The veggies in Rome


By 3 am, the passengers’ lounge at Rome’s Fiumicino airport resembled the UN General Assembly about to discuss a global crisis. A flash strike by Al Italia’s ground crew had grounded thousands of passengers.

The South Koreans talked in hushed tones eyeing the grim- faced North Koreans parked nearby; the Poles poked fun at the Germans huddled to discuss Die Krise, the crisis; while we cool South Asians, (three Pakistanis and I) engaged in CBMs (Confidence Building Measures), arguing fiercely about the original Muslim names of Bollywood stars like Madhubala, Ajeet, Meena Kumari and Johnny Walker.The Pakistani trio had arrived from Oslo, and I from Stockholm, to catch the Al-Italia flight to Bombay.

A polyglot of curses ranted the air as announcements of flight delays were heard. Soon a Swede named Rolf, off to Pune, joined us. He suggested we moved to a quieter corner for a shuteye, and we found comfortable sofas to sprawl on. And before one could say Jack Robinson, the six-foot-six Baloch Chakka Khan was snoring away on a sofa near me. With the help of a few swigs from my hip-flask, I dozed off, but not for long.

I felt something brush against my cheek and I noticed a military cop pointing a torch beam into Chakka’s open mouth. I swung my legs out and knocked off the Italian. He fell on Chukka, who woke up shouting a 17-syllable oath in Balochi. The next thing I saw was the airborne cop hitting the deck hard, and his cap-badge landed in my lap. To avoid any further involvement in the Pak-Italian galata, I slipped into the nearest cesso (impolite Italian for loo).

I peeped out of the cesso to see the two switched to the bhai-bhai mode. Apparently, the cop was a keen paramedic who wanted to see how a giant’s tonsils behaved while snoring. “Scusi signori, scusi,” the same fellow at the gate was shouting to us, “Mangi mangi (eat eat). Coupons.” Rolf quickly collected the coupons, and we trooped into the food zone.

Rolf stopped midway, and said, “Look folks, I’m a veggie. This counter serves non-veg, so I’m off to the veg counter.” “We also,” we said in unison. We were about to finish the meal when a missus from the catering, bearing five dessert cups on a tray, approached us and said, “From Signor Tonni. Something sweet for you.” And she pointed at the familiar cop, at the gate who waved gleefully at us. Rolf grabbed his share. One spoon down the hatch, his face changed like a traffic light. He read the fine print and said, “This contains pork.”

“La haul Wa La Quwata...” the two Lahoris intoned in Arabic, and Chakka Khan roared. He pulled out a curved dagger from under his kurta and lunged towards the gate where Tonni and the missus were chatting. When the two noticed a dagger coming towards them, they took to their heels. Fiumicino’s sirens wailed and the chaser and the chased disappeared into the Boarding zone. After a very long wait, we deputed Rolf to find out what had happened to Chakka.

“He is on his way to Tel Aviv,” Rolf announced. “What! But he was not travelling to Israel,” the Pakistanis contended. “True my friends,” Rolf said, “those two ran for their lives and entered an aerobridge connected to an Al-El flight about to shut the door for departure. As Chakka dived into the jet after Tonni and the dame, the sky marshals inside bundled him into a toilet. They let go Tonni & Co. And the El-Al took off. ‘I cannot hand over the dangerous man to you,’ the pilot told the ATC, ‘he has been nabbed on my deck with a weapon; he will be tried in Tel Aviv. Arrivederci!’” 

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