Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Travelling Salesman Problem

By Gaurav Parab

When I was doing computers and algorithms I used to laugh at the Travelling Salesman problem. Now that I am a travelling salesman, I do not laugh much. At anything.

But I have a trait. I am very organized about travel. I may not worry about the actual travel bit, the ‘movement’ if you like, but I am very particular about being on time for trains, flights, or buses. Usually, the time is 2 hours from the scheduled departure.

For instance, if departure is at 6 o clock, I am at the station at 4. Beaming to myself, laughing at the jokers who are jumping on to moving trains or clinging on to the wings of Airplanes desperate to get a good grip.

But even organized travelers like me have moments.

Recently, I had to travel from Mumbai to Delhi. I stay in a hotel next to the International Airport in Mumbai, and the Domestic terminal is not very far. But Mumbai being what it is and I am being who I am - I decided to start 2 and a half hours before the flight departure time. When my rickshaw got stuck in a traffic jam close to the Airport, I congratulated myself for having the foresight to start early. I was going to make it 2 hours before the flight. Phew. Close call.

But the jam was big even by Mumbai standards. As I nervously looked around for ideas, my eyes fell on a Fevicol Hoarding. (Yes, this is product placement).

My rickshawalah was calm and he told me that I will make it on time once he drops me at the airport gate.

“Thank you” I replied. Wait a minute! Airport gate?

“You can’t do this to me. You are my rickshawalla. Please drop me near the terminal building”

I knew he was playing hardball. This is where the negotiation starts. I was not going to deal with this. I was paying by the meter. I live in Mumbai now.

“Saab, 100 rupee extra lagega”


So, the jam cleared and we made our way into the Domestic complex. I took out the eticket printout. The departure terminal was listed as 1 D. The rickshawalla and I could only see directions for 1 A and 1 B. I looked at the printout carefully and for the first time in my life, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. 


I screamed. I had made a mistake. My flight departs from the International terminal. We have to go back. I looked at the watch. I had an hour for my flight. And to think that I lived right next to the International Airport. I could have walked to it if I had read the printout carefully.

We turned back and the rickwallah zoomed in and out of the traffic like we were in a super-rick covered by a giant red underwear. As we waited for the lights to turn green, I told my new found best friend.

“This has never happened to me.”

“Me neither” he replied.

Surely there are fools who get lost between International and Domestic Airports? I told myself as my eyes fell upon the giant Fevicol hoarding once again.

When we made it to the International Terminal 1 D, I paid the rick and smiled at the security guard at entry gate.

He looked at the ticket, looked at me, and said,

“What are you doing here? You have a domestic flight. This is the international Airport”

I nodded. Yes, I know. I was there at the Domestic Airport sometime ago. They do not have Terminal 1 D. I waved the printout at the Guard, who waved his gun at me and said,

“Your departure is from 1 B. Domestic Airport, Mumbai. Read the printout.”

I re-read the printout. Departure Mumbai 1 B, Arrival Delhi 1 D. I had read it wrong. For the second time in my life, I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

For a moment none of us spoke. I felt weak. More so with his gun pointed at me.

“Mein befkoof hoon.” I sighed and said.

He was a tall Sardar and he calmly asked me the flight time. I said I have 50 minutes. But the traffic is bad and I will not make it back to the Domestic Airport.

“You will make it!” He bellowed. He took my hand and stopped a rickshaw by unleashing a volley of bullets at it( Ok, he did not fire but he did threatened to kill the rickwallah if he did not take me to the Domestic Airport now!).

And I made my way to the Domestic Airport again.

At the traffic jam, next to the Fevicol hoarding, I told my new rickshawalla buddy my story. I told him that I must be the biggest fool ever. I told him about not being careful. I told him that it is difficult when so many women are attracted to you. I told him there is something about me that women find irresistible.

I also told him how careful I usually am when travelling. I told him that this has never happened to me.

He turned around, and said, “Don’t worry. It can happen to anyone. I will make sure that you reach the Domestic Airport on time and if not do not pay me a single penny”

I was touched. These were profound words. Can happen to anyone. He was right. For the first time in my journey from Hotel to Domestic Airport to International Airport to Domestic Airport, I smiled. Sure the pride was bruised, but people do bigger mistakes. I am still travel king.

He was good to his promise and as we reached the Airport again, I cried with joy when the Security Guy allowed me inside.

“Are you Sure this is the right Airport and the right Terminal” I shook his hand.

With half an hour to go, I made my way to the check-in still sweating and amused by the way life teaches us lessons. I turned in my check in line to find a guy of medium height with specs standing behind me. I had seen him before. I simply said.

“You are Sourav Ganguly”

“Eh… Yes.” Sourav Ganguly muttered, “You look tired. Everything all right? ” he said as he signed autographs for a bunch of kids.

I did not reply. I had turned to see a family of fools running towards the boarding gates to catch a flight they were about to miss. Jokers.


Song on my playlist, Tumne Mujhe Dekha from the movie Teesri Manzil, by Mohd Rafi


Priyanka Khot said...

It can happen to anyone. I am just glad that it did not happen to me :-)

SOWMYA said...

Well, at least you had the date right. A bigger fool (read: ME) boarded a train meant for 20th August on 21st August, dumped her luggage, sat on her seat and waited until another passenger claimed his seat, and rightfully so. That was when my dad realised a fool is a fool is a fool. :D

Yogesh said...

It 'can' happen to anyone, but usually does not :)

Nice post!

Anonymous said...

Woah! You got my heart racing there! (Of course I mean more the natural macho-ness, less the post)

Didn't they teach you in Business school not to unnecessarily use Product Placement? Did you meant to implicitly imply that reaching on time is "Fevicol ka jod, tootega nahi"? Ok, that was bad!

You didn't give Sourav so much airtime, he was cuter than you innit, maybe paunchless too?

Farina said...

Your articles just make my day....
its awesome!


Kavity said...

Nice post :)

Gaurav Parab said...

@ Priyanka: I wish somebody had clicked a picture when the Sardarji said, Aap ka flight to domestic se hain. Trust me, the two thoughts that went through my mind were - I am the biggest fool in the world. And will Uruguay win the world cup?

@ Sowmyaa: Little consolation. But considering how far my mind has gone, I am sure the day is not far when i catch the wrong flight.

@ Yogesh: Yes, it does not :)

@ Anonymous: i dont' have a paunch anymore. In keeping with the times, I call it my Jabulani.

@ Farina: A cheque wont hurt one of these days :)

ankit said...

Excellent post...

Seema said...

OMG!Amazingly captured in wrds..

Anonymous said...

GP, Is it me or does anyone else think that you are the most complete writer around?

Many People in my office agree. They knew abut you before i told them about your blog poems, articles and stuff.When I mention that we studied together they dont believe it. I should show them the ppts you made.

Himadri said...

I was too overwhelmed to comment when i first wrote this post; the heart was racing and the tummy hurting from giggling and the only words that i could muster then were " Jai Ho!!!"
BUT. BUT. i was travelling last weekend and I read and RE-read my tickets a dozen times! And realized probably this post is going to be a sticky mental note in my head forever.
Despite having traveled to terminal 1D many times I checked google maps couple of times and then bugged the cabbie too :|

Thanks to ya! :))
:D good Luck :P