Friday, 24 February 2012

"Up In The Air"


On last Sunday, I chanced upon to watch this movie-‘Up In The Air’. The protagonist in the movie is a senior company executive whose job requires him to travel by air for more than 300 days in a year. He is a bachelor and for the sake of a house, occupies a one-room studio, where he is rather forced to spend remaining 30-40 days. Ray Bingham, our hero, considers it normal. He is rather uncomfortable being at home. As a loyal air traveler, he gets routine access to many services offered by airlines and at an astonishing rate goes on to collect frequent flyer points. He becomes the 7th person to collect 10 million points and the youngest to achieve this distinction. The chief pilot comes to personally greet this distinguished passenger on reaching the mark during a flight and asks quite innocently- how did you get time to travel so much. Ray in the course of his travels stops at places to deliver talks to business executives and his pet advice to them is not to carry too much load in one’s life- emotional or whatever.

The movie is based upon a novel of the same title written by Walter Kern. I read about this novel in yet another book titled- Aerotropolis- authored by American journalist Greg Lindsay. What drew my attention was a longish dialogue in the novel quoted by Lindsay. Ray Bingham, played by George Clooney, says- “ I call it Airworld; the scene, the place, the style. My hometown papers are USA Today and Wall Street Journal. The big-screen Panasonics in the club rooms broadcast all the news I need, with an emphasis on the markets and the weather. My literature—yours, too, I see- is the bestseller or the near bestseller, heavy on themes of espionage, high finance, and the goodness of the people in small towns…………….Airworld is a nation within a nation, with its own language, architecture, mood and even its own currency- the token economy of airlines bonus miles that I have come to value more than dollars…………..” (Quoted on page 96).

I have not read the novel as yet, but intend to do so; it may be a useful narrative to enhance my own my understanding about the dynamics of the present day world; To know how the wheels of life move in this setup. However, at this point, I wish to talk a little about the book that introduced me to the novel.

Greg Lindsay has penned this volume in partnership with and on the basis of thoughts and experiences of urban planner, John Kasarda. When in India urbanization is happening at a fast rate, I would recommend this book to all those concerned with city planning and administration-- mayors, architects, executive officers and managers dealing with all sorts of activities- sanitation, water supply, road building, traffic and so on. I may also mention yet another book on the subject- Triumph Of The City- authored by Edward Claesar, a professor at Harvard. The writer has immense faith in the very concept of city. He asserts that urbanization is the key to happiness, health, wealth and eco-friendly living. I have read only these two books, and that too, by some strange coincidence; but I know there must be many more books on this subject available in the market. They are perhaps our guide to learn about human habitat in the 21st century and the factors determining it.

When I was reading “Aerotropolis”, my thoughts immediately went to the changing face of Indian metropolises and in particular to the new airports. We know that T-3 terminal of Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi and Rajeev Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad are counted amongst the best airports in the world. T-3 is so big that one has to walk at least a kilometer from entrance to departure gate, whereas significance of Hyderabad lies in its huge expanse. The wide road leading to the airport is miles-long, and adorned on both sides with flowering shrubs and rolling grass. One feels as if passing through a beautiful garden. Not only in metro cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata or Chennai; even in the provincial towns like Bhopal, Nagpur or Raipur, such new-look airports are being developed.

Our prime Minister and his team members never tire telling us about GDP growth and India soon becoming a world economic power. Considering this, it will be deemed quite appropriate that India’s airport, railway stations and other infra-structural facilities match this progress. Since the number of air travelers is increasing, it calls for upgrading of facilities to meet the demand. There also must be a good number of people like Ryan Bingham in our country; that will make it necessary to develop hotel, conference halls etc in the vicinity of the airport so as to save their precious time: alight from one plane, finish your business and take the next flight to another destination. Nowadays, we have big corporate-run hospitals, even air-ambulances; this also makes a perfect case for building hospitals not very far from the airport. That will not only save time, but also indeed may save a patient’s life.

This is a completely new phenomenon: multi-lane carriageways, skyscrapers, malls, multiplexes, more and more automobiles, state-of-the-art airports; but is everything else is so glittering in India! If I talk about airports, at the one hand, one can travel at a cheap fare; but on the other side, the passenger has to dish out seventy Rupee for a cup of tea, which is generally priced at Rs five. When you come out of the Hyderabad Airport complex, the same old India mocks you on your face. In Delhi, it is quite common to see street children selling airplane models on the road junction of old and new terminal.

This is the irony of this country: high flyers soaring in the sky on one side; half-naked children selling toy planes at the traffic lights on the other. There is a sub-plot in the movie ‘Up In The Sky’. The sister of the hero is soon to be married. She asks her brother to bring photographs from exotic locations. She can’t afford to see all these places, but can get some pleasure by seeing the pictures. At the end of the movie the hero transfers 5 million bonus miles to her sister and her husband so that both of them may travel to all the places they were dreaming of. A nice story: straight out from a fairytale.

Lalit Surjan

3rd February 2012.   

 Note: I wish to put on record my thanks to writers Walter Kern and Greg Lindsay, whose books prompted me to write this piece.