Thursday, May 19, 2005

Air India : sleeper class at economy price

Steaming aromatic Indian cuisine, sari clad smart airhostess and background music of santoor with a punch line of 98% on- time schedule would enchant anyone who sees this Air India advertisement. When I was offered an option to travel MUM-LA-MUM by Air India, everything seemed in place including direct flight with no stopover in Europe. However, nothing seemed in place right from the word go and the script did not deviate much until I cleared my baggage at Chatrapati Shivaji terminal in Mumbai on return.

Boeing Khajuraho looked impressive from outside but high expectations quickly disappeared when it turned out to be an age-old leased Korean airlines aircraft. Hopeless attempt to seal open cigarette armrest ash pot with black masking tape and yellow stained toilet plastic mould said it all.

Our take off from Mumbai began after a delay of five plus hours freeing all passengers any worries of connecting flights. At the aircraft, plump hostess hiding her girth, peered through thick glass over her nose - admonishing passengers Seat belts please・ This reminded me of strolling stern teacher while students wrote their exam papers. Special video screening started extolling the virtues of this aircraft with instructions on How to use the toilet and flush・and Why one should not use toilet as dustbin ・I am sure this must have amused German passengers who boarded the aircraft in Frankfurt.

With distribution of Halidiram Namkeen packets, finger exercise began earnestly for all passengers. I do not know why these packets never get opened from the notch that is supposedly present. When brought to the notice of air India purser, he mentioned Air India ensures that passengers on long haul flights are kept busy with this exercise. He was smart person to bring smile to annoying passengers. I also realized that Air India hostess are good in storing energy by avoiding additional errands for serving drinks. They stuff you an extra drink or two in first serving itself. So by the time, food trolley arrives demanding an answer from hungry passenger to their question of Veg or non-veg・ one can use spare trays of adjacent seat to keep used cans. Serving tea from dented steel jug with marking of Coffee only added consistency to the overall food management. Flight navigation map alternating with flashed out message Map doesn't depict political boundaries・proclaimed India's non-interference foreign policy while using their airspace. Projection screen at each zone showed movie but often subtitles were thrown outside bottom of the screen. Music through headphone is classical tough plastic piped music often with unopened or clogged connector tips

Counter at Los Angles airport was a symbol of chaos with both in and out bound passengers mercilessly tearing away hapless temporary agency staff. Manager was either conspicuous by his absence or taken a shelter behind the door. Entry for authorized personnel only・ Return flight was also no exception. Air India cancelled this flight citing reason that the ministry pulled this aircraft to support presidential entourage. It seemed there was one more aircraft stranded for 7 days for want of spare part. Net result: three aircrafts leaving for India in space of few hours with same number of ground staff. Customer support hotlines based in India only added to the passenger woes as they had no idea of the situation at the LA airport. I wonder, with frequent cancellations how much of taxpayers money is used on accommodation of passengers at various hotels.

Narrow width and slow speed of baggage belt at Mumbai airport only make big suitcases either get piled up over eachother or get thrown out of the belt. Flight number was announced on one belt while luggage arrived on another- giving an impression of last minute platform change for suburban train. The sight of General Manager -Ground Operations at the baggage belt did convey spirit of Air India's ground operations but this was dispelled quickly when it became clear that they had only gathered to escort the son of air India director who had arrived by the same aircraft.

After reading this narration, one would think it is prudent to avoid Air India but smart thinking would let otherwise. With notoriety of air India spreading like wildfire, fewer passengers take risk of traveling by air India giving row of empty seats and cheap fare. It is matter of time, Air India is collapsed by their inefficient and inept operations but while it is still gasping・one can have a luxury of traveling sleeper class at the price of economy.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Resort without sunshine and breeze

I am not sure about the specific difference between Police and Judicial custody, but I guess the very name suggests, one must be near to the court while other to police station. When I learnt about my friend checking out after his 6 night 7 day sojourn, images of “ dingy 8x10 cell”- crammed up with people - peering through vertical rotten iron bars, dilapidated water earthen pot lying in one corner with dim big yellow bulb hanging at the center with cobwebs all over the ceilings” - conjured my imagination.

I was keen to learn from my friend about dubai version of the above images but what I learnt was something contrary. Dubai Judicial custody is at the basement of Public Prosecution Building. A centrally air-conditioned place with granite tiles and high ceiling is divided in two different types. Type two has direct access to court so those inmates who need to be produced in the court are moved from Type one to another. Type one: you can call an ordinary custody, houses five rooms of 12x12” that have two bunker beds on each side of the wall, making it - 8 occupants per room. Beds are equipped with foam mattress and blanket. A central hall is used when these rooms are overflowing with people. The place has four toilets and three shower rooms with 24 hours hot and cold water. The second type is more like a cinema theater with two levels connected by staircase; both levels have 14 rooms occupying 12 persons. Rooms in type two are much bigger than first type with public address system and satellite TV. Telephone booth is housed nearby to be used at specific times.

Typical day in lock up begins at 5.00 am – with breakfast of bread, Boiled Egg, Jam and Tea with Milk. Various newspapers like Malayalam Manorama, Gulf News, Khaleej Times arrive by 7.00 am. Lunch is served at 2.00pm with rice sprinkled with spicy Arabic curry, one piece of fried chicken/meat/fish, raw vegetable salad, Dinner is served at 6.00 pm with noodles with boiled beans or Arabic Bread and Black Tea. I wonder, how they missed out on dessert !! For those who support tobacco industry, a call is given every three hours to gather in special smoking room for 5 minutes for one cigarette. Only pre-condition is that they submit the proof of their smoking by surrendering the butt. Laundry man comes every alternate day to do free laundry but without the luxury of ironing. There is an adjacent small supermarket that stocks most groceries, telephone card, T-shirts and Towels. All inmates get an access to this store alternate day for a specific time. Those who are in need of medicines get them free too.

Does it not sound like a resort without sunshine and breeze?

While I write this, news article mentions about overflowing jails in UAE. I wonder is this something to do with the lifestyle it offers.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

An encounter with Dubai Police and Judicial System

Generally, we prefer to stay away from both police and judicial system. We become even more cautious outside country as expatriate residents. Living in Dubai, my interaction with police was only limited to traffic and immigration procedures that never evoked any tangible reaction except observing them being people friendly. I never thought Tuesday, May 3rd would give an opportunity to have a closer look at these two establishments.

It all started with a telephone call from my friend who said he had been arrested by police under charges of alcohol consumption. Despite knowing my friend’s penchant for intoxicating beverages, the news was a big surprise considering the liberal lifestyle of pubs and discotheque but more turmoil was to learn about his being in police lock up. I was told by my friend that next day I should go to Dubai Court to follow up on his early release.

Dubai court is nestled along the Dubai Creek just under the Maktoom Bridge that joins two parts of Dubai – Bar Dubai and Deira. White building with wide staircases leading to main foyer – much the same way as public library or state govt. buildings – with red insignia and three flags on top makes this an imposing structure. Parking area is spacious and greenery all around is soothing. Receptionist at the entrance greeted me politely and directed me to the appropriate place. Numbered rooms and designated places was pleasant surprise from my India experience. It seems most of the people in the premises have a sleek flat-screen PC and people do try their best to support in English. Gentleman after hearing my plea asked me to go to the adjacent building. I was walking through corridors that were flanked by Judges Chambers. Polished doors, carpeted rooms with prominent nameplate and stand to hang their robe added dignified aura to the sanctity of this place. Various contrasting images of US judicial scenes enacted in English movies and crowded show cause /domicile court in India flashed my mind. Going downstairs to see detention cell- gave me an insight of police approach dealing with offenders and his family. Most offenders were dressed in clean white trousers with hands cuffed. However the lock that cuffed both the hands look very sleek with molded plastic than a chain that we often see in India. Police personnel at detention center guided me to go Public Prosecution Building –another next-door imposing building. Receptionists were as usual courteous and modest. The person at the reception after searching his database explained me that he needs complaint number to do anything further and detailed me to go about securing the same from police station.

Police station at Bur Dubai is another multi storied centrally air-conditioned building with friendly and computer savvy people. Necessary information was quickly handed over with all details noted down on scotch pad. When asked, he even briefed me about the charges framed and penalty that will be levied to my friend. Returning to Public prosecution building and only to be told that matter is yet to come for hearing was a huge disappointment. Hopefully, by tomorrow ordeal be over so that my friend at least his weekend in his home.

I am not sure what is in store for tomrrow but it was great opportunity to see the functioning of these two establishments at close quarter. It was a pleasant surprise to see the cooperative approach of the staff, serenity of the ambience and above all the concern of staff to provide the necessary service. Interacting with people at Dubai Court and Police station reflected human face of governance that often have to tread a delicate balance between law enforcement and just treatment.