| GROUNDED: A tourist waits at Calcutta airport for the flight schedule to return to normal. Picture by Amit Datta
His head throbbing, 35-year-old army Naik A.K. Biswas lay delirious on a stretcher in one corner of the lounge of Calcutta airport for at least a couple of hours. Wife Bithika had no clue when the wait would end.
Suffering from brain haemorrhage, the armyman had been admitted to Command Hospital last week. But as his condition deteriorated, doctors advised his family to shift him to Command Hospital in Delhi, where he is scheduled to undergo a surgery.
Accordingly, tickets had been booked for him and his wife on Wednesday's Indian flight to Delhi, but even late in the evening, the duo was in the dark whether the flight would take off at all.
'This is an emergency. My husband's life is at stake,' wept Bithika. 'The agitation by airport employees has jeopardised everything. He was to be rushed to Delhi for the operation, but I have no clue when our flight will take off.'
The airport plunged into chaos from the afternoon as employees suspended work, protesting the Centre's decision to hand over modernisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports to private parties.
There was no food, water or electricity on the premises. The flight schedule was anything but certain.
Naik Biswas was not the only passenger in a critical condition waiting to fly elsewhere for treatment.
Prabir Das, 45-year-old businessman suffering from an acute lung infection, was to take an Indian flight to Chennai, where he was scheduled to be admitted to hospital. On oxygen, Das lay staring at the ceiling, with brother Sanjay offering consolation and company.
'We have spent a hefty amount getting my brother a stretcher seat on the aircraft, but we don't know whether we can take him to Chennai today,' a dismayed Sanjay said. 'His condition is very serious. We have to get him to Chennai as soon as possible. He has a four-year-old daughter waiting for him at home.'
The agitating employees had laid siege to the entire airport. They were everywhere: outside the airport, in the lounge and even within the enclosure of the air traffic control.
'This is really disgusting,' complained Suhas Kelkathar, a Pune businessman who had booked a ticket to Mumbai on a Jet Airways flight.
'I have cancelled my ticket and am heading back to my hotel. I have a ticket for tomorrow, but there is no hint the situation will be any better then,' he fumed.
Another businessman from Mumbai, who identified himself as Anuj, had a similar tale to tell. 'I had checked in my baggage for a Jet Airways flight, which got cancelled. The bags had to be dragged all over the airport as there were no trolleys' There is no water to drink. It's terrible.'