I just booked the air-tickets to my place for Diwali. A dozen kilo has been deducted from my credit card. I’ve traveled the same distance in less than thousand not very long ago. Those were the days. I remember my first flight.
Preparations: I was initiated into the flying club with a free flight from Delhi to Bangalore for an interview. Just a week before my flight, my flat-mate Mitra had flew down for his first time for the same company’s interview. Mitra started telling me the questions asked for the interview when I had to intervene: “ Wo sab to theek hain yaar, plane me ijjat bachane ki tips de”. Now, Mitra is a smart punter and we finish each other’s sentences quite often. Turned out that he too had taken “Ijjat-bachao” lessons and then added his personal experience and understanding of my personality to give a detailed step wise guide.
Check-In: I reached airport with time to spare. Unnecessarily put my hand baggage under scanner before taking the boarding pass. Check-in hadn’t started yet. Turned right, entered a room and took a seat which had a good view of TV showing schedules and check-in times. I was chewing gum to look cool. Fifty minutes on the same seat later, beginning of my flight’s check-in was announced. I cursed myself for having stared at that TV for so long.
Boarding: Mitra is a natural when it comes to getting late, so he missed out telling me that I shouldn’t be among the first ones to enter the bus which takes you to the plane. In those days, the boarding pass didn’t mention seat numbers and so everyone used to run in frenzy towards the plane as soon as the bus halted. Intelligent ones purposefully used to enter the bus late so that they could stand near the door; trading 10 minutes of discomfort in bus for a window seat in plane was a wise strategy.
Resigned to my fate of getting a middle seat, I nervously started climbing up the stairs. Air hostesses were greeting each passenger at the entrance. I braced myself. When my turn to be greeted came, the hostesses were still busy coochy-cooing to a chubby kid just before me. I got ignored. Nothing personal here, but it hurt. If you don’t get acknowledged while you are passing through that one square meter area, you are not going to get that smiling “Welcome Sir”. I quickly buried my face in the boarding pass to pretend as if I wouldn’t have noticed the “Welcome Sir” anyway.
Seating: Wading my way through the chaos, I saw a middle seat vacant between a woman and a rich looking young girl. Nowadays, whenever I occupy a seat I always hope, rather pray, that a good looking female come and seat beside me. Only once a female sat beside me, with a two year old kid who is a strong contender for putting his name in Guinness book for yelling at the highest decibels.
At that time I didn’t have the guts to seat near the babe, especially when it was the first flight and I was very much prone to do something stupid. I sat between a suited snob and a simpleton in late twenties who couldn’t speak English. Let’s call him Gopal. He had occupied the window-seat and was fiddling with the seat-belt when I settled myself between the two:
Gopal : Namaste Sir !Ye belt kaise lagaate hain ?
Me : Arre lagaon, lagaon ! Koshish karo.
I quickly picked up a magazine and wore a don’t-mess-with-me look. I should have asked this question to Mitra. Gopal didn’t have any airs about himself and clearly looked at the whole thing as a means to get to Bangalore somehow.
Gopal : Sir, aap nahi lagaoge ?
Me : Haan , Jaldi kya hain. Lagaa lenge.
Thankfully they announced to pay attention. I followed the instructions and somehow managed to tie the belt. Gopal succeeded too. Then they showed how to use oxygen-mask.
Gopal : Sir , kya saans lene me taklif hoti hain upar jaakar ?
I replied calmly that nothing of this sorts happen, it’s a useless routine. The Snob on my right looked at me and smiled at Gopal’s ignorance. I smirked back too.
Taking off: The plane started speeding up on the runway and the moment it took off I congratulated myself for being in air. Gopal turned to me with a delightful face “ Aa gaye hawaa me”. I hmmmed and realized that he was all set to take the charm away. When I was kid, I aspired to become a pilot; that was the only time I had a concrete professional ambition in my life. Here I was, flying for the first time hiding my ignorance from the world, and right beside me was this person putting my feelings and fears into words with raw expressions.
Food: The food trolley came; Deccan used to sell food on board. Mitra had told me “Noodles lenaa; paise ke hisaab se pet bharne ke liye ekdum optimum hain”. It was the same air-hostess who had ignored me. I was nervous once again when she approached our row. First she asked the people seating on other side of the passage; then the Snob who refused to have anything. I asked about the available options and after patiently listening, ordered for noodles. When she asked Gopal, he turned to me and gave me a hundred rupee note.
Gopal: Sir, aapne jo order kiya hain wo mere liye bhi kar do.
Me : Arre tum noodles khaate ho ?
Gopal : Haan sir, jo aap khaoge , mein bhi wahin kha lunga .
Me: Ye wo hain, Chinese type , kaante se khaane waale .
Gopal : Arre nahi Sahab. Kechuli (earthworm) nahi kha sakta.
Me: Tum Sandwich kha lo.
Gopal: Thik hain saab.
Tea: Sometime later, they came with Tea/coffee/cold-drinks on offer. Mitra had advised against taking any of them. But Gopal was in the mood to live life to the fullest. Again came a fifty rupees note to me.
Gopal : Sir, mere liye chai-namkeen order kar do.
Me : Bhai, utar ke pee lenaa. Ye log 30 rupaye ki chaai denge, airport par 5 ki mil jayegi is se achchi. ( I was slighlty irritated by now.)
Gopal : Thik hain .
Sanitary Needs: A little while later.
Gopal : Sir, ye toilet kahaan hain; peeshaab aa rahin hain.
I too was in the same state but was dreading reopening and closing the seat belt. If Gopal had to go then I would have had to do that anyway. I resisted.
Me : Abhi 15 minute me land kar jayegi flight. Badhiya araam se airport par kar lenaa.
Gopal was infuriated.
Gopal : Nahi saab, aapne yahin bol kar chaai bhi nahi peene dee. Ab to mein jaunga hee.
He looked resolute. I let him go and then followed his footsteps a couple of minutes later.
Landing was announced and Gopal requested me to guide him out of the plane to the exit of the airport. I generously agreed. When it landed I felt like I was sitting on a tractor; Gopal put that into words too. Halfway through the walk towards exit I saw that the same air-hostess was bidding farewell to each passenger; I immediately asked Gopal to walk right in front of me so that I don’t loose sight of him. Gopal was definitely not the candidate who could keep her engaged long enough to give me a miss.
My heart beat rose as we approached towards the plane’s exit. I was determined. Made eye contact with the hostess. Gopal had his head down when his turn came and looked grateful to be ignored. She looked at me and said “Good night :) . Thank you Sir.” I gave her a regular smiling nod. A much needed conquest and a huge relief, else it would have turned into a phobia every time I passed through that corridor.
I exited with head held high and showed Gopal the way to auto-stand. We shook hands. He said thanks and I asked him not to mention it. My friend Milton came to pick me up. We rode through the streets which were soon going to become all too familiar to me. Next day was going to be very important for reasons that are more than one.