Dawn is breaking over Santa Cruz. A few international travellers are waiting for their flights.
Says the big fellow, “Mumbai airport has had too many near collisions recently.” He has a Yankee twang; not surprising, since he is an American Airlines Boeing 777.
“Mais oui,” nervously agrees the Air France Airbus A–320. “Nearly as many as air misses as Addis Ababa.”
Butting in, Air India’s Ilyushin leased from the Siberian airforce explains, “In India, things are always nearly happening – that’s what makes this country nearly great.”
“Good morning, gentlemen,” murmurs British Airways with his Rolls Royce engines. “The main problem here is that Mumbai’s air traffic control is relying on radio procedures which went out with Spitfires in World War II. Just listen.”
They tune in. “Quantas QF 124: come in on a wing and a prayer.”
Air France broods: “Pilot error also accounts for much of the blame. Did you hear that an Air India captain tried to land with an airhostess on his lap? Her name was Prema.”
“Not Prema,” corrects Air India. “Prem. You won’t blame the captain if you’ve seen our Premas.”
The American: “Bird hits. They also pose a very grave threat. Never know when a pigeon won’t come flying in through the windshield. Rather have a bullet in the head.”
“Better than being hit by a Kingfisher.” (A pee-jay from the Brit.)
They all agree that something drastic needs to be done about clearing the air space of birds.
The airport has now come alive. Passengers streaming in, fastening seat-belts; cabin attendants double-checking air-sickness bags, pilots switching on engines. “Gotta go,” says American Air. “Have a nice day – and God help us all.”
“Au revoir,” calls Air France, hiding his panic.
The Brit moves silently away with a stiff upper lip.
A buzz is now heard as the Aviation Minister emerges to board his AI. Suddenly, a large crowd crashes into the forecourt, waving a banner that says ‘Mumbai Bird Watchers’, and shouting slogans: “Sparrows zindabad!” and “Crows, crows, caw caw.” They block the Minister’s path. “What are you doing to stop airplanes from multiplying over Santa Cruz? They are frightening our feathered friends. Birds were here before airports. Now they are being treated like encroachers.”
The Minister assures them: “I am not against the birds. In fact, our Government is for the birds.”
The crowd is not charmed.
“The Siberian crane no longer winters here. China has offered them safe haven. Shame.”
“Where can the poor flamingo go?” “Please be calm,” says the Minister soothingly with his flash-bulb smile. “If the birds have grievances, they may approach us officially and we can consider shifting them to a transit camp before providing alternate accommodation.” He ducks into the aircraft. The AI plane sighs as it taxis out: “Nobody thinks about us. We are birds too.”