Arrivals of the Departed

Airplane landing with sunrise

On a Sunday morning, my Professor Friend visited my house. He seemed a bit exasperated.

“I have to receive Erin Brockovich at the international airport. She is arriving tonight at 1 30 am from New York. I am unable to pick her up as I am in Delhi for a meeting with the Prime Minister. Can you please do me a favor. Pick her up and drop at the ITC Grand at Lower Parel.

Many of your know Erin was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Her successful lawsuit was the subject of a 2000 film, Erin Brockovich, which starred Julia Roberts. Erin is now the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting.

When I did not answer, Professor patted me and said “I know you were expecting to receive Julia Roberts when I mentioned Erin Brockovich. If Julia was to be received, then I would have never come to you with such a request and cancelled appointment with the Primate Minister”. I thought the Professor was right.

But with some reluctance, I agreed to Professor’s request. Well, I hadn’t received anyone lately from the international airport. Receiving folks at the airports is really a pain. It may require sometimes hours of wait especially if are receiving someone flying Air India. I decided to help my Friend.

Professor seemed to have read my mind. Dr Modak, don’t worry. I have two offerings for you. One is the Airport Receivers Guidance Manual. I prepared this Manual when I was young and had to receive international guests every other week. This Manual illustrates how to handle 26 different scenarios e.g. what if the flight is late, what if the power supply at the airport is suddenly cut off and what if the mobile phone runs out of power etc. just to illustrate a few. This Manual will put you in peace and help you to deal with any uncanny situation”

I glanced through the Manual. The Manual was very comprehensive. A job – well done. I knew Professor always looked for perfection.

“I have one more interesting item for you”. Professor said this in a rather mysterious tone. He handed over to me a small box. “Open the box when you feel bored or frustrated at the airport. But not otherwise”. He almost warned me. “And Dr Modak, you will return this box to me tomorrow”. Professor left.

I reached the Mumbai International Airport at 1 30 am. I estimated that Erina will come out of the immigration and customs by 2 15 or so. I was carrying a placard flashing her name in large capital letters.

There must be arrivals of several flights nearly at the same time as there was a flux of passengers streaming out of the gate. Nearly 70 to 80% looked like Indians – but some were clearly Indians with foreign passports. They looked different and walked out as if aliens.

I saw some seasoned travelers. They carried one piece of luggage with 4 wheels (that worked) and glided through the gate swiftly. They knew where to get the taxi and carried Rupees.

Then there were gulf based passengers who carried big boxes with Sony Television and such electronics. The big boxes were tied with a rope and had their names and addresses written in ink with large size letters. There were spelling mistakes.

Like me there were several hanging in the arrival area. Many were carrying flowers to greet. When met, there were hugs, smooching and touching of feet. When a couple would arrive, the man would push his wife to bend down and touch feet of the Mom (or the mother in law). And it was touching sometimes to see a daughter hugging her dad – may be after parting for a year or more. The sons appeared a bit stiff and looked confused with poor body language.

The foreigners were looking for the banners to locate the pick-up drivers. They seemed worried and a bit lost. When connected, I could see an expression of relief on their faces.

During the first half hour that I was waiting for Erina, I saw arrivals of Sadhus or equivalent, Politicians (in power and out of the power) and Corporate Honchos. They arrived in style with a contingent following them with the “tamasha” of garlanding and then getting escorted to the VIP exits.

I think I saw some Bollywood celebrities when Swiss Air arrived –  Some old flames wearing dark goggles with large frames and some young one’s sporting shorts. They carried with them a cloud of sophisticated perfume.

And then I saw the airline crew arriving. I saw the Singapore Airlines crew that sailed out of the arrival gate in grace like swans.

It was now nearly 2 30 am and my arriving passenger Erina was not in the sight. Did I lose her? My banner was prominent and she couldn’t have missed. I got worried. I decided to refer to Professor’s Guidance Manual on the 26 scenarios. However, none of the scenarios were of relevance. The flight arrived on time. There was power at the airport and my mobile phone was 90% charged!

I pulled out the printout of the ticket that was given to me by the Professor and decided to approach the information desk. The desk was right in the arrival area.  “Sir let me check for you about your flight” The girl at the desk said in an assuring tone. She was eating a chewing gum to pass her time.

“Well Sir, the flight you are looking for is to arrive tomorrow. You have come a day early. All other details remain the same i.e. 1 30 am arrival”

I was shell shocked.

No wonder why the Professors are called absent minded souls. He had simply missed the date because of 1 30 am.

So, this was the 27th scenario that was not thought of by the Professor! I was really upset with this mess. I thought of calling him up right away and give him a piece of my mind – but then I refrained as I knew that this was something unintentional and now nothing could be done!

I then remembered the box Professor had given me with a tip that open the box when you feel frustrated at the airport.

The box contained a pair of spectacles – routine stuff I thought but it had an emblem “Ultra Vision”

So, I wore the spectacles for amusement.  And wow, what did I see.

I saw Mr JRD Tata walking out with Homi Bhabha. All know who JRD is and many would also know Sir Homi Bhabha.


In 1937, together with W. Heitler, a German physicist, Bhabha solved the riddle about cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are fast moving, extremely small particles coming from outer space. When these particles enter the earth’s atmosphere, they collide with the atoms of air and create a shower of electrons. Bhabha’s discovery of the presence of nuclear particles (which he called mesons) in these showers was used to validate Einstein’s theory of relativity making him world famous. Bhabha soon realized the need for an institute fully devoted to fundamental research, and wrote to J.R.D. Tata for funding. This resulted in the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai in 1945, with Bhabha as the Director, a position he held until his death. In 1948, Homi Bhabha was appointed the Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Commission. Under his guidance, nuclear reactors like the Apsara, Cirus and Zerlina were built. A multi-faceted personality, Bhabha was immensely fond of music, painting and writing. Some of his paintings are displayed in the British Art Galleries and the TIFR art collection today is rated as one of the best collections of contemporary Indian art in the country. He died when Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mont Blanc on 24 January 1966


I stopped JRD and Homi Bhabha “Sirs, how come I see you here?” I was astonished to see these wonderful people after their death years ago.

“Well God tells us sometimes to visit the Earth and help him. We get into the aircraft and take empty seats when passing through the clouds. Nobody knows how we do it. Homi says that it is all courtesy the cosmic rays. But I don’t understand the physics as much as he does”. JRD said this with a warm and kind smile.

I was simply dazed to hear this. Tata and Sir Bhabha left the airport.

My attention then went to two gentlemen behind. One was John Jacob and second was Vasant Takalkar. Both famous environmentalists who devoted their life for protection of nature, forests and biodiversity.

When I waived at them, they asked “How did you “see” us? We never get noticed when we arrive. God asks us to arrive whenever He notices that there is need to push the agenda on sustainability”.

The third man behind them was Anupam Mishra Noted Gandhian, journalist, environmentalist, and water conservationist who recently passed away. While joining Jacob and Takalkar he said “I know him – he is our Professor’s Friend and today he is wearing the Ultra Vision spectacles”

No wonder I realized why the Professor was so secretive and protective about these spectacles.


John C Jacob (1936 – 11 October 2008) was one of the pioneers of the environmental movement in Kerala, India. Jacob was born at Nattakam in Kottayam. At Payyanur, in 1972 he started a zoology club that would form the genesis of campus-based nature conservation activities. The club also became involved in protesting threats to the environment. Jacobs also started a few “green” magazines stressing the need to preserve nature. He also set up the Society for Environment Education, Kerala (SEEK), which published an environment-focused magazine Soochimukhi. Additionally, Jacob led the movement against the Silent Valley project in South Kerala. In recognition of his contributions to the environment, he was awarded the Kerala Biodiversity Board’s Haritham Award and the state government’s Vana Mithra Award.

Environmentalist Vasant Takalkar is famous for the ‘Takalkar Pattern’ of continuous contour trenching, passed away on Saturday morning following a heart attack when he was guiding youths at a tree plantation drive on the Chatuhshrungi hill. For the past 37 years, Takalkar worked for the cause of forestation, carried out soil and moisture conservation activities through continuous contour trenching, spanning about 700 villages in five districts of the state and generated employment worth five million man days for transient and casual labour. The central government had noticed his work and awarded him Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award. On Saturday, he had gone to Chatuhshrungi hill to participate in a two-day tree plantation drive organized by Youth to Youth, an NGO. He collapsed while working with the youths and was hospitalised. He died during treatment.

Environmentalist Anupam Mishra Noted Gandhian, journalist, environmentalist, and water conservationist. He had been awarded the 1996 Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar (IGPP) award instituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. He travelled to villages across India describing the value of time-tested systems of water harvesting. He advocated conservation of traditional water structures in India as well as abroad. He wrote books, like, Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab (Lakes are still Standing, 1993) and Rajasthan Ki Rajat Boondein (Radiant Raindrops of Rajasthan, 1995), — landmark works in the field of water conservation.


I really appreciated God’s strategy to send these noble souls back to the Earth at least for a while to help the humanity. These arrivals of the departed were indeed encouraging. Our humanity and especially in India we need such people once again.

As I was lost in these thoughts, I heard a loud noise and then saw a bunch of three people fighting amongst themselves and making a scene that only I could “see”.

These people included Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler and Stalin.

arrivals

I didn’t quite like these arrivals – and did not understand the game God wanted to play.

I removed the spectacles, packed them in the box and returned home.


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