I like people, suspect technology. If I pick up the phone, I’d prefer talking to an inept operator than an efficient machine. Till a year ago, if I wanted a train ticket, I’d prefer wading through the mass of humanity straggling outside the booking counter than “outsourcing” the task to a travel agent. I’ve been accused of enjoying this particular form of torture. And it’s probably true. I mean, what can be so uplifting about standing around for two hours in a line of sweaty, irritable people all waiting for the booking clerk to get his act together?

It’s people watching. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed about queues. I can probably stand in a queue for hours just watching people’s backsides (just kidding, I also like seeing their frontsides!) That’s what I enjoyed about traveling in buses, jolting along on the roads, watching the couple in the front seat, the old uncle in the side seat, the pile-on standing next to me…my trips between home in South Delhi and college in North Delhi were mini anthropological journeys. Now, courtesy my comfortable financial situation (not that I’m complaining, mind you) I’ve stopped traveling in buses and have regressed to cars that really dampen the people-watching trip.

Technology has done its bit too. I’ve bid those sweaty queues goodbye. I now book train tickets on the Internet. Zip, zap, zoom and I have the lower berth, veg meal on a Rajdhani. Two days later, a courier drops a plastic envelope with the precious ticket, and I’m ready to go. This week I needed to book an air ticket. Instinctively, I called the travel agent instead of doing what everyone does nowadays, shop for the cheapest tickets on the Net. I called, he answered. I said I wanted the cheapest ticket to Chennai. He said, sure, let me call you back. It took him an hour to call back. The options weren’t that cheap. So, hesitantly, I opened the Net and did a search. Bingo, there it was. A cheaper option, much cheaper. And it was all bookable, buyable and printable on the web. So, even though I’d have preferred Babloo (believe it or not, travel agents can actually get business with a name like that!) I did the zip, zap, zoom thing and bingo, I had a printout of my ticket. All confirmed and okie dokie.

So, I have a ticket to fly, but there is a lingering feeling that hasn’t quite gone away that the cheapo A-4 printout looks fake. How can it even begin to compare with the magic of that red carbon booklet that looks so promising and precious?

First published on July 8, 2006