Excerpts from my column TALESPIN due for publication in The Wagon Magazine (Literary Monthly) – ‘I fly, therefore I am’
My flying related worries would commence while I am on land, at office coordinates to be precise. A typical cryptic instruction like ‘Proceed forthwith to the Travel Desk’, would be conveyed to me asynchronously on email, land line, mobile phone and to be sure, on the office address system which is heard loud and clear, of all places, in the rest room. Having been sufficiently corporate-domesticated, I would dash to the travel desk to be handed over the air ticket for the next flight proceeding through Bangalore, Colombo, Maldives, Dubai, Frankfurt, London Heathrow and Belfast, reaching the destination a full twenty four hours after journey commencement, being the cheapest flight available. In the true tradition of the Magellan circumnavigators of the Earth of the sixteenth century and their ilk, I would snatch the ticket in all enthusiasm and proceed to the Accounts to be fortified with the necessary foreign currency to see me through a week at the maximum in alien land. There would always be a lurking fear of going broke thereafter, with an imminent next world war breaking out or hurricane of category 5 severity hitting the nearby coast or Fujiyama erupting, throwing fresh piping hot lava, effectively disrupting communication and financial channels throughout. That would dry up my inward funds flow rendering me work famished all along or force me into wearing a broad rimmed hat and removing it immediately thirty times a minute at the passers by at market place, after office hours, collecting alms for sustenance.
I once had to fly within India taking an international flight and was instructed at the airport to fill up the embarkation card before boarding the flight, like the international passengers. The form had an array of questions as meaningful as, ‘Are you carrying more than Rs.213 in cash?’, ‘Are you above 3 feet tall?’, ‘Did you have an acne vulgaris attack in the last 7 years?’, requiring a yes or no for answer. When I politely pointed out to the airlines staff they were plain stupid to ask me fill that form up, they handed me over the de-embarkation form too, with the same questionnaire arranged in the reverse order.
On my duly completing the assignment and handing over to those in dire necessity of them, a huge rubber stamp was affixed on the forms with immense force enough to make the airport departure hall vibrate violently as caught in a mini earthquake. Walking to board the flight, I looked out of the corner of the eye to observe all the stamped forms being carried in a dirty blue plastic bucket, into the men’s toilet.
The next ritual to be undergone before being airborne is frisking for security clearance. Generally you may have to remove your blazer, wrist watch and your wallet before you are searched thoroughly for any concealed weapon. At times, when security threat is perceived to be on the increase, you may have to remove your waist belt, neck tie, socks and shoes as well and walk barefoot to the clearance gate with trousers sliding down dangerously without the support of the belt. As you stand with outstretched arms and with a vacant look of a grown up orphan for your turn to be frisked, you often would momentarily worry whether you had slipped a gun inadvertently into your trouser pocket while starting from home, only to be relieved the next second, you don’t have a gun or a home to write to, or both. The security personnel at their own will may ask you to do anything like turn a quick somersault or still worse, recite the multiplication table of thirteen, merely to satisfy themselves you are sober enough and are not going to act funny while in flight. At one of my glorious departures from the picturesque Mangalore, I was asked by the security officer to switch on my mobile phone and try calling my own number, like God men communicating with inner self. A few days after, passing through the same port of call, I kept my mobile phone switched on, awaiting the order for mystic self discourse when I was curtly told to keep the mobile switched off like all literates would do. If my ability to remember faces is something worth writing home about, I would vouchsafe, the security guard on both occasions was one and the same.
May be in my next flight I will be enjoying Dr.No without any interruption and have Sir Sean Connery and Ursula Andress as my co-passengers, with Ms.Andress in a business suit and Sir Sean, white bikini clad . They sure will have their own flight related tales to share.