Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Homeward Journey.....

The first passenger airplane I ever boarded was a Vayudoot Fokker.
I am not sure how many of you have heard of such a plane, but one such did exist.That it could fly and fly with people inside it, ranks very highly in the list of unsolved mysteries of the world.

The flight was quite an experience and I remember it vividly though I was hardly 7 or 8 then. The air staff had given us some cotton to plug our ears with, so that no matter what they should shout in case of an emergency, we should remain blissfully unaware of it and die a peaceful death.
Irrespective of a man's age, if he is told to do something by a well shaped pretty female in very tight skirts, then he would usually do it without questioning too much and I was certainly not an exception to this rule and duly plugged my ears.
However my ever enthusiastic sister whose constant chattering at that time was being considered by RAW as an alternate torture method, took the ear-plugging thing a bit too far herself and the poor thing had to be taken to a hospital to have the piece of cotton extracted.Later that day a group of very traumatised doctors and a vast number of nurses of that hospital were seen drafting a letter to the National Human Rights Commission with their demands for safer working conditions.
She still suffers from selective deafness though, which aggravates to serious proportions whenever I ask her for money or remind her of my wish lists for my birthday. At the same time however, I must acknowledge with immense humility that when during the days of my engineering, the debt situations turned to proportions of the genre of Those-Which-Must-Not-Be-Told-To-Dad and our canteen owner broke down inconsolably at our sight, she had many a time given the deafness a rest and thus made the future visa processing for her brother much simpler in the absence of any unpaid debt related court convictions.!! Cheers Didi !!

Anyway, aeroplanes and the airplane industry in India has surely come a long long way since those days of the Vayudoot.

I recently sold all my belongings here to buy a return ticket from London to Kolkata and I chose Air India as their baggage limits were allowing me to smuggle around 5 kgs more than the other airlines.
By the way, the advertisements of this company with pictures of those glamorous air hostesses with their 7 inch smile and perfect set of teeth stand testimony to the old adage "All that glitters is not gold".
Every school has a lady teacher or two, who are born under the Irritation Constellation and no matter how well you perform, the maximum appreciation that you can get from them is a smirk or if you are lucky enough, maybe even a throat clearance.
Air India has a policy of hiring precisely such individuals as their air hostesses after they retire from the schools.
And as luck would have had it, it seemed my flight was the chosen one for the Annual General Body Meeting of all these individuals.

As I entered the flight, two of them stood with hands folded to welcome us, but with an expression so forlorn that it seemed to convey that they would be much happier if I just turned away and went back home.
Unconvincingly I scrambled my way to the seat and while I made a desperate attempt to accommodate myself in the cramped space which was just about enough for a honeymooning rat couple, I also discovered that the flight had no personalised entertainment system.
An unwritten disclaimer seemed to be floating in the air conveying that if you are so eager to watch the movie which would play on the blurred wide screen a quarter of a mile away, then Air India will not take responsibility for any broken necks or twisted shoulders.
I compromised with my situation. I was flying economy class you see.
I at least had the window seat and could play Cloud-Cloud-Foosh-Foosh after so many days. (Details of this game in some later post)

The flight was scheduled for 9:30 pm and departed some time around 11 pm which was quite acceptable by international standards.
I had had a very hectic day and before long fell asleep, wondering if it was some new company policy to deprive economy class passengers from any sort of food or beverages during the flight.
As one can imagine, it is mighty difficult to sleep in an airplane seat in that crouched position and particularly when the person in front of you thought is wise to kick you viciously every time your sleepy feet intruded so much as half an inch into her territory. She was around 235 years old I think and the strength of her kick made me check out whether she was actually using a hammer or rock to hit at my feet. Satisfied that it was only her foot, we smiled at each other and I went along in my attempt to catch some sleep still wondering if it would be bad manners to ask the air hostess for some food as I was pretty hungry by then.
However the indifferent and extremely constipated look of the air hostess attending to our rows held me back from requesting anything, lest she come and beat me up.

The food did come eventually after some passengers started to queue up in front of the pantry cabin with their tiffin boxes in hand.
I was so sleepy by then that I hardly understood what I ate and it may well have been the leather of the seat that I actually ate, thinking it to be meat.
I could see Salman Khan gyrating away in a movie with a very silly looking dwarfish Anupam Kher and thus realising that everything was still normal in the world, finally went off to sleep in such a state of coil that I was on the threshold of being disqualified as a vertebrate.

But before long, I was all awake again and there were these sun rays dancing all over me in some mad mad glory ....Inspite of being in an extreme state of grogginess,I was pretty sure that it could not have been more than an hour since the lady in front had last kicked me and surely it could not be morning so soon.
It was then, that the faint corner of my brain, which still remembers that I have been a student of science at some point of time, started throbbing very hard and I realised that I was actually travelling east at around 1000 kilometers per hour.The sun had already risen where we were now.
Rarely has a truth dawned upon me with more ferocity.

The screen told me that it was Iraq that we were flying over and somehow from my seat up there, everything seemed so calm and picturesque down below with beautiful red mountains climbing up to kiss the skies and the tributaries of what may have been the mighty Tigris or Euphrates pirouetting with unbound gaiety and childlike curiosity, lending the whole picture a touch of pristine beauty.

The person who sat in the front seat (probably the son of the Foot-Killer Lady) also had trouble sleeping and thought that the best way to kill time would be to start a conversation with me at 3 am in the morning and initiated it by asking me if I was going to Kolkata !!!!!
With the help of some frantic sign language I made him understand that I could not speak in English or Hindi or Bengali and uttered some gibberish and shouted "Malliallum wonly".
He gave a very dejected look as he got up in his search of some other prey...
(Forgive me my Mallu friends, for I knew not what I was doing.)
I called for the air hostess and asked if I may have another blanket as the screen had just flashed the outside temperature to be -63 degrees centigrade.
"Certainly Sir, as long as the business class guests do not ask for one" was not what she said but must have meant when she uttered "Sure", for it took her around 3 hours more to bring me the extra blanket.
The sleepless man soon found out that no one was really interested in his friendly overtures and came back to his seat waking his mother instead, who cursed him so loud that he may well suffered a nervous breakdown.
He looked back at me for sympathy and I scowled back with tongue out and squinted eyes.

I usually avoid using a toilet while in a plane. Not because its a public one but primarily because of my fear of the flushing mechanism that they employ. It is one of the scariest man-made things and certainly not safe for thin people like me who run a grave risk of being sucked away into space under the sheer force of the mechanism, which actually seems more like a statement of protest made by the pot for our audacity to have peed on it.
"So you filthy man, you peed on me ..did you ?? .Relieved the stress of your bladder on ?? ...And how do you think I felt about rotten human being..? Now take this and this and this the gushing sound seemingly thrashes us thoroughly for all our effrontery.
However a 10 hour flight was too long a test for the bladders and no sooner did I use the flush that I ran for all my life only to find that they were re-running the Salman movie again !!!
I was left wondering if being sucked by a sanitary pot would have been the less painful way to die.

We soon entered into Indian airspace and one could feel a distinct change in the emotion on board.
While the pilot drew our attention to the far away Himalayas which seemed like a marble fortress guarding the frontiers of her kingdom with all her raw might, I was equally thrilled to see the Ganges traversing its long and magnificent journey towards its final destination of the Bay of Bengal.
Breakfast was on time. The movie had finally ended. The sleepless man seemed comatose. I had hidden one of his mother's sandals in her hand baggage and the air hostess twirled her upper lip while serving me tea which I took for a smile.
In Rowling's language ..All was well.

With no further incidents worth blogging about, the plane touched down at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata at 12:30 pm in the afternoon. It was right on time.
After the customary custom declarations where I did not declare 4 mobile phones, 2 digital cameras, a sony handycam, 3 ipod nanos, a diamond ring and a Sony home theatre, none of which I was carrying anyway, I came out and was soon mobbed by a dozen cab drivers each yelling and jostling at his best to catch hold of the
'phoren returned'.....

I had arrived in India after one and a half years and it felt good to be back home.


wanderlust said...

absolutely hilarious :-))
and the dig at mallus - well, you are forgiven just because you had the courtesy to ask for forgiveness :-)

Rajarshi said...

So you are back..well that's a great news..are u going back? yaa ab patni ko alvida..terrific post as usual..didn't know that Air India is this bad..well are u sure tht the Vaayudoot Air Hostesses used to wear 'tight' skirts?

u must be thinking tht I post a comment only to find logical inconsistencies in your posts..My apologies:) Enjoy your time at home and keep in touch.

Wanderlust said...

@wanderlust - I have always had great faith in the Mallu benevolence :-). Thank you so much.

@raj- Are nahi yaar..I value your comments immensely..As far as logical inconsistencies are concerned, if you could believe doctors writing letters to NHRC and a 235 year old lady kicking me then surely you could accomodate tight skirts in Vayudoot as well. ;-)
I am already back iN London man ..this was a 4 month old experience. Cheers !

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Brilliant as usual, saar... and to think that I booked a return flight to Kolkata and Back on Indian! :( :(

Grad student... such is life! Will be waiting for more phoren returned stories from you, though!

Marlee said...


N A R I YA L C H U T N E Y said...

Hey Wanderlust :) , Hilarious post and Welcome back home :). You should forwadr this post to V Thulasidas who is teh C E O of Air India and is a Mallu . Please meake these lines in bold "Irrespective of a man's age, if he is told to do something by a well shaped pretty female in very tight skirts, then he would usually do it without questioning too much and I was certainly not an exception to this rule and duly plugged my ears." . Please ask himt o treat this as a consumer insight :)

Anita said...

nice post. think the only air india air hostesses who are snootier than the old ones are the younger ones. They realise they are single handedly increasing the sex appeal of the air hostessing crew (ha ha) and sometimes i think their nose is high up in the air, their feet don't touch the ground