Friday, July 27, 2007

Flight of Imagination

Flying at 30-something thousand feet in the air, the last thing on any sane person’s mind is to write a blog entry. This being ‘me’ and ‘me’ being partially cuckoo – I am doing exactly that. Needless to say, this is one of those blog-posts that will entertain (hopefully) and shock (definitely) the reader into looking at “flying” in a whole new light.

Indian Airlines – the least reliable aerial alternative to the Indian railways does not enjoy my regular patronage. In the absence of an alternative, I find myself aboard flight IC-173 between Mumbai and Chennai. The drama begins well before boarding with an irate group of passengers crowding around the gate questioning the hapless crew about the 45 minute delay on ground. As the tension builds up, I attempt to grab a few minutes in Zz land while the able personnel make up their minds on the best approach to making an already bad situation – worse.

The boarding procedure in India is little more than a comical event where everyone attempts to enter the aircraft at the same time. I would have been sympathetic had this been a “wormhole” where you go in one end…and pop out the other. Unfortunately – On an aircraft – everyone usually lands at the same time unless a mid-air adventure, quite common on Indian Airlines aircraft, results in the involuntary sky-diving experience for a few select passengers and crew members…with or without their luggage. In such a situation, what difference does it make if you board the aircraft first…or last? I managed to sneak in a few emails, chat conversations and some shuteye between the time the first imbecile boarded the aircraft…and my turn. The other extreme would be when everyone decides to take it easy and the crew is forced to use weapons to coax the passengers into their seats.

Seats….completely useless, redundant, unnecessary – you name it. Indian passengers would much rather stand in an aircraft. I have come to this conclusion based on structured observations carried out over several flights. I have observed the passenger’s urgency to stand immediately after (or sometimes before) the take-off sequence is completed…and an even more urgent urgency to stand well before the wheels have touched the ground during landing. I say – do away with the seats and accommodate more passengers. This will also increase the airline’s customer satisfaction ratings as passengers indulge in their most important activity – standing. How this will affect the airline’s safety ratings – I cannot say, however, this being Indian Airlines – This particular measurement index doesn’t really matter anyway.

All signs that the Indian population is well on its way towards the 2 billion mark are on display. I’ve counted no less than 12 noisy babies and 3 quiet babies on board this aircraft. Some of them are cute…the sleeping ones, and the other noisy ones should have taken the bus in my opinion. Nothing irks me more than the sound of a crying baby. As the son of a prominent pediatrician, my tolerance level for baby-bawl is sadly…dismal. I plan to build sound-proof rooms where I can enjoy “silence”. The day I turn into one of these mum/dad combos with a noisy package is the day you can come out of the woodwork and call me a pathetic hypocrite – and I will agree with that statement at that point of time.

The aviation sector is well known for its awful food. I have very carefully come to the conclusion that if you are on-board Jet Airways and Kingfisher – it is safe to eat the meal of your choice. On board the other premium airlines – stick with the vegetarian food. On board Indian Airlines – eat before you come on board or BYOF. The trauma of introducing your innocent taste-buds to the putrid chemo-broth served as ‘Dal’ is something that won’t go away in a hurry. Just the sight of that yellow goo turns me green. I usually request for a bottle of water or a glass of lime-juice on these airlines.

Indian Airlines also has some of the WORST aircraft in the industry. On this particular aircraft, a few important looking bits of interior trim broke off during take-off. Miraculously, the airframe stayed together despite looking like it was going to shake itself to bits on the way up…and somehow re-assemble itself on the way down. To make matters worse, I noted that my seat was a few degrees askew to the direction of motion of the aircraft. While this did not really complicate my already horrible experience, it gave me an interesting insight into how close one can come to vomiting before summoning the will-power to keep lunch where it belongs. At this time, I can SWEAR I can feel a draft of cold air through the door beside me. Imagination…or a sign that it is time to start praying and hurriedly typing out my will on my laptop (which is hard to do considering I am typing out this blog entry at the same time…this will have to wait!)

The captain has turned on the seat-belt sign and I see a queue of men outside the lavatory. How hard is it to do your business at home, at the airport or even in a bush somewhere between home and the airport before boarding the bloody plane? I admit to knowing a few “men” who make it their mission to wee at every place they visit…sort of a canine “territory marking” activity they take very seriously indeed. Another problem with old planes is that they were built during a time when air-travel was only for the wealthy and easily excitable part of society. These were the people who absolutely loved bells and gongs and important sounding inane announcements. Everything in here is loud…the alarms, chimes and I am shaken out my thoughts by a class-A certified A-Hole two rows in front who repeatedly summons the waitress for something or the other. Bing! BING! BINGGG!...No…Not you Chandler…go back into that TV from whence you came.


I love flying…I really do! But this feels more like boarding a PTC bus that took off a ramp at very high speed. I don’t expect I will climb aboard an Indian Airlines flight ever again. I value my money and my life too much to pay someone else to try and kill me. If the price is right…I might reconsider J

I hope you had fun reading all this. I am less than 15 minutes away from Chennai and still at 30-something thousand feet. If this should change anytime soon – you will either hear about it in the papers…or in my next blog entry depending on how badly the change turned out.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Lamps of Hope

"Dad...What is glue ?"

I am used to this by now, having encountered literally thousands of similar questions over the weekend. I guess it is one of the many requirements of parenthood...dealing with unanswerable questions coming in quick succession. I should be irritated with the way things are going but I just look into those wide open eyes and their honest, limpid blue depths, and sigh...because I know that this is going to be one long afternoon.

"Glue is something that keeps other things together Son. We are going to use it to hold these sticks together and later when we put on the canvas cover. Now why don't you hold these two bits together while the glue does it's work..."

I watched those tiny hands struggle to keep the wood sticks steady as the glue set...The frown of concentration on his young brow...eyes on the job at hand, unwavering and hungry. We worked together for the next few hours assembling the slender wooden sticks, wire and canvas before standing back to admire the completed structure. The smile on his bright face told me that he was both happy and proud. His smile got wider when I told him that we'd be painting it right after tea.

I watched him wolf down his donuts, a practiced art of dipping them in his glass of milk only long enough to get them soft without breaking away into the glass. I tried the same with mine...inviting a disapproving glare from his mum when a large chunk of donut splashed into my glass. Several minutes were spent fishing around inside my glass for that elusive chunk as my son watched me, bemused. I left him to finish off his milk and went to fetch the spray-paint cans, decals and a tiny gas burning lamp that would be the final piece of the structure.

He skipped into the garden just as I was priming the cans. We decided on a base coat of white, followed by a coat of bright orange before applying the decals and other little bits and pieces of trim. I explained to him why we had to wait for each coat to dry before applying the next and he patiently worked on the paint with a blower to speed up the drying process. While he worried over the paint, I readied the gas lamp according to the manual and gave it a test burn to make sure everything was working the way it should.

When we were finally done...even I was impressed with what we had created from wood, wire and cloth. He helped me install the gas-lamp wearing his latex gloves and safety glasses. His mum brought out the camera and bossed us around while making pictures. As darkness set in I prepped the gas-lamp and held his hand as he lit it up with a huge grin tinged with anxiousness. He needn't have worried because the whole structure filled with a beautiful glow, showing off the colors we had painstakingly painted on and showing off the little bits of trim and the decals in the darkness of the night. As the air inside heated up, it began to rise up in the air and my son rose up on his feet in pride.

As the lamp rose higher and higher in the air, I held my wife's hand and we watched him out there in the darkness...unafraid...standing tall. I looked into her eyes and saw hope and a secret pride...I was proud of what my son and I had created...she was proud of what she and I had created...The difference was profound...and I held her closer.

Up above us, the lamp floated on...