Tuesday, May 6, 2008

HOW (NOT)TO GO TO PATNA

Work took me to Patna last month.This was the first time we were going to have a patient support group meeting in the state of Bihar. Our Mantra for 2008 “to reach out to regions as yet not visited” was going to be set to tune first in Patna. I had been warned that getting to Patna might mean a via Delhi – Ranchi route and some 8 hrs flying time but looking at flight timetables we found out much to our delight in the MI Office that there was indeed a DIRECT flight to Patna from Mumbai – this was great news but the bad news was it was a 5 am flight – not to be deterred by such a small inconvenience I set off from home at like 3 am , a bit bleary eyed but lots of excitement . I was carrying kit bags from the Bangalore Meet and lots of educational material in Hindi so it was a relief to get to the check in counter –cartons and all.

With a very cheerful expression on his face the airline staff wished me a bright Good Morning and asked for my ticket . One look at it and the brightness dimmed a bit and I said to myself “Oh – flight delayed!! But it was worse than that. Struggling to look still cheerful and with a “its not my fault “ tone he told me , “Ma’am the flight is cancelled ; Please go to the Supervisor’s counter that way and they will take care of you “

At 4am in the morning being told that your 5 am flight for which you woke up at 2 am to leave the house at 3 am is cancelled is not the best deal but I kept the panic and disbelief and some anger at bay and I could hear myself ask him in a most uncomprehending tone –Cancelled? You mean I cannot get to Patna ? But I have to be there today; I have a meeting to attend and I am carrying all the material and how ?what? when ….. ?

The guy was helpless – he motioned me towards the Supervisor counter and was already attending to the next passenger in line after me who was on his way blissfully to Chennai and whose flight was NOT cancelled . Some people have all the luck. Especialy at 4 am in the morning

I headed towards the Supervisor’s counter, feeling worried and terribly upset at this totally unexpected turn of events – was the airline not supposed to let you know of cancellations and delays and would they put me on another flight ???? Would I reach Patna in time ?

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by the sound of much clamour emanating from the very Supervisor’s counter I was approaching – there were at least two dozen harassed people creating all that hungama and it needed no Sherlock Holmes to tell me they were also Patna hopefuls just a bit more vocal than I had been a while ago. But soon it was obvious that there were a couple of “gentle” men who were more vocal than the others and the words they were using were not very gentle at all. In fact the pretty young girl at the receiving end was pale with shock and fear as threats were being made to break her monitor if she would not find them other flights that would get them to Patna RIGHT NOW. The gaalis grew less and less pretty or more and more ugly if you would have it that way

Even though the” I want to get to Patna right now “chant was what I was saying too I was not sure those were the means I would use to get to Patna . I quickly did a turn around half way and rushed back to the cheerful (well, he was not as cheerful now) young man at my first counter. The vile threats were very audible and I looked pleadingly at him , willing him not to turn me away and expect me to fight my way through those you know who . For some reason ( maybe all the luggage I had and my totally harassed expression and the fact I had not raised my voice ) the young man decided to see “what he could do for me “ He asked me to stay right there with my cartons and bags and rushed off . Some minutes later he came back with two boarding cards – one for the flight to Delhi in an hour’s time and then another to Patna from there. I could not believe my luck but soon it was panic mode again when he told me “Don’t worry Ma’am – you will be in Patna by 6 pm today ‘ I heard myself wail “ But I have to be there before 3pm – patients would have already started coming from Bhagalpur and Sitamarhi and Beghusarai!!” I cannot NOT be there.” I mean, if I had wanted to be in Patna by 6pm I most definitely would not be there at Mumbai airport willing to check in at 4 am !!

The young man, to his credit, a very well mannered and polite member of the ground staff , was once again reduced to throwing his hands up in despair saying this was the best he could do . I begged him to look at other alternatives – the Indian Airlines flight that was to leave at 8am , never mind if it did full UP Darshan; was there a way to go via Lucknow ? I would have taken any mode of transport from anywhere but I simply HAD to get to Patna. Umesh Tiwari had promised to come , Surendra Rai had promised to come all the way from Bhagalpur and Umesh Sharma from Motihari , young Manoj Kumar was looking forward to meeting me , like all others , for the first time ; there was no way I could let them down. But the airline was not delivering!!
.
The map of North East India was slowly unfolding in my mind – and I thought suddenly, Oh Calcutta! well, Kolkota ! All the while I had been thinking UP but realsied West Bengal was an option too. And I knew there was a red eye flight to Kolkota from Bombay – had been on that many a time and in fact taking it again in a couple of weeks .
I also realised that the verbal volleys at the Supervisor Counter had slowed down. Sleeplessness, for some of these men had flown in from Cape Town as I later learnt, and total exhaustion had lessened the intensity of their protests. Realising that I couldn’t make this work on my own I made my way to the midst of the angry , tired guys and tried to see if they would listen to the voice of reason , even though it was female ( at least in their opinion)

We were twenty seven most unlikely bedfellows but with a common mission – we had to get to Patna. I said, Bhai saheb log, do you know there is a flight to Kolkota in about an hour or so and Patna is just a half hour lap from there? We took our suggestion to the folks at the counter and it still surprises me as to why it did not strike them to suggest this option . For once they found out that we could be accommodated by the airline in that flight they also told us they themselves had a flight to Patna from Kolkota that we could take – it was going to be a tight fit but we could just do it !!

All this while I had been trying to get in touch with my volunteer Prashant in Patna for dear Prashant was to come to the airport at 7am .

Anyway to cut this long story short, it was Kolkota and then after a tense wait for the baggage, a rushed check in and finally we were in Patna – well in time for the meeting that was attended by almost 150 people - what an afternoon it was.

All of us know of the great cultural heritage of Patna and the state of Bihar –Pataliputra as it was known in early times is steeped in history –It is here that great dynasties like the Guptas and Mauryas established their golden reign ; It is the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh the 10th Guru of the Sikhs and it houses the final resting place of Lord Mahavir’s sacred ashes in the beautiful Jal Mandir – above all this is where Gautam Buddha achieved his Nirvana , giving to the world the message of peace and renunciation . The Holy Ganges runs through the city and on Sunday, the day after the meeting we drove alongside its banks to visit the ruins of Nalanda.

The pictures speak the story of this wonderful architectural marvel – still in perfect condition after centuries.

Thank you my friends in Patna for a wonderful meeting and lessons in culture and heritage. “Simple and respectful” is how a dear insightful friend described the people he said I would meet in Patna and they were all that and more.

5 comments:

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

Phew! What an experience.

Airlines act on their whims and fancies - informing the passenger of a cancelled flight is probably low on their priority list.

Thank goodness you got there in time - owing to your own smartness in remembering the geography of Patna, and finding an alternative route.

Glad that the rest of the trip was memorable in a happier way.

Maiji said...

It is common knowledge that one needs lung power not only to breathe, but to shout - shout at airport offficials to help you fly - so the lovic is you need lung power to fly also!

Good job, Viji. Don't lose your lung power - you are the flying member of the family. Good luck.

Gardenia said...

Hey, Viji, some experience! Good for you - mobilising all those Bhai-saabs! And you didnt disappoint those good people at the meeting! Bravo!

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Must have been horrible, learning that you flight was cancelled early in the morning. People keep joking that it's better to turn up late at our Bangalore airport! :)

Indrani said...

You are sooo beautiful,I was distracted throughout while reading the first part of the blog.
Scrolling down I could follow the lines well. :)

BTW the post reminded me of Home Alone-1, where the mother was desperately trying to get back to her son whom she had forgotten to take along with her.