The new departures lounge at Chennai International airport resembles a mini Terminal 5 – miles and miles of marble floor going nowhere in particular. At 2 a.m. in the morning, it feels quite ok to wander aimlessly and I sleep-walk my way out of the country. At check-in, the girl’s crimson lipstick is too bright for my eyes and I refuse an offer of an upgrade to Economy Plus for £150 and I carry on to the departures gate – reassuringly, the shiny new building adjoins this old part of the terminal. The plane wasn’t leaving for a couple more hours, so I roll my woollen coat that I remembered to take off the hanger at the last minute to have a snooze. The announcement for my flight wakes me up and I don’t remember much after reaching my window seat – the captain’s greeting was a pretty good bedtime story. Didn’t stay up for the safety video either.
I get off the plane shaking my head at the gang of older women and men (some not that old) being told to wait a little longer for their wheel-chairs to arrive. Indians surely must be at the top for this particular requirement – how sad that they willingly accept not being able to walk after a certain age and don’t really want to.
At Terminal 5 in Heathrow, I walk briskly, headed to an immigration desk – only to discover it was a departures area for another flight. How unbelievably clever to have departure gates and even exit doors en route to the arrivals area – a maze to check one’s IQ before entering the UK, devised by the clever people at the airport authority. The BA staff speaks to me as if I was a little slow on the uptake and tells me to go down two snaking escalators to the transit train and then up another escalator to go to the main Immigration area. A young hijab wearing girl who is the officer on duty checks my passport, smiles and lets me go – I feel a little disappointed as I chose not to go for the self-operated gate, only to have a little chitchat. For a while I’ve thought that the people manning the desks are intelligence officers. I glance up just a little ahead and there’s a long cubicle behind smoky glass and my suspicions seem confirmed.
A moody rendition of Four Seasons is playing inside the terminal toilet – and my cultural displacement is complete at that point. Somehow after this, I slip into British mode. Its 30 degrees cooler than Chennai – Bristol has once again enveloped me into its freezing arms. I’m quiet on the taxi ride too – the driver with a long beard sings out of tune. I wait for him to ask me where I’ve been but he doesn’t. Chatting seems to have died when I’ve been gone. Or maybe its just me – not wanting to talk. At home, I huddle into the winter duvet at odd times of the day and wonder if the real purpose of jet lag is to phase out memory of the time spent away in a different time zone. It troubles me to think that.