  It usually is toughest at the finishing point for most people, so was it for me.  I dragged my luggage downstairs at 11 o clock that night and before entering the cab decided to take a last look at all that I am leaving behind. I have been used to departures, being always on a move, but this was the toughest of them all. Met a few friends who used to always see me off at the airport whenever I left Mumbai, they came, shook hands but did not accompany me to the airport. It was time that I start my journey alone without those friends accompanying me any further. While in the cab, many thoughts and multiple memories kept crossing my mind and I was intensely realizing that the life and people which I called my own are not going to remain the same now. They will change, for good or for bad….When I reached Mumbai airport the departure terminal was bustling with people. Since it was the international airport and most international flights are scheduled for late night departures, the place was crowded with travelers. I too had a late night flight for Chennai and had to undergo the security checks meant for international flights. Quietly went around with my ‘business’ but all the while observing my own self and my thoughts. After the security check, went to the farthest corner of the lounge and sat there musing about the life that I was leaving behind and the life that was welcoming me. Not everything would be fine for me, I knew that long ago but had not realized that it would be so difficult to traverse the boundaries. The departure lounge made me intensely sensitive to that part of my journey. Finally, when I boarded the plane it was more a sense of exhaustion and weariness than any sort of pain which took over. There was a slow, rhythmic music being played inside the aircraft and the last thing that I remember was when the plane took off and the mellifluous voice of Lata Mangeshkar wafted through the cabin singing: “Yeh Raatein, Nayi Purani…”

Coming to the second incident, this was at Moscow airport. There was an eight hours gap between my flights and I sat on one of the steps of the lounge chewing a gum and listening to music.  I saw an old Russian couple (must be in their late eighties) come into the lounge area. They were accompanied by a gentleman and an elite-looking lady both in their mid-thirties.  There was anxiety in their voice and the way the younger couple was explaining the older lady in Russian, it appeared as if they were extremely concerned regarding something.  There were tears in the eyes of the older lady and they appeared to be scared of traveling.  The family looked jittery and disturbed. As it happened that apart from me , a boy, perhaps in his late teens was observing this entire conversation going on between those people. He could not resist, got up and went up to them to inquire the matter. He spoke to the family and explained them something in Russian. Finally, the matter appeared resolved and the family looked much more relaxed. I asked the boy what the matter was. He told me that the old gentleman and his wife were traveling to California as they are settled in California, the old man was ill with asthma and a heart problem. The other lady was their daughter and she had come with her companion to see them off. The concern on the younger lady’s face was also out of fear and sadness perhaps because of the fact that whether she would see her parents again. They were worried about the security check and the exhaustion that would be there for the father at US airports. Moreover, they are traveling by economy class so they may not be comfortable through the journey. There was extreme concern for the parents. The boy had consoled them that he will be traveling to California as well and he would take care of the couple on the trip until he sees them off safely. The tensed family was relieved. I was thinking of the lounge where we meet people, fellow humanbeings for a few hours and their help remains as gratitude in our heart for a long time….

The third incident happened at JFK departure lounge on a Valentine’s Day. I was waiting for a flight to Atlanta that evening. I stood at the coffee counter trying to buy myself a mug of coffee but was purely confused in attempting to give the exact change to that person. A very gorgeously dressed young girl and her partner came to the coffee shop and stood there arguing aloud. The girl’s eyes were smudged and her mascara blotched her face making her look rather unattractive. I could make out that she had been crying for a long time now and that her state was rather bad. The man appeared composed but he was equally troubled. He bought a coffee for her and they sat on two of the chairs at the farthest corner  of the lounge. I also went there and committed the ‘sin’ of eavesdropping, curious that I am about human emotions. The argument between the two was heated and as evident the boy was walking out on her because of another female. He tried to explain her as much as he could but she was inconsolable. I felt sorry…tcch tchh Valentine’s Day for a breakup? How painful….But there was another Valentine waiting for him at some other corner of the world…poor chap he too had to ‘move on’. Not that easy, not that difficult as well.  After another fifteen or twenty minutes the man got up and walked away, perhaps he had a flight. The lady sat there with her face buried in her palms, not even looking up once to take a last glimpse of the man that she once might have loved and kept crying for a long time after he had left. Suddenly as if from a dream she jolted herself up, took out a few tissue papers from her purse, wiped her face clean, applied some lipstick, gave a rather rude exterior appearance and then adroitly walked away from the lounge, not even looking back once. It’s perhaps easier for the person who is able to deny rather than the denied one to accept changes in life. Our ego, our self-esteem is so high that many of us take a lifetime to forgive or to understand the fact that this has actually happened and rather keep thinking “why me?” “God why me?”

All said and done, departures are as necessary as arrivals. A death might also lead to a birth…There can be no arrival without departures. However, my contention has been regarding human emotions concealed in departures. Yes, it is painful…yes some departures bring despair, addiction and even death….But, in such extreme cases arrivals and departures are marked by many other  human attitudes and multiple layers of human existence. Somewhere because of struggle, somewhere because of starvation and somewhere because of despair departures are sudden and uncalled for.

There is a famous quote that “life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think”. Too much of feeling is suffocating and foolish, I agree but too much of the “comic” is also buffoonery and unpalatable. I do not know where I exist as human being, as a clown or as a fool? Wish had the answer….

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