I’m trying something different this time back from India: normally I fly overnight both ways taking the first night in Mumbai at an hotel to recover from the flight. But this means I don’t get to see my mum until the Tuesday afternoon and I usually leave for home early aftenoon on the Thursday, so I’ve always felt guilty about that.
(I know, I know, I’m my own worst enemy and I’m too hard on myself. But perhaps I’m hard on myself first so that no-one else gets there before me. Just a thought. Anyway I feel how I feel and that’s all there is to it.)
This time, however, I went straight to see my mum on arrival on Monday and stayed until Wednesday afternoon. I eventually arrived at my hotel for a restful night to prepare for today’s flight. In the event I hardly slept at all and I shall not be going back to the Hyatt Regency in a hurry.
The morning flight from Mumbai gives me a three hour connection time at Dubai and, for probably the only time ever, I’ve not had to spend most of that time yomping from one set of gates IN ONE TERMINAL to the other. Coming out, it was a 45 minute walk and train ride. That is just one terminal. No, today I just had to go up the stairs to the lounge whwre I’ve been able to sit and watch people for the last couple of hours.
It’s such a singular place, Dubai airport. This Terminal 3 is dedicated only to Emirates flights which come in from all over the world. It reminds me of those Arabian Nights stories of old Samarkand or of Timbuktu: the whole world passing through on the way to trade or pray or simply visit people and explore. Of necessity everything is available here at all hours of the day and night. I’ve winced before at people enjoying a beer at MY 7am only to realise that, for their body clock, it is 7pm.
I am fascinated by the different types of outfits that people wear: there are smartly-dressed couples on the way to a wedding in paradise, often with the wedding dress taking up a chair of its own; honeymooners dressed in tans and shorts and bright grins of intimacy share one last glass of champagne at 2am before their flight home to reality. I’ve seen parties of Asian nuns on pilgrimage all dressed in white; Tibetan monks wearing saffron robes and not much else. On Monday there was an old man exposing most of his torso and wearing only an elaborately-tied loincloth to board his plane to somewhere.
There are be-suited businesspeople and oil workers dressed in smart casual or just casual. They’re easy to spot by their complete lack of any air of excitement or weariness at travelling. They juist take it in their stride and tend to travel in groups often wearing polo shirts and chinos. Sometimes they take their whole families on long journeys in first or business class financed with all the airmiles they’ve collected in the last few years oif travelling. Use them or lose them. Why are the children always on night flights? Because the airmiles are never valid for planes when people actually want to fly.
There are women dressed in colourful, vibrant saris and Punjabi suits; people dressed in yoga clothes for comfort on overnight trips and then there are the people from this part of the world: the men dressed in their full length white robes; the women in black with varying degrees of veiling. Now, this post is getting long so I’ll come back to this point tomorrow, perhaps, but I’ve always wondered why “modest” dress for men is white – that reflects the harsh sun – and for women it’s black. It must be stifling under all those layers of funereal clothes and how on earth do they manage not to get tangled up in veils and handbags and carry ons and pushchairs and what have you?
Some women dress in trousers and headscarves. Some have more elaborate veiling. Some have a black full length covering and their hair covered; others go full whack and cover their faces, their noses; their eyes their arms. Often they have small children dressed in shorts or frilly little girl dresses. I wonder when it it is decided that they must cover up and by whom.
I wonder what they make of me, sitting here with Indian marriage necklace and western engagement ring; bangles and wedding band. Sometimes I’m dressed in black yoga trousers; sometimes in salwar kameez or churidar kurta. Today I’m bare-legged in a simple purple shift with woven leather belt and soft black leather jacket and leopard print clogs with three inch heels. Of course they are making stories about me in the same way I’m doing it to them but I wonder how their stories differ with what I’m wearing at that time. Do they, for instance regard me as a decadent, impure cultural traitor when I’m dressed like this and as an example of Indian female modesty when I’m wearing Indian clothes? Who knows?