A Minute at a Check-In Counter
Note: Ignore this if you don’t like stories which have no point.
This is about a kinda feel-good micro-incident (or ‘micro-interaction’ if you prefer puns) that happened to me at the Mumbai International Airport T2. I had reached the wrong terminal (Domestic 1A) about 100 minutes prior to departure. But that’s a story for another day.
I entered the terminal around 8:25 PM for my 9:15 PM flight. I was among the last passengers to check-in. There were 3 people ahead of me in the queue, 2 sets of passengers. They swiftly moved to the 2 check-in counters and another guy joined behind me in the queue. The person responsible for managing the queue was not around. An airport employee was arranging and taking away the trolleys left by the passengers near the counters. The guy behind me immediately cut in front of me in the queue and started placing his luggage on the conveyor belt of the check-in counter which was getting free.
This is the perfect situation where I should have created a ruckus. Why? Because someone behind me in a queue just cut in front of me. But I did not. I was tired from the confusion caused by reaching the wrong terminal and from being cheated by the auto driver. Though I reached the check-in counter pretty much on time, it was enough mental disturbance to sap all my energy out.
Even if I had not been tired, I might not have created any problem. I had entered the queue just a minute before. He arrived about 15 seconds ago. By cutting in front of me, he was undermining barely 45 seconds of my wait time. So I may or may not have reproached him. This is like one of the most things in life, where you don’t know what is right and what is wrong.
Anyway, let me come back to the queue scene.
The guy had just placed his luggage on the conveyor. And I had no check-in luggage. So, in a way, he hadn’t shown any explicit intention of checking in before me; probably just getting ready to check-in after me. I did not do anything. Our Trolley-Arranger-And-Take-Awayer walked up to me and politely asked, “Aap inke pehle aaye the na sir?”
He didn’t say anything. He proceeded to take away the trolleys left by the family in the next counter. He didn’t show any intentions of offending the Queue-Cutter. But the QC got offended. He raised his voice and exclaimed, “Bhai, kya tha woh?”
Some 5 people were watching us — 2 check-in officers and 3 passengers. To them, it was nothing out of ordinary. But, between the three of us, the moment was already quite tense. I maintained quiet audience to the interesting conversation between the other two.
The QC looked like Manoj Bajpai from Gangs of Wasseypur. The TAATA was a slightly fatter and slightly Hindi version of Mogha Mull protagonist Abhishek (husband of Kolangal Abhi). But he was blue-collar. The QC looked white-collar.
The conversation was a blur. I remember only the gist of it. I have paraphrased the exchange of words due to my limited Hindi vocabulary.
TAATA: Kuch nahi sahb.. Maine sirf poocha..
QC: Maine kuch kiya? Tu kya, aisa baat karta hai!
TAATA: Sorry sahb, sorry sahb.. Kuch nahi!
QC: (raising his voice) Maine kuch problem kiya? (pointing at me) Yeh bhi kuch nahi bola! (to TAATA) Tu kaun hai yaar!
TAATA: Meri galti hi hai. Sorry sahb!
QC: Aao idhar.. Naam kya tera?
I snapped out of the blur, and decided it was time to intervene.
Me: Chod do sahb. Kuch nahi hai. Chod do.
A lady check-in officer noticed that the argument was heating up and enquired, “Kya problem hai?”. Her male colleague shushed her and asked her to “Leave it”. This, I believe, was to save the airline’s name from getting mixed in yet another controversy. Air India’s reputation was already in a mess.
The Trolley-Arranger moved on.
I proceeded to check-in next.
The Queue-Cutter waited with a grumpy face.
It was all over too quickly and too subtly.
The QC later sat in the last row, the seat behind mine, placed his knees on the back of my seat and pushed the already 90 degrees seat to 80 degrees. Then he called the air hostess and switched his seat to what I guess should have been the Emergency Exit row.
I was in the aisle seat. A lady with a months-old baby switched to the seat behind mine so that she could keep her baby bag in the empty middle seat. After take-off, I switched to the middle seat of my row because I did not want to recline my seat with a baby behind.
Here ends this story. I was not around either of them — QC & TAATA — for more than a minute. We didn’t exchange more than a handful of words. The micro-incident lasted only seconds. Still, it seemed to tell a lot about all the people present, the check-in officers included. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why did the man place his luggage on the conveyor when I was already waiting before him? Why did the other guy go way out of his way to make sure I was attended to first? Was it wrong that he did not simply ‘mind his own business’? Was it right for the passenger to get offended? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answers to these questions and I am fine with it. Because I think some questions don’t have answers, some actions don’t have rationales, some people are right, the same people are wrong some other time, such is life!