When I entered the Hyderabad airport early morning on Sunday, to catch the BA flight for Heathrew, there was a small crowd before the coffee shop there and I was shocked to see my neighbor Gopalan Nair lying flat on the floor, surrounded by a few passengers.
” Oh, my God!” I yelled, ” have you called for an ambulance ?”
”No need, sir” an young man assured, ” he will wake up on his own in five minutes ”
”Are you a doctor ?”
”No, I am the owner of this coffee shop. He came with a five rupee note, asked for a cup of hot coffee with double sugar and when I told him that coffee costs 70 Rupees, he fell flat due to the shock’
”Seventy rupees for a cup of coffee ! ” My head was reeling and I held his hand so that I don’t fall. ”so, many passengers might be falling flat like my friend here every day, right ?”
“Not many, just five or six”
“That is not bad for an airport of this size!”
I bought a few bottles of water from the coffee shop, sprinkled on Nair’s face and when he did not get up, poured over his head a bottle-full . He emptied the content in the last bottle when he was able to sit up and asked me the standard question, “where am I ?”
When things had settled, I politely mentioned to him that he owed me Rs. 90.00 towards the cost of three bottles of water I had bought to bring him back to the conscious state adding again politely that had I taken him to a hospital the expenditure would have been many times more .We would have missed our flights too.”
” Rs.90 just for water!” Nair became nervous and I prayed that he should not fall flat again. “I would have, instead, bought a cup of coffee for Rs.70 and enjoyed ” He lamented.
”Exactly ” I now jumped from my seat and after making sure that every one around was attending to my speech,raised my voice, pointed my finger at Nair and chided him. ‘You could have done it but didn’t do. Why ? You wanted to save for your children in US though they are least bothered about saving. Have you ever traveled by air, at your own expense ? No. You always travel by sleeper class and that too because no less expensive seats are available in trains.( Open-mouthed Ammalu looked at me wondering when did we travel by a higher class ), Why ? You want to save for your children. And what do they do when they come here? Instead of boarding a train or bus from Palakkad to Guruvayoor, they hire a cab, go to Coimbatore, fly to Cochin, take a cab from there to Guruvayoor.Twenty thousand Rupees at a stroke, is washed out for a family of 3 or 4 against a thousand or two, if they had chosen to go by train or bus. And you want to save for them, from your meager income instead of spending the amount for your comforts ? ”
” I have only this much with me; you may take your money and give me back ten Rupees” Nair pleaded, extending a hundred Rupee note.
”Nair, your pension is 20,000 Rs and income from rent and bank interest another 20,000 Rs. And you have planned a foreign tour with just a one hundred Rupee note in your pocket ?” I collected that note and ordered Ammalu, ” give him back ten Rupees.”
‘”Ten Rupees ?” Ammalu blinked as if I was talking to her in French or German, ” we didn’t take a single pie from home. You said that the air ticket is provided by our son, food will be provided in the flight and on reaching Dulles air port, Sharath will receive us and therefore no cash was to be taken with us. How did you forget that you deposited in our children’ NRI account even the few dollar notes they had sent for our travel expenses , saying ‘namakkenthukkudi paisa-why do we need money?’
” I forgot that, Ammalu. why do we need money, isn’t it Nair ? ”
” So, we are in the same boat, sorry same flight, isn’t so , Sami ?”
“Yes, we are in the same boat, sorry, same flight ” I hugged my neighbor and friend when Ammalu thrust his money back into his pocket .
Baltimore, Sept 13, 2011