Should Austin Powers have woken up from his cryogenic sleep in India, it would be fitting for it to be in Bombay’s new international airport terminal, TeeTwo. Without a doubt his first words on looking around would be — “It’s posh!” Upstairs, the building feels like something out of a 1960s science fiction film. Gleam and gloss, chrome and glass, swirling white lines, the Starship Enterprise, designed by Gaudi.
But then, there is downstairs. This part of the building looks less like a cool spaceship and more like a prison building from a Soviet era spy movie, with Kafkaesque undertones — especially if you get there before daybreak. And that is where you will get if you are one of those downmarket folks (like me) who arrive in an auto rickshaw.
At the dingy entrance, a man with a bullhorn keeps shouting loudly to the autos to move ahead, move ahead, move ahead till you want to go down on your knees and say “Enough! I confess to any crime you want!” A long and winding walk will take you to an elevator where you must press 10 to get to Departures.
A similar dichotomy awaits at Arrivals. Personally I felt quite some delight and pleasure looking at all the contemporary art on the walls. Sure, the rather peculiar Kingdom of Dreams type of ‘ethnic’ pavillions with their breastfeeding mud mamas and bright wooden sentries made me laugh — but in the end I’m a chick who loves kitsch and different strokes for different folks, right?
This is a big ass airport and it takes a long time to get places — more if you are gawking at the walls. So, why oh why, are the moving walkways so few and far that you might be forgiven for thinking they too, are art installations? It’s an international airport, people are tired after long flights, there are older people, children, backpackers. What’s the use of the dikhava if it’s not accompanied by some serious functionality?
TeeTwo makes you think about promises and visions of development. For a minute let’s put aside the usual questions about this sort of spectacle in a country which is unable to feed all its people. For a minute, let’s say it’s nice to have a sumptuous airport. But it would be much nicer if it were easy to use, and did not discriminate between those who don’t own cars and those who do — like five-star hotels, which won’t let autos into their driveways.
Is there a chance the new Metro will have even a fraction of this ornamental attention? Why not? Don’t commuters deserve a little beauty, cheaper hi sahi? So what if we don’t know how to appreciate it, maybe we’ll learn through regular exposure!
I remember, when I was little, that on the rare occasions someone travelled by air, they would dress well. Nice sari, make-up and a trail of perfume in their goodbye. Like they were going to a posh person’s house. But today many kinds of people travel by air, dressed for comfort. Feels like those who thought up the airport, don’t really believe their own promise that development will bring goodies for us all. It’s like the airport is meant to remind us not to get above ourselves by making our access a little harder.
Standing on the upper level you see the suburban skyline of buildings, their windows little Mondrian squares of yellow and tubelight white as commuters wake for work. Spread against the still dark sky, that city seems far away indeed, from this shiny lovely apparition of the future.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.