And so the long-dreaded moment arrived. No, it is not what you think it is, or at least that is what The Man from Madras Musings thinks you think. He alludes on the other hand to travelling by air during this year of pandemic. MMM had put off going anywhere outside Chennai for long but this journey had to be made. Mercifully it was a short flight, just over an hour, but while it lasted, it seemed a lifetime.
There was firstly the matter of the paperwork. In the old paper-free way of living to which we were all advised to adapt to, MMM had taken to saving his boarding pass on his phone and showing it at the security checkpoint on entering the airport. Now he was advised, he needed to take a printout of the same. He was also asked to take a printout of a letter stating that he was in perfectly good health, this being needed not for the outward journey but the return. MMM’s destination city was not apparently as bothered as to who came in as Chennai was. This done, MMM was also advised by those who had already travelled by air that he would need to be at the airport at least a couple of hours in advance, ‘just in case’. As to what that meant MMM had no clue but it did fill him with a nameless dread. These are times of all kinds of nameless dreads anyway.
Having arrived at the airport all nice and early, MMM found several people showing their boarding passes on their phones and managing to gain entry. MMM showed his paper, and was duly let in. In the process of waving this document MMM nearly dropped the self-declaration of good health document which if you recall was more important than the air ticket for the return journey. Having retrieved it MMM tucked it away safely, thereby temporarily calming down his other nameless dread – of being denied entry to Chennai on return.
The Chennai airport was freezing, the air-conditioning settings no doubt being fixed at levels meant for an overflowing and not near-empty airport. The place was more like a vast operation theatre with everyone going around in masks and PPEs. The last named also made it appear as though the airport had suddenly been taken over by a team of people being cast to act in a film on astronauts. The passengers were of course in a different class – most had masks below their chins, or just covering their mouths, hanging on one ear, or worse, dangling from the crook of the arm.
Just before boarding the aircraft, MMM was given a face shield on wearing which he became severely astigmatic. Just about everything in the near vicinity turned wavy and a bright shade of yellow. What with the mist forming on MMM’s spectacles with the mask and the blurred vision caused by the face shield, MMM just about managed to feel his way to the aircraft. He completed the journey in a flurry of prayers and by keeping his eyes tightly shut. The flight was bumpy as it is, what with it being monsoon time, by which MMM refers to the three-and-a-half days of the year when it rains in Chennai. And so MMM muttered several prayers as well, apart from furtively checking that his document of self-declaration of good health was safe. Arriving at his destination, MMM first removed the face shield and having regained normal vision, also attained a degree of composure.
Throughout his stay MMM kept checking out the document of self-declaration of good health. And when it was time to return, waved it at the check in counter. The crew there were most puzzled and wanted to know what it was. They asked MMM if he was suffering from Covid and whether this was a request for travel in that condition. MMM hastily withdrew the proffered document only to be presented with the face shield. Now it was MMM’s turn to demur. Rather diffidently he asked the man at the counter as to whether it was compulsory to wear the mask. Yes it was came the firm reply. MMM then said he had vision issues with it. To this the man patiently suggested to MMM that he peel off the layer of plastic that covered the shield before wearing it. MMM did, and presto was able to see well. The return to Chennai was a lot better than the journey out. But then, it is always nice to come back home.