Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I am writing this sitting in my hotel room. The Arabian Sea that I can see through the thick glass pane which doubles as a wall is boiling in the hot afternoon sun. I have come to Mumbai to attend this workshop on ‘Beyond Core Banking’ and have just checked into J W Marriott. Why am I in such a tearing hurry to post this piece in my blog? All I can say is that though I am no O’Henry, you’ll know when you read the last sentence.

The cabbies in Bengaluru from where I came to Mumbai had threatened that they would be on strike and were planning a rasta roko. I was not sure if I would be able to get to the airport in time and to be on the safe side, I set off a bit earlier than usual. Once the cab hit the airport road, I found that everything was normal. The traffic snarls were no more than usual. Used to Kerala where all life would come to a grinding halt if some splinter political party mentioned the word ‘strike’, I was just getting used to the Garden City.

The airport was teeming with passengers like me who had arrived early, not wanting to take any chances with the cabbies’ strike. The queue before the check-in counter at the airport was short. There were just three people ahead of me: a silver-haired lady and an apparently newly-married couple, perhaps on their honeymoon, judging by the cooing and cuddling. Heading for the hills, perhaps, I thought. Sheer curiosity, I must admit, I peeped at their ticket. It was in vain, for it was folded in such a way that I could not read the destination.

When their turn came, they asked for two window-seats.

‘Of course, sir,’ said the girl at the counter, ‘but most of the window-seats are taken. I can give you 12A, near the emergency exit and 12B.’

‘No, both of us want to look out through the window. Can’t you give us two windows?’ the bride said.

‘Hmmm… Let me see…’ She looked at the screen and then looked up at the passengers. ‘I can give you 14 F and 15F.’

‘That’ll be fine,’ the said in a chorus.

‘Okay, sir, here are your boarding passes.’

The next was my turn. Though the company rules permit me to fly executive class, I always travel business class, saving substantial sums for the company. As I had done a tele-check-in and indicated my preference, I was allotted the seat I had opted for: 10A.

The ETD was 1250 and I had two hours to kill. I read the newspapers strewn around. I checked my mail and surfed the net. Security check done, I did some window-shopping at the outlets of William Penn and Swarowski’s and at the Crossword bookstore, flipped through the pages of the recent autobiography of Mamata Banerjee, nicknamed Lady Dada by a popular magazine. Then I went and settled down on one of the vacant chairs near Gate 2.

As my eyes wandered, I spotted the young twosome, perched on bar-stools in the coffee-shop. A happy couple, I said to myself, enjoying each other’s company. The air-conditioner was overdoing its job and I felt cold. So did the girl, dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans, for, the boy was removed his jacket which she wore.

Check-in time. The queue was long. The flight must be full, I told myself. I was at the tail end. I missed the first two coaches carrying the passengers to the aircraft. By the time I entered the carrier, it was nearly full.

Unsettling those seated in the aisle seat and the one in the middle, I squeezed myself into my seat. The airhostess did the mandatory briefing and soon we were airborne.

I buried my head in Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta. I read about his experiences while writing the biography of Meenakumari. “I was told about one admirer she fornicated with casually who thought he had a good thing going. After a night of satisfactory lovemaking, he knocked the next afternoon on the door of her make-up room. ‘Kaun?’ (Who?) asked the lady. The admirer gave his name. She again asked ‘Kaun?’ The admirer again gave his name, this time providing more details, reminscing the actress of their union the previous night. ‘Raat gayi, baat gayi’ (The night has gone, so has the matter), she answered nonchalantly.”

I must have dozed off. Suddenly there was commotion. Someone was shouting at the top of his voice, but I could not quite get where the spluttering was coming from. The man was so angry that initially I could not figure out what language he was speaking. I turned in the direction from where the noise came. An air-hostess was standing in the aisle with her back turned towards me. The shout, I discovered, was from the seat farthest to her left and a wildly gesticulating hand could seen.

The hapless girl sternly, but politely, told the owner of the angry voice and the shaking fist, ‘Sir, you shouldn’t be speaking like that. The language you used is rude.’

He replied, ‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I was not using those words against you. It was against the one behind me. You must discipline other passengers when they misbehave.’ The man came down instantly, it seemed.

But not for long. He hollered, ‘This ****** ***** (an alliterative epithet describing a member of the fairer sex as belonging to canine species) has been kicking me from behind ever since the flight took off. I told the ******* ***** (Can you get it right at the first try? I challenge you) to stop it, but she won’t.’

He got up and As everyone looked back in astonishment to see where some of the choicest were coming from, he continued regardless, to breathe fire, savaging her parentage. And I discovered that he was the young groom I had see at the check-in counter and the coffee-shop. No prizes for guessing who his ire was directed at.

After belting out a few more invectives and bellowing, in the process proving that he was a polyglot in profanity, exhausted (or satisfied?), he sat down. After that, it was all quiet.

I returned to the book. An hour later, we landed.

As I picked up my bag from the carousel and walked towards the car that was waiting for me, I saw the young couple ambling along ahead of me, hand in hand: his right hand pushing the trolley with their baggage on it and his left hand holding her right, both enjoying each other’s company.

Was it that they were playing out a pre-written script? Had they forgiven each other - he for her kicks and she for his utterances?

Tailpiece: I wonder on two counts. One, would this mid-air combat qualify to be described as a dogfight? Two, a high-mile club with a difference?