Tuesday, November 23, 2004

23 November in Dhaka

I was looking for old trade campaign files from my delhi trip last nite trying to prepare for my presentation for Isis and saw this written at the back of one of the papers. I realized a bit later that it was written exactly a year ago today

23 November Dhaka airport

Joy described this airport , which she doesn’t like, as dusty. I was picturing it that way as I was disembarking the plane. What greeted me though as I stepped inside were soldiers. Their long fire arms looking more faded than their uniforms. All around you see security personnel, mostly men. I’ve seen only one woman guard so far. She caught my eye because she was wearing a blue sash over her blue uniform.

I’m seated in front of this big digital clock. 3:14 now. I’ve been here since noon. Just sitting, strying to read a book—Gabriel Kolko’s Another Century of War, a heavy read for passing time at the airport.

Some guy who I thought all the while was Indian Airlines personnel took my ticket. I was a bit suspicious and got a little worried when he took off with my ticket. He did return 30 minutes later with my boarding pass and new tags for both my checked-in and hand-carried bags. I knew this personalized service would eventually cost me something. I said ‘thank you’, when he handed over the boarding pass and tags, knowing that that wasn’t enough. He said “please give me tip sir, I am a poor man.” I jokingly said to him “ I am a poor man also. He said with a smile “ no sir, you are not poor.” I gave him 100 baht, the only other currency I have to spare.

Bangladesh is a poor country. This fact is often mentioned as a reference to to how the Philippines has remained underdeveloped or has stagnated since the 50’s. Then we were second only to Japan in Asia, so the refrain goes, now we are only slightly better than Bangladesh.

Sitting here however, in what I can describe as an airconditioned, slightly bigger bus station, like one of the bus stations serving provincial routes to Baguio or Bicol, I am tempted to think that the Philippines is much better off than Bangladesh. But measuring a country’s progress based on how its airport looks can be problematic. What if a lavish, modern airport gets erected as a showcase by a corrupt government amidst debilitating poverty? In reality majority of poor people don’t really have any use for such flying facilities.

I’m rambling, I’m really writing these thoughts to occupy my mind...

Im alone and blue in this Dhaka bus station. 3:28. The monitor has now shown the gate number for my flite to Kolkota. Another lonely, desolate place to wait.

6pm Kolkota airport

One actually has to go out of the international terminal and walk about 100 meters to go to the domestic terminal. At first I thought, “great, no walkway like the one in Bangkok”, but then I thought the one in Manila is worse, where one has to take a cab just to go from one terminal to the other.

Anyway, the walk outside Kolkata was good. It allowed me a glimpse of the place. And after 7 hours breathing dusty airport air, the air outside was a relief. As I was walking, I wanted on several occassions to get my cameras and shoot. Right outside the international terminal, I saw people doing road repair. I also saw their yellow cabs—nice, fat, yellow cabs circa 1950’s, I guessed. A little later I saw several of them parked in a single line. Nice photo in my mind. The photograph accentuated by a flock of black crows against the night time sky. More photos like these in the next days, I hope. I hope ill be able to click the shutter next time.

An orange butterfly is hovering near me. Could this be an omen? A good one I hope.

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