Airlift II.

This morning’s Business Standard had this interesting piece of information which my readers would like to read following my original post on Airlift.

How AI landed in Guinness
Business Standard | New Delhi Feb 01, 2016 09:04 PM IST

A just-released Hindi movie, Airlift, has brought the evacuation of over 117,000 Indians from Kuwait in the wake of the Gulf War back in focus after more than 25 years. Incidentally, the whole episode got listed in the Guinness World Records (GWR, then known as The Guinness Book of Records), thanks to the efforts of Jitender Bhargava, who headed the public relations department of Air India back then. After 20-odd days of issuing daily media updates about the operation, he wrote to the editor of GWR one day to find out if any record of evacuation by a civil airliner existed. The editor replied in the negative. So after the operation was over, Bhargava sent GWR a detailed letter on the evacuation and Guinness accepted it as a record. A few months later, a new edition of the GWR was published with Air India’s achievement duly listed.”



I distinctly remember the situation in 1990 when around 170000 Indians were stranded in Kuwait during invasion by Iraqi forces and the subsequent embargo imposed by the UN. I myself had just gone through a difficult transition in my career and location and this development where some friends of mine were stuck in Kuwait had me fretting and fuming about the games being played with innocent lives caught in a problem of not their making.

I was looking forward to seeing this film and today when Ramesh offered to come too, I went for a matinee show and came away from the experience feeling very proud to be an Indian. The story is based on a real story with two real life intrepid characters and some remarkable background work by a courageous and concerned bureaucrat. Pilots of the Air India, Indian Airlines and the Indian Air Force performed heroically too. A total of about 110,000 people were evacuated from Amman to Mumbai – a distance of about  4,200 km, by operating 488 flights in association with Indian Airlines, from 13 August to 11 October 1990 – lasting 59 days.

You can find the details of the film from the link to Wikipedia that I have given above. My own rating for the film is a 5/5 for remarkable acting by all the cast, excellent direction and top notch editing. A very gripping story told with remarkable skill and one can almost share the emotions throughout the film. If you are interested in a human interest story of such magnitude and heroism, do spare the 125 minutes to watch the film. You will not regret it.

Travel Troubles

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where twelve of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Padmum. The ten other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Rohit, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

Having been in a career that involved a great deal of traveling, I have had my share of the usual troubles that all travelers face; delayed/cancelled/missed flights, trains, taxis breaking down, bad weather, flash strikes by transport and hotel workers and so on and so forth. I only had one experience of lost luggage but that was more due to a language problem, more about that later.

The unusual troubles that I have had are few, but I shall list them here.

The lost luggage incident was at the Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris. My suit case did not come out on the carousal and I had to run from pillar to post to find some one who could speak English. That was when I understood what a disadvantage speaking English is in France. After about an hour of running around, I found a sympathetic policeman, who helped me locate the luggage and I left the airport with the suitcase.

In 1982, I was touring the Eastern Uttar Pradesh and had left Varanasi for Gorakhpur by car late in the evening, hoping to reach the latter by about dinner time. On the way, luckily near a small town, our car broke down and we were forced to catch a rural taxi leaving the car and the driver behind so that we could go to Gorakhpur and send a relief vehicle. The driver of the taxi misbehaved with us on reaching our hotel and left in a huff. He took his own back by going back to the abandoned car and driver and a big police case had to filed and I had to return to that God forsaken place a few times before everything could be settled.

On another occasion, we were returning from Chennai by train to Pune after a family wedding. We left well on time and were driven by our friend’s son in law, but about half a kilometer before we could reach the station, we were caught in a traffic jam caused by communist trade unions taking out a march. Urmeela, Ranjan and I had to carry our suit cases and walk to take a pedestrian subway to reach the station. Luckily for us, as we neared the subway, a railway porter who had brought some one else’s luggage across the road came to our rescue and we reached our time well in time. The railways meanwhile, apprehending such difficulties for other passengers, decided to delay the departure and all our sweaty physical endeavours were for nothing.

On another occasion, while on tour by car in the South of India, I was harassed by the police and a false case lodged against me, during our infamous emergency days about which you can read more here.

In 1994, I was to catch a flight at Bengaluru for Pune to return home for Diwali. On reaching the airport, I was advised that the flight had been cancelled. This was quite common those days with the Indian Airlines being the sole airline in India. I decided to take a taxi from Bengaluru to Pune and was able to secure one with two drivers alternating and after a journey of 14 hours of driving, reached home in the wee hours of Diwali morning. I offered a bed and some rest for the drivers, but they opted to drive back home for Diwali too. They reached by afternoon of the Diwali day and phoned me to say that they had reached safe.

On another occasion, I was stranded at the Bahrain airport after having checked in for flight that did not arrive from London. I was forced to travel by another airline which was the worst flight that I have ever had. The ground staff and the flight attendants were extremely unprofessional and to be transferred to that kind of an airline from BA was most unfortunate. For diplomacy’s sake, I do not want to name that airline, but people familiar with flights in and out of Bahrain will no doubt find it easy to identify that.

Many such stories of travel troubles come to mind, but one flight out of London’s Heathrow to Mumbai is etched deeply for its uniqueness rather than for any trouble. The trouble was that our Air India flight was delayed due to fog and we were stuck at the Maharajah Lounge at the airport. I had the good fortune of meeting personally two great Indians there in similarly waiting mode, J R D Tata and Dhirubhai Ambani. The former all alone and the latter with Kokila Behan in attendance. The memory is strong because of what happened when we landed in Mumbai. All three of us along with the few others ahead, checked out of Immigration and I saw Dhirubhai immediately surrounded by a crowd of people who whisked him away leaving a few minions behind to collect the luggage. JRD waited with me at the carousal and chatted with me and a few others too, and when one suit case came ahead simply took it off the carousal and sat on it to wait for the next one. When that came, he took both and walked out of the luggage bay all by himself acknowledging the greetings of many who recognised him. What a contrast! JRD was the founder of Air India and only recently had been ousted from the Board of Directors by the petty minded government of that time.