Column | Why Kerala needs its own Schiphol

Nedumbassery airport has a mini-museum of sorts near the departure gates. Photo: Josekutty Panackal/Manorama

When travelling from Mumbai to Vancouver last month I had a seven-hour transit at the Amsterdam Airport or Schiphol as it is known around the world. Long transits can be boring and frustrating, especially in cold and soulless airports in western countries that are more or less shopping centres for luxury products with overpriced restaurants.

This transit, however, was a complete eye-opener about how pleasant an airport experience can actually be. The first surprise came when I heard French composer Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 being played. The assumption was that the beautiful piano music, a reflection of European high culture, was coming from the public address system. Much to my shock, though, it was being played by a teenage passenger! Other passengers also got into the act and started playing the public piano. The impromptu concert from random travellers earned the applause of those who were fortunate (and interested) enough to listen.

Schiphol places a great degree of stress on culture and particularly the local culture. Take, for instance, a free library. Most of the books in the collection were about Dutch history, art and culture. What could be a better way for a curious traveller transiting the Netherlands than to read about Amsterdam’s canals, the works of the great Dutch painters or the country’s exquisite Delft Blue pottery?

To top it off, the airport even has a mini branch of the famous Rijksmuseum! I was delighted to see some fine paintings in the terminal, and as a result, the long wait for the flight to Canada felt much shorter than it actually was.

The airport, of course, has its fair share of duty-free shops and expensive restaurants but there are also shops selling the country’s famous gouda cheese and other local products. Since Canada has strict rules when it comes to bringing in food products, I resisted the temptation of buying Dutch cheese before my flight!

While enjoying the facilities at Schiphol, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Cochin International Airport couldn’t be expanded enough to become a showcase of Kerala and Indian culture.

Nedumbassery, which has the distinction of being the first international airport in the world to be powered solely by solar energy, does have a mini-museum of sorts near the departure gates. Expanded terminals could be used to house art from the state with moving exhibits much like the Rijksmuseum Schiphol.

Given Kerala’s rich literary traditions, a free library would be a great way to showcase the culture of the state. Imagine an international travel passenger picking up an O V Vijayan novel or a coffee table book with images of the backwaters! Many a West to East traveller (or reverse) in transit would be tempted to come back to the state for a holiday.

The authorities in Cochin could come up with other innovative ideas, such as masterclasses in Kerala arts and handicrafts, for transit passengers. Seoul’s Incheon Airport has something similar, where travellers can practice Korean painting under the guidance of an expert. This airport, like Singapore’s Changi, offers free city tours. For India, something like this would require a lot of movement in the bureaucracy to see the light of day.

Essentially, Schiphol, Incheon and Changi have been designed in a way to attract those on long intercontinental journeys. They all leverage their geographical locations well and have managed to have airline partners who use them as hubs. Before an expanded Nedumbassery or any other airport in Kerala transforms itself into a showcase of the state’s culture, it needs to tie up with a major Indian airline to use it as an international hub. It’s only this kind of a partnership between an airport and a carrier that would make this idea a reality.

One big lesson to learn from Schiphol for all airports in India is the friendliness of the security staff. They handle a huge volume of international flights and transit passengers, but are extremely polite with the travellers. The procedures are also more lax. The only electronic item that a passenger has to take off from his or her bag is a laptop.

We all know what a security check process entails in India. If Nedumbassery has to become a popular international (and cultural) hub then it definitely needs security officers who are calm, polite and courteous. Of course, asking for the staff to be as humorous as their Dutch counterparts may be taking it one step too far!
(Ajay Kamalakaran is a multilingual writer, primarily based in Mumbai)

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.