Sunday, November 05, 2017

Flying into achhe din

Returning to India after a long time abroad is educative. If you’re coming back on an Indian airline, then your reintroduction to des usually starts at Heathrow or JFK itself. The long queues. People trying to jump the queues with piles of luggage teetering back and forth. Kids behaving atrociously, unchecked by parents. On the aircraft, the faint smell of a failing Tandoori restaurant. The Velcro holding the seat bottom gone, so that you’re sliding around for nine-and-a-half hours; the recline button stuck, so moving the back becomes an exercise class. The entertainment system glitching, the headphones not working. The food and drink mediocre and parsimoniously served. The passenger next to you inevitably under the impression that both armrests and half your seat belongs to him. Other passengers treating the cabin crew like serfs, the crew indiscriminately taking out their irritation on everyone, even the most polite passengers. The toilets becoming filthier and filthier as the flight progresses. The switching on of phones before the wheels have touched the tarmac, the standing up and opening the luggage compartment doors even as the plane is taxiing on the runway. The jostling and pushing to get off the aircraft as if it’s on fire.

But no, I lie, this time was markedly different. The boarding was extremely orderly with everyone following instructions. The passengers were polite and the ones next to me exceedingly civil. The seat button was stiff, sure, but the movie system was acceptably functional. The two members of the cabin crew assigned to our section were efficient and friendly, the food okay, and the wine reasonably plentiful. The flight was the most comfortable and uneventful I’ve had in a long time. There was some solid turbulence flying over the neck of land between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, just near the point where that Malaysian Airlines plane had been shot down by a missile a few years ago, but otherwise I watched a bad Hollywood movie and slept. As the welcoming dawn enveloped us, I decided to cleanse my mind by watching a film from the Satyajit Ray collection and got entangled in possibly the worst of Ray’s early films Kapurush, but you couldn’t blame either the passengers or the airline for that. In a while, the breakfast snack over, the loos still clean, the plane began to descend into the yellow muck over early winter Delhi. The captain announced we were forty minutes early. Jai Tailwind! As elongated dots of sunlight slid across the cabin, I congratulated myself and the whole nation for having vastly improved our flying habits.
05/11/17 Ruchir Joshi/The Hindu