My First Flight Alone: From Amsterdam To New Delhi

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You have already read how my flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam was delayed because of the level of difficulty in switching on my cell phone.

The three-hour gap at Amsterdam airport before boarding the connecting to India was thus shrunk by an hour. I still had two hours to while away, so I settled down with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a hefty 1088-page book—checked out from Roswell library as a tribute to the author who had recently committed suicide—which I intended to finish during my visit. At the end of the trip, I was as successful in my mission as I am with all other projects in life—I got through a whopping 1% of it.

While trying to keep my eyes on the book I was also blissfully aware of my surroundings, buzzing with colorful fellow Indians—the bawling tots, the buoyant youngsters, and the bored elders. I could hear various Indian accents and dialects. My heart was filled with warm feelings. The atmosphere reminded me of fairs and marketplaces back home. The only difference was that the stores were selling insanely expensive stuff, which made me long for the pestering street peddlers, who sell everything for almost free. I always ask for one more, if I get something free. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Here, instead of waiting for the boarding announcement to form a sheepish line, people started gathering near the gate like a pack of hounds. I also got up and played my part of a female hound. Finally, when the announcement came through, the eagerness and the delightful excitement reminded me of the school days when we used to get laddoos on Independence Day. Those were the days when we were scared of our teachers’ canes. Who the hell did these airlines workers think they were? The female announcer was continuously screaming at us to form a single line and repeating, “Please be patient. We will not leave until each one of you has boarded.” As if we didn’t know that.

Anyhow, in no time, all of us were inside the plane. My row was next to the pantry. I fitted my bag in the overhead bin after a great deal of shoving and pushing, and then deposited myself on the window seat. A Sikh gentleman, who I later learned was coming from Montreal, acquired the aisle seat, while the middle seat remained vacant. When the plane started taxiing I couldn't restrain myself from shouting, “Jai Mata Di!” Others also joined in wholeheartedly.

Thanks to Ma Unicorn the plane took off effortlessly. We settled down, making ourselves at home. On the seat in front of me, there was a young mother, who was continuously tattling with her neighbor, who appeared to be a bachelor in his early twenties. Left on his own, the toddler was staring at us from above the seats. Only when I made scare-the-kid face at him and he started bawling did the mother pay any attention to him. Guys, you should not send your young wives alone on long flights.

The middle-aged person from Montreal, sitting beside me, enlightened me by revealing his purpose of India visit. He was going to attend his friend’s son’s wedding. He asked me about the “job-joob situation” in Atlanta. To which I replied, “So-so hai ji,” meaning, it is so-so.”

Contrary to my previous flight where I couldn’t sleep because of the silence of the snobs, this time, the familiar din of people, exercising their leg muscles and vocal cords, sent me into deep slumber. When I woke up, I was startled to see the gentleman from Montreal occupying the middle seat next to me. I felt uneasy. He clarified his move, asserting that there was too much disturbance at the aisle seat due to the adjacent pantry. I didn’t buy his argument and looked away disdainfully, when suddenly, tabhi achanak, just as the sacred ash falls from Bhagwan Sai Baba’s pictures, water started dripping on my neighbor from the ceiling. It was certainly Ma Unicorn’s doing.

The Montrealean kept flicking the droplets for a while, and then summoned the flight attendant, who handed him a few tissues as a solution. Finally, when the tissues were drenched to their combined capacity, he decided to return to his seat. I thanked Ma Unicorn in my heart.

Now we were approaching our beloved nation, the sare jahan se achcha one. To be honest, it didn’t look any different from the sky. Actually, I could see only clouds. But it did make my fellow travelers hyperactive.

I too got up to go to the toilet, but found a lot of people already in waiting. Nearby, a few bright loquacious passengers—all Indians—were conversing with a Dutch flight attendant. This made the wait somewhat interesting, even though I could hear only tit-bits.

“Do you like India?” I heard one of the passengers ask the flight attendant, who sat there in his white shirt, a blue vest, and a blue tie like a withered sapling.

“Of course, I do.”

“You look tired,” another one quipped.

“It’s always like that on our flights to India. Indians are a bit demanding. You know what I mean?”

Huh? Those flight attendants had not even been up to the mark. On my earlier flight the toilets had been tidy—the whole while.

“Yes, yes, we understand,” chorused my fellow travelers.

“We get a day off after our flight to India.”

The guys chuckled at this. Even I couldn’t stop grinning. They may be named Royal Dutch Airways, but we Indians are the real royalty, especially our men folk. We are so proud of them.

(Related: NY TIMES: In Flight For Better India, Best to Look Within)

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  1. oohh.. travelling alone can be a real pain at times.. :( :(
    I am glad you did all your journey well :) :)
    Nice blog... I am following you and hope to see you around :) :)
    Happy Blogging, Keep Writing and Stay Connected..!!

  2. he he reminded me of the school days when we used to get laddoos on Independence Day.
    that was hilarious.. liked reading u

  3. God, yes! I can't sleep when it's too quiet, either! I need an aunty from upstairs bawling when the husband comes home drunk, the security guy down below yelling at the teenagers secretively smoking cigarettes, and 70s Bollywood music blaring from an unplaceable source at all hours of the night.

    It's more comforting than a half-pounder with thick swathes of mayo, and a swig of cheap wine.

  4. @Madhulika, @Anamika: Thanks :-)

    @Rindo: Ha ha that's funny :D

  5. Indians are a bit demanding, khaate peete ghar ke hain bhai. :P

    Nice read.

    Blasphemous Aesthete

  6. Hail Indian Railways which makes us this "houndish" :)

  7. I got through a whopping 1% of it., happens with me most of the times, also that makes me discussing with intellectual folks like how much I adore that book/Author. :P

  8. @Anshul: Ek se badkar ek nawabjade hain! Just rhyming :-)

    @Ashish: Yup! We can list many more things to pass the buck :D

    @Brijesh: I read summaries on Wikipedia for that purpose!

  9. Thanks to the kripa of Ma Unicorn you made it safely and live to tell the tale of your epic journey from Amsterdam to New Delhi... Jai Ma Unicorn!

  10. Jai Maa Unicorn ki jisne Giribala ko Montreal wale ke panje se bachayaa.

  11. lol...that was a fun ride...and yes, Indians are a bit demanding :)

  12. hmmm seems more like an Indian American and Indian Canadian rivalry on Dutch air :)

  13. @Sammy, @Purba: Satya wachan! Jai Ma Unicorn!!

    @SUB: thanks for reading :-)

    @Harsh: You got it right! The young mom and the bachelor were also Indian Canadian :-)

  14. Well, as long as the bawling tots didn't keep kicking your seat from behind, you're good to go! Also, Infinite Jest – an unfortunate choice for a long flight isn’t it? :)

  15. Haha, u had a very interesting journey! :)
    I didn't understand the Ma Unicorn part, though.. :O

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  16. It's been my experience that the overhead cabin is overflowing in the second leg of the flights to India. It is no coincidence that the flight is also full of we Indians.

    With great Indians come big baggages.

  17. @Gargi: I love kids. They are a joy to have around. The unflattering mention in the post was just to make it interesting. You are right about Infinite Jest, but I had only that book with me at that time :-)

    @Yash: To know about Ma Unicorn follow this link:

    @Sairam: That's correct. Everything is overflowing on those flights :-)

  18. airport reminded u of fairs n marketplaces heheh

    this was a nice read

  19. hahahah.. loved the Ma Unicorn doing :) :) hate to say this but at the cost of your trouble I did enjoy reading this post, blame it on your narration :) :) :)

  20. Loved this post! The Maa Unicorn's doing was a manna from heaven. Btw, it's a bit unusual considering I read several manuscripts everyday and it becomes kinda difficult to actually arrive at something you like. You should consider writing a book.

  21. Thanks Sujatha, SuKu, and Arcopol, Nice to see you all...Keep visiting the blog :-)