Open any book of old proverbs, or read the writing on school walls, there will be many words of wisdom about the value of time. These are written to inspire the young minds that, in the majority case, learn only by experience. I would also pass over these sayings until my experience at the Zurich airport made me wish I hadn’t.
It was an episode that burdened my mind with tension and took tranquility away from my heart. Whenever I have shared this story with people, either their faces go red or their eyes pop out. Let me take you back to that day; but profound apologies if your face picks up the scarlet hue.
On October 13, 2009, I got up on a euphoric note, since I was leaving for home after three years of college in Switzerland. I had delayed completing formalities such as collecting certificates, closing bank accounts, and much more that I could have done days prior to departure. Leaving everything to the last day took so much of my time that I got late for my afternoon flight to Delhi.
Boarding about to commence, I barged into the check-in counter. As my suitcase was two kilograms heavier than permitted, I was advised to transfer the extra weight to my handbag. As advised, I did it quickly, with the lady at the counter rushing me up. After collecting the boarding pass, I dashed to the immigration check, where waiting for the turn, I realised that my passport was missing. I searched my handbag and pockets thoroughly but it was nowhere. All I remembered was that it was in my hands during the checking-in of baggage.
I returned to the lady to ask about the passport I had left at her desk. She had a quick look but failed to find the document. Losing control of my breath, I managed to tell her somehow that I had left it in the checked-in baggage while moving the items to the handbag. I was only guessing, but she was shocked. She told me the bag was by now under the aircraft.
In a display of efficiency, she spoke to her supervisor. The bag was pulled out of the carrier and brought to the aircraft gate. Two airport security officers escorted me to the spot. Boarding was on, and I was opening my baggage at the airplane’s gate with the hope of finding the passport inside. Thankfully, I was lucky.
Within minutes, I was taken back to the immigration desk to have the departure stamp put on my passport. The flight supervisor who bid me adieu before I entered the jet, said: “Had you reached the airport on time, you could have checked in patiently without the hassles you got through. Remember that delays are dangerous and, above all, that you learnt this lesson in Switzerland, which has punctuality in its soul.”
My face numb, my heart trembling, I nodded in agreement. Certainly, time and tide wait for no man.
The writer is a an HT staff correspondent based in Ludhiana.