Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Utter failure of the Zen approach to air travel

After waking up at 8a.m. and 10 hours later, catching a 6p.m. flight, I settled back into the very uncomfortable airplane seat, determined to smile through my eight hour journey to Dubai, eight hour layover in Dubai and subsequent 3 hour journey to Mumbai. I focussed on my breathing, felt myself float on silky smooth clouds etc. Yes I was going to do it. I was going to Zen this trip. Somehow.

I was pleasantly surprised at the ever cheerful stewards and stewardesses. (I’ve generally noticed their difference in tone, especially when I’m seated near a white person. Split second body language and voice changes occur, and I’ve half a mind to say – “I’m not daft just because I’m brown-skinned.”) So here I was, delighted to find that I wasn’t being treated any differently and feeling goodwill in the air etc.

I ordered water and orange juice, two glasses each. My neighbour on the flight ordered whisky. She happened to be presenting some sort of sociology paper at a conference and so the first hour was spent (quite fruitfully) listening to her understanding of the evolution of the unique individual.

But after she’d ordered her third whisky and puffed on several inhalers and swallowed a handful of variously shaped and coloured pills, I firmly put on my headphones. There comes a point when a person’s alcohol ridden blood directly interferes with intelligent conversation; especially when the listener has mere orange juice pumping through her veins, as I did. Something doesn’t quite match.

Sternly reminding myself to buy a neck pillow before my next long flight, I flipped through comedy channels, made a couple of trips to the loo, then guzzled more water and orange juice. On one of the trips to the loo, I waited patiently in line, behind a dad and his baby daughter. We smiled at each other, all three of us, in that sleepy, dazed sort of way. We politely looked away as time passed, wondering what on earth was happening in the loo. Why does it take so long?

After what seemed like ages, the door opened, and out popped an Indian girl, in her early twenties. You know the metro upper middle class girl of India – five foot something, colour streaked hair tumbling to the waist, strange looking top in stranger material that fits snugly on several love handles, tight jeans, heavy mascara, strong perfume, dangling earrings, and a big glittery bag. The most striking feature of this species of woman is the haunting look in her eyes. It is a strange dark mix of high school temptress and demure Indian girl. (I involuntarily shudder as I see it in my mind’s eye.)

I turned my head away instinctively, literally shivering in my boots, my body signalling: ‘for god’s sake, I’m a woman – don’t look at me like you want to seduce me. I’m not interested.’

But then again, these women look at everything – men, women and lamp posts - with the same vampire-ish gleam so I suppose I shouldn’t feel offended. I think they believe the consistent Madhubala-meets-Paris-Hilton gaze adds to their appeal. Ewww! (I’m not a prude, I just prefer an honest, straightforward look to this slanting, i’m-so-beautiful-i-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself, slithery, sleazy glance!)

I smiled at the dad and his daughter, gesturing for them to use the empty loo before me. He graciously thanked me, then immediately collided with a second woman who walked out the same loo. The dad, the daughter and I all started with as much surprise as we could muster up in our dazed brains.

We looked at her with vacant eyes, wondering if we were mistaken because she was a clone of the first woman. They were obviously sisters. I don’t know whether it’s the sister-thing – I don’t have a sister. I don’t understand WHY women have to “go to the loo” together, “go to the water cooler” together, or do so much stuff “together” all the freaking time.

I cannot imagine how the sisters fit in that airplane loo together, with two big bags and what they managed to accomplish in that space. One sees the strangest things on flights. Especially long ones.

The bloody airplane made excellent time and landed an hour early in Dubai. I was now contemplating killing myself because my eight hour layover in Dubai airport had just been pushed to 9 hours thanks to the exuberance of a couple of pilots.

For the first time in my life, I despised sunlight. It streamed into every corner of the airport while I struggled to fall asleep on a very uncomfortable recliner. I hugged my bag on the left. Then I hugged it on the right. I took out my laptop to write some. Much good that did after a sleepless 24 hours and way too much orange juice fizzing in my bloodstream.

My resolutions to calmly float through this journey across continents came to nought. When I finally made it to Mumbai, I looked like I needed to get to rehab – and fast. My speech was slurred. My hair was a tangled mess. I did not offer to help anyone else retrieve their bags (which I usually do.) I even picked the wrong suitcase off the luggage belt. To add insult to injury, my bag was the very last one off the plane.

I looked at the Customs people warily. I considered bolting for the exit if they tried to get me into a queue. Or, collapsing in nervous shock (something I wouldn’t need to fake.) I think they intelligently sensed I’d had a bad day and let me go.

Needless to say, I’m not keen to get back on a long flight any time soon.


Neha Sahi Saigal said...

i think the 'i’m-so-beautiful-i-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself, slithery, sleazy glance!' is actually the, 'omg if my mascara gets goop everyone will no there's nothing more to me, so i better be perfect, wait - is that all there is to me? Of course, the whole world cant be wrong... i better pretend i'm so beautiful i dont know what to do with myself, else everyone'll know i have no clue what the heck i'm really all about look'... gives me the eebiejeebies... like the girl from the lift who adds a different colour to her hair or eyes every time we see her...

Saraswati said...


Eye of the Needle said...

Long distance travel would be so boring if we do not bump into people of all shades (pun intended)....

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