Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Last bus to Bangalore International Airport

The last bus to the Bangalore International Airport, late on a Friday night, weaves through a city that is a ghostly reflection of its daytime avatar and a pale re-creation of what the city roads used to look like a decade ago during daytime.

The roads are largely deserted, except for the occasional airport bus or cars that speed by , blinding the traffic in the opposite direction with their high beam headlights. All the small shops that line the inner city commercial areas are shuttered. Autorickshaws are invisible, except for a few in front of theaters waiting to take late night cinema-goers home.

Traffic lights stop cycling through the daily routine of red orange and green; the orange lights blink through the night. Bright lights pour on to construction sites where work goes on day and night. Vehicle headlights reveal the dust floating in the atmosphere as old buildings are demolished, foundations dug, and cement is mixed.

White Indica cabs with yellow number plates and darkened windows, carrying employees catering to the western hemisphere who have just started their day, speed up near the signals, honking as they try to secure their right of way. Partying couples at the entrance of a nightclub laugh loudly as they wait for valets to bring their vehicles to them. A few hundred feet away, people are digging through the trash that has been dumped on the roadside by the hotels, hoping to find plastics, glass and metal that can be sold to recyclers the next day.

Occasionally, traffic police huddle near a traffic light, pulling up motorists randomly and sniffing their breath to detect traces of alcohol.

As the bus approaches NH7 that leads to the airport, taxis converge, driving at speeds of upto hundred kilometers per hour as they race to drop off their passengers and pick up the influx of passengers arriving by the post-midnight flights to Bangalore. Almost all the late night traffic at the airport are international passengers. Traffic lights are ignored as vehicles bounce and crawl around the non-stop construction that goes on through the stretch of the highway that leads to the airport.

The landscape take a surreal appearance as the airport approaches. Well paved roads with palm trees that line the median instead of native flowering trees with their large canopies and colonies of birds, advertisements by builders promising ultra luxury housing starting at rupees five crores in a country where thirty-six percent of the population live in a one-roomed dwelling. Multinational companies have hoardings on both sides of the road promising nirvana with their IT solutions. VIPs have their own lane to drive into the airport, away from contact with the common citizens.

Buses and taxis pull up at the parking bays, luggage is moved quickly from the vehicles to the kerb, families reconcile the number of bags, fares are settled, farewells said. Brokers try to entice arriving passengers to take a shared taxi instead of public transport.

As dawn breaks in the eastern skies, convoys of buses and taxis head out into the city.