Air Travel in India – People, people and more people!
In India, traveling by air is no longer a monopoly of the elite, but has instead become an affordable and convenient way to travel for all. When we were younger only the rich and famous could afford air travel. The average, middle-class Indian citizen had only one option: the train, and that too either the sleeper class or the third AC. During an emergency one could shell out a little extra for a ticket in second AC, period. Thanks to the low cost airlines in India, now everybody makes a beeline for the airport, and many have forgotten the way to the railway station – including me.
Air travel offers a unique set of circumstances within which human interactions take place, suspended 30,000 feet above the ground, confined to an area which is less than a few square feet, separated only by inches from your fellow passengers. I travel to Mumbai every month to visit my mom; I am not a nosey co-passenger or a snob, but as a keen observer of humanity, I am ready to jump in with my two cents when needed. I am a loner who enjoys her music, book and quiet on a plane but circumstances compel me to be more open and outgoing, much to the chargin and horror of my husband who respects the personal space of his fellow travelers and their right to be left alone.
Once on my way back to Delhi from Bangalore, there was this young man in his twenties sitting at the window seat and minding his own business. He received a phone call just before the doors of the plane closed and became upset after listening to the information the caller passed on to him. After an animated discussion, he came back to his seat, withdrawn and worried. Now I am a mother of two kids who are in their twenties, so when I see someone their age looking in need of a sympathetic ear, I jump in without thinking about the consequences. That’s what I did here despite my husband’s raised eyebrows (any higher and they would have touched the ceiling of the plane).
On my gentle enquiry, the visibly upset young man told me about the phone call he had received just before takeoff. His grandparents had met with an accident and their car had been damaged slightly and his grandfather suffered minor injuries. While anxious about the news, he had to switch off his phone for the duration of the flight though his thoughts remained in that hospital room, with his grandfather.
I continued chatting with my fellow passenger until we landed at Delhi. He called up his family and found out with relief that his grandfather was doing fine. He told me that talking about his problems had made him feel better and lessened his worries during the flight. On hearing his words, I looked at my husband with a jubilant ‘I told you so’ grin.
A couple of weeks ago while going to Mumbai, I found myself sitting next to a young man who was busy watching a movie on his laptop, until he decided to disappear into the washroom for an absurdly long time. I was afraid he was locked in the washroom. Since I suffer from acute claustrophobia myself, I started worrying about him. I remember the first time I had mustered up enough courage to visit the washroom mid-flight; I had asked the air-hostess to stand outside so that she could come to my rescue in case the door jammed or something. I am terrified of close compact spaces, they give me the hives.
But, I digress. The boy reappeared after 10-15 minutes, and sat clutching his head in his hands, fiddling with the AC knob overhead, and my mothering instinct kicked in, full gear. I asked him if he was alright. It turned out he wasn’t, and was instead feeling nauseous and uncomfortable. I adjusted my AC knob so that it was turned towards him, and offered him a strip of gum from the pack that I always carry with me.
He turned out to be the same age as my son, and was pursuing an undergraduate course in humanities at a college in Mumbai. I started reminiscing about my college days in south Mumbai and we chatted on for the rest of the flight. He was feeling better by the time we landed in Mumbai. While bidding him goodbye, I wondered at my ability to make friends and talk to complete strangers so effortlessly. I think it is age related – the older I become, the less I care about what the world thinks of me and do what feels right.
Obnoxious Fellow Passengers
I’ve had some obnoxious fellow passengers too, and have ignored them with just as much ease. Some colorful ones have made me forget my worries and helped in making my days brighter. Once on a flight to Mumbai, a young man in his late teens had asked me something that made me want to protect him. He was all excited about going to the City of Dreams and film stars, Mumbai.
His question stumped me, “Where can I see the film stars? I am going to Mumbai for the first time”, he added hesitatingly. Bollywood attracts so many young boys and girls from towns, big and small. They all come to Mumbai with stars in their eyes and hopes of making it big in this tinsel-town, some struggle for a few months and give up while others persist for a longer period but only a few lucky ones get a break in films. I told him to visit the film studios, where the probability of seeing the actors was high. I hope he would gain entry into the studios and see his favorite stars in action; his wasn’t an impossible dream to fulfill, or was it?
The different people I meet and the conversations I have with them stay with me, and these recollections bring up mixed emotions in me. I look forward to my travels and am ready for an adventure every time I step on the ramp and walk into the cool interiors of the aircraft filled with unknown people.
Sulekha Rawat, along with Kriti Mukherjee, brings east and west insights into Chatty Divas, their blog on ‘Lassi with Lavina’
Check out Sulekha and Kriti’s site: www.socialpotpourri.com