Zabardast nayi duniya

If South Asia were more prosperous and less divided politically, our skies would be congested with aircraft flying hither and yon keeping pace with our population. Sure, the railways left behind by the British (because they could not very well uproot the tracks and cart them back) serve the purpose of transport in the Subcontinent. But people take the train mainly because they have no planes. Show me one man, woman or child from Sasaram, Bihar, who would not prefer a direct flight to Vellore for a cataract operation rather than a three day schlep on second class three tier, that too sometimes on wooden berths.

And then there is the matter of borders, those frontiers that we are making more sharply defined by the day on the ground so that it is impossible to easily fly back and forth above. There is barbed wire on the ground and warped wires in the brain. Which is why we remain the most backward region in the world after Saharan Africa, where, too, people take surface transport because societies cannot afford the air.

Because South Asia is so poor, the air links between its cities are designed to cater to the ultra rich. (What is known as the all India urban English-speaking middle class (IUESMC) is ultra rich, by the way, by average all-India and South Asian rural standards.) So, imagine the enormous dullness of being when all you have filling our skies are Bata Shoe Company salesmen travelling from Kolkata to Chennai for an annual motivational conference, film starlets flying from Mumbai to Dilli (or Deh'li) to inaugurate a Swatch showroom, Haryana real estate brokers salivating on their way to the Kathmandu casinos, morose Dhaka matrons with appointments to catch at Kolkata nursing homes, and track-two India-Pakistan peaceniks zipping in to Lahore from Dilli (when the flights start, as they will, mark my words, as surely as the cookie crumbles and the poori puffs up) for a round of self-flagellating ('why do we do this to each other, waaah, sniffle sniffle, sharp intake of breath').

My South Asia of tomorrow is made up of a land of gur and honey, where prosperity has arrived because the corrupt decided to share their ill-gotten gold with the rest of the population, and where Jamali and Vajpayee have decided to become pen pals and let each bygone be a bygone. In this brave new egalitarian society, brother will not bash up brother across the LOC, and sloppy kisses will replace eye-for-an-eye, and shouts of 'bhaijaan!' will rend the air making it difficult to concentrate on one's daal roti. In such an incredibly zabardast nayi duniya, friends, there will be prosperity so that there will be a seat in an airplane for everyone. And every city of any note will be linked to every other city of any note.

The projected flight paths of nayi duniya can be seen as they begin to take shape in the accompanying map. This is an airline consortium, the largest in the world, whose participating companies include Jaffna Airlines, Cherrapunji Aviation MCD-PWD Airline Cooperative, Indus Delta Airlines, Shigatse Air Taxi, Upper-Lower Assam Airlines Corporation, Pathanaviation, Trans Khulna Airways and Madhesi Vayu Sewa Nigam.

These airlines serve hubs that are shunned by the IUESMC, and the air network is dense enough to make one weep for what is not yet but what will be if only that pen pal idea works. Simultaneously with this other great things would happen in the world. Begum Zia would attend Sheikh Hasina's iftaar party, Girija Prasad Koirala would send King Gyanendra a chatamari for reconciliation, Ranil and Chandrika would decided to together attend Prabhakaran's parties to indicate that there were no hard feelings (meaning, between Ranil and Chandrika), and Benazir, Mian Nawaz and the generalissimo would take the Indus Delta Airlines for a togetherness holiday that takes off from Multan and lands in Hyderabad (Sindh).

Multan would be an airline hub, linked to Iranian cities and those in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana. Asansole in West Bengal and Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh would similarly cover the great Northern Gangetic Plain. Jaffna would have flights to Rangoon and Lakshadweep. Guwahati would have regular flights not only to Chittagong, but also to Lhasa and Shigatse and Biratnagar. Passengers flying to Vaishno Devi from Pokhara would change planes in Pilibhit for Jammu. And so on and so forth.

This is the future I see for us all. You go work it out.

* Fantastic new world

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Himal Southasian