Etiquette is not a word to be employed neither leniently nor loosely. It signifies the set of unwritten, unavoidable quintessential tenets that characterize the norms of social and cultural interaction in civilized societies. While an involuntary act of coming to the aid of a geriatric struggling to retrieve her bulky luggage from a staid baggage carousel, might, logically constitute an action in basic etiquette, making away with the same helpless elderly woman’s luggage in an act of utter impunity, and in the process, disregarding with utter disdain, a chorus of consternations, if not constituting an act of downright pillaging, surely does not constitute etiquette.
Reader, lest you harbour the understandable notion that the stray examples mentioned above constitute a mere figment of my overworked imagination, let me hasten to set matters right. A harrowing and chaotic experience at a baggage carousel, under circumstances that can only be described as extraordinary, befell my poor mother as she returned to India from a journey undertaken to London to see her grand-daughter. On a barmy, stiflingly hot and laggard Wednesday mid-night, ‘Mummy’ landed bleary eyed at the Bangalore International Airport. Breezing through the Immigration Procedures, if she was nursing hopes of being swiftly reunited with her fatigued son waiting at the arrival concourse, she was in for a sickly shock!
Waiting for her luggage amidst a throng of impatient, irritated and insouciant fellow-passengers, she was jolted out of her lazy reverie, when a hairy monster of a Homo-Sapiens menacingly moved past her and with a nonchalance bordering on petulance, calmly scooped up HER baggage and strode away towards the exit with swift and purposeful strides! My mother’s feeble protests at this flummoxing act in the form of a few throaty screams might as well have constituted a flinging of harmless pebbles at the hoary alien who was busy tossing Arnold Schwarzenegger like a ragged doll in the epic horror flick “The Predator”.
Alerted by her fervent clamours, a sprightly and short airline attendant rushed to her aid and bravely accosted the unperturbed idiot. Alas, etiquette was as extinct in the man as was the Tasmanian Tiger, the last of which was spotted roaming the wild way back in 1936, although, in hindsight the Tasmanian Tiger, or any other hairy marsupial or even an imposing Brontosaurus might have been an easier proposition to both tackle and tame. Upon being patiently explained that he was in the process of making away with a possession which unjustly he termed to be his, but which in fact was justly the one of a flustered 61 year old, the dunce knocked the wind out of the collective sails of the questioner, the claimant and a handful of curious onlookers, by muttering a single, unhesitant and remorselessly seething statement “I LOST MY CAN OF WATER”!
He might as well have said “Saturn unloosened one of its rings, which is now being used as a Hoola-Hoop by my grand-daughter”, or “the dog with a mane-full of fleas that I own has 3 testicles”, or any such stuff to similar effect! Staging a remarkable recovery from this hammer blow, the dedicated airline staff feebly bolstered her argument by producing a baggage tag. The tag had a number which directly matched the one affixed on a sticker pasted on my mother’s baggage. But explaining the matching concepts of baggage tags to this gentleman, or simply a man, was akin to delivering a lecture on Bernoulli’s principles to a milch cow! The relevance of verifications and counter-confirmations ceased to be of any import and had a near zero impact on the man who continued to firmly latch on to my now bewildered mother’s luggage.
Emboldened by an appetite for argument and ennobled with a lust for confrontation, the wretch now emphasised “Since I have lost my can of water, I will take this bag along with me”. It was by now clear that my mother and her baggage were both unfortunate and unwitting targets of a singularly unique kind of psychological and perhaps even physiological (accounting for a parched throat) frustration. A 1 litre water bottle had been pillaged and as a ‘natural’ consequence there was hell to pay! The avenger could have trained his sights on any baggage in the carousel and my mother was just the clichéd ‘right person at the wrong conveyor belt’. Maybe the shiny blue of the baggage was to the bottle deprived soul, what a red rag was to a raging bull. Also the fact that the word “MATADOR” for my mother meant a now defunct van rather than a handler of tempestuous beasts did not help her cause.
By the time it took more than a trembling but sincere airline attendant and a few other burly security guards to drum into an obstinate numbskull, the fact that random baggages were no substitutes for lost mineral water bottles and Kangaroos were no alternatives for baby diapers, my rattled and exhausted mother had almost lost every vestige of desire in collecting her own, rightful, just, paid-for and well cared-for baggage.
As she trudged her way tentatively out the departure gates, tiredly pushing a trolley containing her now famous or rather infamous baggage, she looks as though she had an uncomfortable and forgettable encounter with an 800-pound grizzly-which metamorphosed into a Poltergeist-before finally turning out to be the usurper of souls that was The Hell-Raiser.
And who can blame her for that!