In Singapore, aptly known as a melting pot of cultures, races and religions, an archetypal Hindu Temple teems with devotees and a small Tamil shop thrives under the camouflage of other variety shops even in majority Chinese residential areas.
The Tamil shops that sell all things Indian, mostly grocery items – from dhaal to flowers to incense sticks to mehandi, their smells and sights invariably give a familiar sense of our homeland. As rightly put by a Singapore architect, “where chaotic order adds to the charm and vibrancy of Singapore”, a bigger picture of the same is represented by Little India where “sold goods spill over the pavements”; temples and restaurants hem the streets, Bollywood music blast in the background. Not to mention the least is the din of the large crowds of workers who gather on the weekends in the open grounds of Little India.
Living in Singapore for the past sixteen years I have seen the Indian community and its sphere of influence grow and touch almost every aspect of life in Singapore. As I recall the numerous places and incidents over the years by which I had got to taste a large slice of life in India right here in Singapore, one that first springs to mind is the Budget Terminal at Changi Airport. Soon after its opening a budget airlines too announced its opening of flights in Singapore to selected Indian cities.
As a sort of coincidence, around the same time even Bengaluru International airport was celebrating its first week of unveiling to the world. As luck would have it I too had a reason to fly at the same time to Benguluru it being my parents’ golden jubilee anniversary. The early birds to book the budget airlines including me looked forward to enjoy the privilege of double bonus, considering it fortuitous to be able to fly home into a brand new international airport at a fairly low cost. Having been only familiar with my earlier journeys from Changi to old airport of Bangalore city little I expected to get its sample in the newly opened Budget terminal to the extent of having nearly a deja-vu feel, but till the end of my journey at Bangalore.
I entered the new terminal with an anticipation of the new awaited joy only to be hit by the first wave of deja-vu. The yellow walls with a single rectangular departure area reminded me of the long lost days of Bangalore’s airport. As I joined the group of travelers to be in the long queue of baggage check-in, only things in sight were human heads, rather than flashing lights or water fall in the main terminal of the famous Changi airport. The soothing sound of water fall that would make me long for a dreamy flight ahead was missing; instead the loud noise from the crowd struck me with an urge to escape from the place.
The idea of cutting the queue to escape the noise kept cropping up but I had to silently curb, given by the earlier experiences of the polished and elegant way of traveling out of Singapore Changi’s main terminal. A little later however I found myself joining the band of those who had already made their own queues. In a state of mystified confusion as I proceeded to the departure gate, the sight of Chinese seafood displayed in the food stalls brought a sense of reassurance and relief.
On further clearance from authorities, a search for a waiting lounge resulted in a walk along an endless passage to join yet another meandering queue. Alas, the plush chairs in a supposedly swanky waiting lounge were nowhere in sight. Joining the queue and snaking along the narrow alley before scurrying along the airfield to climb the ladder into my inaugural budget plane left me with another “when did I last experience the same”. The striking similarity with the old Bangalore airport made me look out for the swarm of mosquitoes that would give a welcoming siren on my arrival to my hometown.
At last I was actually on the plane and flying by the budget airlines and could not wait for next four hours to go by.
Alighting at the brand new airport, to meet a whole new world airport surroundings, realization came to a full circle. I could walk straight, neck upright; down the tube to a red carpeted welcome laid for the NRI(me) without any of my countrymen throwing cold glances around. When I proudly walked along the completely glass shielded corridor, went up a shining metallic escalator, unassisted, unobstructed, was I suddenly overcome with a feeling of aloofness or was it loneliness? As I crossed the bright glittering floors lined up with glitzy duty free shops, to reach the immigration did I get envious of my fellow countrymen in the departure waiting lounge wearing smiles of confidence?
At immigration and customs counters, the officials who were mostly young and smart with eyes glued to their PCs didn’t seem interested like before, to know how much gold jewelry I was carrying or if I had any electronic items to be declared. They cleared my passport very swiftly and gave an officious smile that seemed tad unfriendly. Baggage handling was rather ultra efficient, where under the pretext of waiting for my baggage for at least half an hour, unlike previous visits, I did not get a chance for a light hearted chat with my fellow passengers. The security guards standing at the exit doors didn’t ask if I needed their help as the doors opened automatically and I sailed past them rather inconspicuously. Outside the airport, the luxury coaches awaited the passengers bound to the city and cars lined up in neat rows gleamed in the distant car park.
As we drove on the newly constructed, wide tarred roads going to the city, I wondered if Bangalore took lessons from Singapore’s Changi and in return gave lessons on airport terminal budgeting.
Now, few years hence I can still say with assurance that Singapore has such corners which can be as serendipitous as charming to the Indian immigrants.