Tulihal - Our sweet old local airport
Kangjam Sonamani Singh
Every city owns an airport, some more than one. And quite amazingly, I could never develop a bond with all the airports at huge cities. Despite being so well-equipped, well-connected and loaded with facilities, I have always looked upon them as mere buildings - cold, impersonal and f rigid. Yet, I find our Tulihal airport (aka Bir Tikendrajit International Airport) a class apart, as an old aunt, with an easy warm smile and always ready to enthral you with endless stories
My earliest memories of our sweet old Tulihal airport are of going down to see off our father leaving for Guwahati on his frequent trips to Jorhat. Of course with the irritating discarding or getting back certain prohibited fruits or articles from his luggage. The trips from Imphal town to the small aerodrome were always pleasant and romantic. Back then, there were lesser vehicles plying on the road. Lush green paddy fields and labourious farmers minding their own business were the normal sights. The attendant/securityman at the parking lot were hardly visible. You could park your vehicle as long as you wanted. There used to be only one Indian Airlines (now Air India) flight a day and that too only three-four days a week. A slight flurry of activities was seen only during that brief interlude of arrival and departure of the lone flight. Like a cat awaken from its peaceful nap. More so, if a VIP was a passenger. And once the flight flew off, the sleepy building wore a deserted look. Those days, more often than once I have seen a few airport personnel changing into khudei to work in their nearby paddy fields as soon as their short daily duties got over.
Those were the days. During our school days, Veerendra, one of our classmates from Hyderabad, stayed in the airport staff quarter. His father worked as an engineer in the airport. One of our warm memories consists of cycling down to their place on Sundays and winter breaks and strolling in the sun all along the big airport campus.
Going down the memory lane, I have fond remembrances of our sweet airport. Like seeing off my parents and siblings or receiving them. It is a frequent sight to see very touching teary farewells as well as pleasant re-unions of relatives and friends. On the contrary, I have witnessed bitter confrontations too. There were these classic touchy-yet-hysterical scenes of local girls eloping with guys not approved by the nupi-mayum (girl’s folks). High-drama were often created with the girl’s family members trying to storm in the restricted-entry zone and security personnel sternly following the protocol and shooing away the agitated relatives. And then there were these heart-warming scenes of grandmothers and grandfathers seeing an aeroplane for the first time ever - awestruck and dumbfounded. There have also been quite a few already-married guys checking in clandestinely and waiting sheepishly in the departure lounge to fly off to some love-nest for illicit affairs. And yet the sweet clasp welcomes all equally-from an award-winning decorated sportsman or a loud trader to an unassuming layman. It is a kaleidoscope of expressions and emotions among the gathered passengers-anxiety, glee, apprehension, relief….for reasons not very incomprehensible.
Change is the only constant in life. And our airport is a stoic witness to this. With the increase in flight frequency, so has the footfall. Endless beautiful rice fields in the close vicinity have now been replaced by an array of concrete buildings-a multitude of malls, shops and stores. The road to the airport has improved, for sure. Nambol is now nearer. The boundary wall is more solid now and recent constructions have been vigorous. In the vocabulary of economy, expansion always translates to employment.
Hats off to you-my old pal-Its been a beautiful journey for you-from a languorous existence to being an International airport now. Airports for many just seem to be just one more modern amenity to facilitate easy and swift movement in today’s fast-paced world. But for me, with its daily tale of arrivals and departures-it is just a stark symbol of life. Arrivals and departures.