I was on one of my routine trips around Southern Asia and had arrived in Bombay, India late at night. The name has now changed to Mumbai. These were simpler times before airport security became an international concern and there was a much more relaxed atmosphere. Mumbai was one of those transit stops that last long enough to be thoroughly tiring, but not long enough to justify renting a room for six hours in a hotel close to the airport. I’d walked the length of the Mumbai airport many times that night. Initially, it was to try and take stiffness out of joints after long hours of travel. Later and more practically, it was to keep myself awake and avoid mosquito attacks. The mosquitoes of Mumbai are notorious for their size and cunning.
On my circuit of the Airport waiting area that night, I’d made mental notes of the people in waiting and watched small groups of transiting tourists and others resting peacefully on sleeping bags while others played cards to counteract boredom. Flights didn’t commence until 6 am, so there were many hours waiting ahead for all of us. Never mind! I could get some sleep on my connecting flight in the morning.
I’m not sure if it was the eighty sixth or eighty seventh circuit of the waiting room, or perhaps I’d just lost count when suddenly, stillness of the evening was shattered by the sound of a high revving motor at the other end of the building. Card players paused for a few minutes to look in the direction of the noise, and one or two tourists emerged from sleeping bags to survey the room before returning to sleep.
At last, something to keep me awake! I headed in the direction of the noise, grateful for that diversion. By the time I reached the other end of the building, the man source of the racket was pumping insecticide into the air from a motorized pump. He’d just finished spraying over a group of sleeping transit passengers. In India they call this exercise “fogging”. The fogger then turned his attention to a block of offices and began to work his way systematically through the building. Apparently, someone had complained about mosquitoes!
Waiting passengers emerged from the fog coughing profusely, and protesting loudly in the most colorful language. Many had abandoned sleeping bags and luggage in the surge toward less polluted air outside the building. Some lingered long enough to grab a few important documents. Others were beginning to worry about the valuables they’d left behind in their haste to escape the fog.
Tourists were followed out of the building by a cluster of security guards. They were shouting loudly at the dim outline of the fogger inside working his way methodically through the building. Airport officials and office workers now abandoned their posts of duty to escape the fog. They did not seem as perplexed as tourists and security guards, and even seemed to enjoy this opportunity for a break from humdrum work. For them, fogging was not an unusual occurrence.
As the noise of the fog machine advanced through the airport and the cloud increased penetration our section of the terminal rapidly emptied. Eventually passengers, security men, and airport staff stood outside at a respectable distance, watching the fog, and wondering if personal things hastily abandoned inside would be there when they returned.
We heard solitary loud coughing from within. A ripple of laughter went around the crowd now beginning to see humor in our situation. Perhaps a transit passenger had overslept? Some brave soul ventured near the terminal entrance and tried to peer into the gloom, but to no avail.
Later as the fog cleared, we realized the dilemma of the man trapped inside. It was his job to look after the banking booth during the night, and he couldn’t leave the job in spite of noxious fumes and personal discomfort. He was responsible. If any money happened to be missing he’d spend the rest of his life paying this back to the bank, or would spend several years in jail. There was no choice for him. He had to stay by the stuff, though I’m sure he’d have been very sick next day.
The gloom began to settle a half hour after our fogging friend had completed his rounds. Security men went in for a quick survey, and hastily returned to stand outside the building for a while longer. After an hour officials and office workers returned to their posts of duty, happy for the diversion, and passengers were able to return to claim their belongings. Nothing had been lost. However many passengers returned with their belongings to join security men outside the building, hoping insecticide in their personal effects would dissipate during the remaining hours of night.
The bank clerk continued coughing through the night to occasional mirth of security guards. They pointed in his direction roaring with laughter as they did so slapping each other on the back.
Long before the era of terrorists, one man was responsible for the evacuation of one of the world’s major airport terminals. I was at the Mumbai airport that night to witness this historic event.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2013 All rights reserved”