A Desi guide to flying


Flying is a mode of transportation which I became acquainted with only during my late teens. My earliest memories about airlines were trips to airport to receive my dad who worked in the Middle East. After dropping him off at the airport, I would run off to the gates to get a peekaboo the flights take off and land. It was a mesmerizing sight, the thunderous rapture, chaotic flight crew and the array of humongous flying machine being orchestrated via the radio waves. As a 12 year old that was opera right there for me. Even when in school if we would see a helicopter flying close, we would chase it screaming “Helicopter TATA, Pilot TATA” and sometimes the pilot would wave back which was such a kick!

However after that episode I have flown about a half a dozen times (Technically 6 times, but sounds more than it doesn’t it?). The flying experience in US is in complete contrast to what I experienced in India. I am sure that it is common sight now even in India to fly frequently. But surely to me and a lot of fellow Indians a frequent flyer membership is a coveted status.

Before partition when superstitions were rife it was often considered that traveling outside of one’s country by any means would be a bad omen. But boy haven’t those notion changed, don’t believe me? Look at your team leaders bag who is back from an Onsite, he might forget to wear pants but would never take the flight tag out of his backpack.

I would like to enlist a few of my quirkier observations while flying in India and the myriad social entertainment that it brings along.

1)      20 Questions: Indian women who are often fondly referred as “Aunties” are fairly loquacious (talkative). With due respect which woman isn’t? There is a reason why 12 angry men lasted 90 minutes and Eat pray love lasted more than the half-life period of Uranium 235. And if you try to compare their questions most of them would be present on the HR guide on “How-to-harass-your-employees”.

A sample conversation

Aunty: I noticed your Lalitha Jewelers stores bag, you are also from Chennai?

Me: Yes

Aunty: What do you do? Student aa?

Me: I just graduated, will start working soon.

Aunty: How much percent did you get? My son studied at Anna University, He got 93 % and was class rank number 2 and will soon start working with [Insert Pimped out Indian Company], Sorry TCS I was kidding.

Me: (Murmur) Your son must be getting more laid than Andheri-Powai highway during monsoon. (During monsoon Bombay resembles Venice plus the malaria, courtesy pot holes)

Aunty: What?

Me: I meant to say I graduated at Mumbai University and I got ## percentage and will start with ## Company (Numbers cannot be revealed for the sake of future employment and bride hunt. I am a south Indian. Grades Matter.)

Aunty: Is it famous, I have never heard of that company? How much are they paying you?

Me: Not enough.

Aunty: Sensing that I am being sarcastic she moved on to other questions which involved in no particular order

a)      My weight

b)      Benefits of yoga

c)       The kind of girl I should marry

2. The quintessential Business Man (Uncle): These are stock brokers, middle aged project managers, investment bankers and worst of all Entrepreneurs.  Am I the only one who thinks wearing a suit dumbs my IQ by 20 %? Which sadomasochistic bastard invented the tie? Humans have opposable thumbs hence it should be fairly easy to choke oneself to death instead of wearing such garbs of vanity.

It is always easy to spot the pyramid marketing types, they are the ones who thrust a glossy piece of paper and ask you “I have got a great business opportunity for you”. Personally you should ask them if the income could be wired to a friend in balochistan who you became friends via yahoo chat when you got tired of hitting A/S/L repeatedly. If they hail from congress they may throw you a discount or two.

3. Condom Advertisements: India has a huge burgeoning population crisis which is often the root cause for most of our population such as way too many ipl players, “I used to work as a software programmer but I don’t like coding hence I want to do masters in MIS” type students and every viewer of MTV Roadies. But the biggest impediments to male contraceptive aren’t the clergymen but the censor board.

The word vulgar is one of the most over used word in Indian news media. I can understand why selling toothpaste through sleazy advertisement can be morally objectionable, but condoms? So in order to solve the censor problem, someone should come up with an ad involving how irritable it is to fly with kids aboard. Ever had a 4 year old practice swimming in your rear seat? The torture is only comparable to getting a root canal with a one handed, one eyed pirate who has a hook for a hand.

If that doesn’t convince men to be safe, read more on Alimony and child support. (I am not against kids, I am against parents who trade their responsibility for their babies cuteness factor)

4. Austerity in motion: You see, Indian airlines are a piece of work. Apart from the engine and the fuselage I think most of the flights are made out of recycled coke cans. I am not generalizing all Indian Aircrafts, I have flown delta. They are S.T buses with wings. I am here talking about nationalized airlines.

They have a select collection of Bollywood movies which they expect you to watch with headphones that do not work. And their whole idea of in flight entertainment makes you wish you paid attention to the initial security routine to remember whether they kept the parachutes.

5. Queues: If there is one thing that typifies Indian travel it’s the queues. May be it is another repercussion of huge population. The thumb rule for Indian queues are that gap between two individuals would be so less that it would take a cynic to view it as an asexual activity. And if you have more than two feet you would soon be victim of hoot calls asking you to move ahead as if it would speed up the immigration check in anyway.

To surmise flying is pleasant experience but the trials one goes through Indian airport very different compared to the experiences while flying in America. For example if your health insurance doesn’t cover a general body checkup, just show up with one week old stubble. TSA will take care of that.

American lifestyle is extremely independent and it might not suit everyone’s taste. Most flight trips are bland and uneventful. The loquacious aunty, the shrewd businessman, the new couple and the IT guy on an onsite trip, they all might share some eccentricity or another but the sense that you are connected brings a relief.

In the short span of a flight journey you will realize that they don’t talk for the sake of it but there is an invisible bond, a sense of we belong together. At the end of the journey you will be left with a grin that you had somebody to share your story with.


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