Using George Orwell's books as a guide, Emma Larkin travels to Myanmar to study and compare Orwell's time there and the present day
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Why would anyone want to live in an airport? They are after all mere points of transition, way side stops between one plane and the next, one country and another. Nowhere places, that fill an idle hour or two with duty-free shops, Burger Kings, and the company of strangers who tell tales of dubious authenticity. But what do you do if you’re stranded at an airport—if you’re application for asylum gets rejected or your plane delayed? You tell stories that try to fill the gap.
23rd May 2004: I am sitting on my red bench from the Bye Bye Bar in the middle of Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting to leave. I am waiting for a green card so I can go to America. I am waiting for a British passport so I can go to England. I am waiting for my documentation so I can go anywhere,” are the dazed opening lines of Terminal Man (Corgi; Rs356), the ‘true’ story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri’s aka Sir Alfred Mehran, who has lived in the Charles de Gaulle airport for the last sixteen years. Why is Sir Alfred living in an airport? His story is complicated—more so by the neurotic self-obsessed delusions that he suffers from. He was brought up in Iran, and came to England in the 1970s to study. One day his grant (from the Iranian government) stops, and he returns only to be arrested. Someone had apparently seen him protest against the Shah. He is deported to England, where his asylum request is rejected. He shuttles from country to country in a tragicomic limbo till he arrives at the Charles de Gaulle airport—‘home’ for the next 16 years. “Every day,” says Sir Alfred, “is exactly the same.” Almost. Fact and fiction merge in this disturbing (and dead-pan) book, as Sir Alfred disintegrates into the an identity-less nowhere person.
Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled tells a different and lighter tale. Thirteen people stranded at an airport decide to spend the night telling each other stories. The alienated blandness of an airport lounge come alive with bizarre tales. Some of which like the ‘The House of the Frankfurt Mapmaker’, the story of a Turkish girl given shelter by a German cartographer, are badly written, and forced. Others like ‘The Store on Madison Avenue’, about the adventures of Robert de Niro’s child from a chance encounter in a laundromat with Isabella Rosselini’s daughter, are implausible but fun. These are stories which don’t belong to any place or time. An enjoyable book—best read in an airport.
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