Nepali Times Asian Paints
Step back and wait


"One at a time, can't you hear?" the officer yells at a boy who almost follows his father to the counter. We are in the immigration queue at the Tribhuban International Airport. The boy steps back and smiles, slightly embarrassed for having broken such a simple rule.

"Is there anyone named Rajshree R L Singh?" a man calls out and a young woman steps out of the queue and sighs, "Finally!" She has already waited for five long minutes. Two ladies accompany her. "They're with me," she announces as they strut past the long queue and you watch them in silence.

Their aide quickly collects their passports and presents them to the immigration officer, who asks the boy to "hold on" as he stamps the ladies' passports. The boy holds on. His father moves aside and waits for his son. The officer hands over the passports to the aide and bids the ladies namaste.

In a moment, Mr and Mrs Singh also appear on the scene and a boisterous family reunion takes place right beside the immigration counter. No one complains because everyone knows that's just the way things are in Nepal.

They bypass all security hassles and reach home long before you step out of the airport. Outside it is drizzling. No one is there to pick you up because no one in your circle owns a vehicle with a special license plate or a permit that allows you to go past the military pillbox at the airport gate. Your luggage is heavy and you desperately wish someone was there to help. But none of your relatives would be allowed into the airport for security reasons.

There is a mysterious procedure to obtain a special permit. Most of your relatives don't know how to go about it. Much as they wish to welcome you, they do not want to stand on the road and brave the heat and rain. There is nothing else for you to do but get inside the ridiculously expensive and amazingly dilapidated airport taxi.

At least you have a choice. Those who cannot afford the taxi drag their luggage all the way to the Ring Road. It is now pouring. Some take out newspapers and handkerchiefs to cover their heads.

Outside the main gate, a group of people stand near the intersection and wait under umbrellas. There isn't even a bench for them to sit on. Some must have been waiting for hours because they are soaked. These are people with neither connections nor special permits. These are also people who must follow the rules at all times. In fact, you may say rules are created for people like them.

The cars with the permits and special connections glide past one after another, whereas they are not even allowed near the gate. "Back, back, further back," a security guard shoos away a Madhesi-looking man who wants to know if the Nepalganj flight is on schedule. The man has waited for an hour. His wife and child cannot get around town on their own. He needs to know what's going on. He wants to make a phone call but the nearest phone is way across the street. He must remain near the exit just in case his family arrives. The security guard seems like his only source of information on the muddy sidewalk. He doesn't know that the rude guard has no clue about flight schedules.

"Just wait, man, can't you wait?" the guard repeats in irritation. The man steps back and waits. He does not raise his voice because this is nothing new to him. All his life he has stepped back and waited.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)