Flight, At Start..
Planes appear small, when we see from the ground, when we are little girls and boys, when we are not having a single chance of seeing the plane in the airway, taking off or landing down. After we had grown up, we see, feel how big it is, travel, walk within that, hand shake with the pilot, smile, chat with air hostesses, stewards, but still we awe or urged to come out of our work or study, whenever we hear the sound of a plane flying outside or when we look the trail of smoke from a jet plane.
Myself also sit in the same position of all. While I was in school, I ran out of my class to see the aeroplane flying. I peek with my slanting neck, through the kitchen window when I was cooking. I imagine the plane which is making sound 'zinggg..' over the building while I was occupied in work. These things come naturally to everyone as we are addicted to our interests. It wont change as we ages. Habits which was formed or developed during early years of life mostly not able to change.
When I flew for the first time from Madras to Bangalore, its a big endeavour. Then it becomes 'normal', after that 'more normal'. After my heart bypass surgery was done a year and half before (I posted posts about that earlier), I moved around the cities by road or by train, as I am an orator and a writer as well as a critic, I attend conferences and meetings often. But afraid of travelling through air. I had bitten by the fear of what happens if I have an attack while flying. Purposely I avoid it until my son, who is living in United Kingdom with his family, called me to stay with him for atleast three months in the six months tenure of tourist visa, to give a break in my work and giving my physical and mental health an uplift. I decided to give that idea a try.Packed rightly, 23 kg checked luggage, 5 kg (for 7 kg) cabin luggage and a handbag, set off from Coimbatore by road. My husband's repeated dialogue is nonetheless keeping safe of my documents, as he shooed off my fear easily. Still I am gripped with fear.
On the evening of my journey to Manchester from Chennai, with a stopover at Dubai, I insisted my sister to accompany me to the airport. When we were at the terminal, the visitors pass section was closed, due to the usual threat of terrorists. I was in the verge of tears. My DIL's father was also there to see me board. They both consoled me that they will stay there as long as I'll tell them that I cleared the security check. They aren't in sync with my fear as its not with the normal airport checks but with flying high. I was left alone in that highly lighted building.
Before entering the immigration check, the airlines staff asked me to hand over the cabin baggage to him as there is a little space left in the plane. There are many passengers with cabin luggage alone for Dubai drop. So he asked the connecting flight passengers to convert their cabin to checked luggage. So I depart from my small trolley, taking my jacket out. My sister who was there outside signed me what and I called her said this, this. We Indians are used to talk this blah, blah stuff and narrating in full gives us a soul sharing.
Now in the cafe inside the airport that costs your life I had two idlies and a coffee. It did some magic of coolness in my mind. Food, that too our Indian palette, always relieve us from sad or any bad mood, tantrums etc. Not-so-frequent travellers' sitting postures and the wary looks, gave me Good-Like feel. I boosted myself by asking me to think at a bigger ground. I am going to UK, Great Britain, London and all.. I'll visiting such exotic places, going spend my time with my children. This thought gave me an inner strength to the long lonely bored to-be-travel of 14 hours plus ahead.
Boarding announcements heard for my flight to Dubai. First for the business class, families with small children, disabled passengers. This zone-wise calling alerted the passengers. All searched their tickets. I checked mine and waited for my zone call. They announced that the passengers other than Called Zones to sit on their chairs. But our people are so clear of not listening to that. So they stood, but formed a line.
One little girl with her mother in the line, sang, 'I am going to see my papa' sort of this thing. Her mother smiled and said, 'I also.' She showed face and said, 'I only.' Then the mother said, 'I am going see places in Dubai. I am not for Dad alone..' The girl thought a while, 'I am also, going to see places..' Mother laughed and said, 'Both are going to see dad and hug him..' Little girl's face brightened up. This is the world of children. Sometimes the conversations we overhear unknowingly in a bored period cheer up to a level.
Inside, I got my seat right, and inserted me there. That's the right word, I guess. There is a little space between the seats. And literally less leg space. I kept my handbag on my lap and putting on the belt with the jacket on the handle is very much a talent. Now my hours old fear was back as the plane started its engine.
Nearby seat lad was curious about, what for I turned off the screen before me. I hadn't responded to his look. The screen before the zone I am sitting showed off the elevation, speed and angles the plane and the pilots intend to do or not intend to do, oxygen mask, dos and donts in the plane. I just sat there gulping saliva, as I think this would save my heart from an instant attack, instead of old fashioned saying of clearing the airway and thus the ears. The plane stabilised and nothing happened to me.
The air hostess started supplying the trays and I had a doubt whether she could provide me the right Indian Vegetarian meal that I insisted my son again while he reserved the ticket. The lad near me, got a tray and she asked him, if he wants any drinks. He immediately asked 'one glass of orange juice and a glass of water.' I got another doubt, were they won't give water with the food. I peeked over his plate. It had food foils rolled up all over and one small bowl at a corner which housed another small bowl within that which is covered by food foil again. I guessed it to be a dessert. He got his cups those he asked.
I got my tray and I clarified her about my option of Veg meal, specifically Indian one. She said 'Yes' in a strong and polite manner. I clearly understand the fact how strong and politeness go hand in hand. So I controlled myself from asking her for a glass of water. I asked her lemon juice for the question of any juices.
Now I opened to see what's inside the little bowl. It a liquid. I couldn't see clearly in the dim light. I tasted it. By default, its simply WATER ! Ho!
I ate a little. Decided to sleep. Decisions of the mind are not always welcomed by our own body. It needs comfort, that it is enjoying up to the previous moment. Deprived of sleep, little leg space to move and the small seat space made me irritable and uncomfortable.
Before getting into the plane, I waded through the internet. It says, the bypass patients must take a little walk in between the long flight duration. So they better prefer for the aisle seat as its convenient to stand and walk without disturbing the adjacent passengers. Without knowing this, I insisted on the window seat as I usually do so in Shatabdi train which is my sole travelling mode, I enjoy the most. But this Chennai to Dubai is a four plus hours travel and I told to myself one time break of going out to 'loo' is enough. After two hours, I shook that lad sitting next to me and instead of showing the 'pinky', I told 'Rest Room.' He passed the word to the next woman, who was bulky enough to out thrust herself from the seat and made the way for me with a smile. I thanked her.
When I finished off and opening the door, the lad, next seat is standing in front of the toilet door. This is the opportunity for him also. So I shooed off the guiltiness of disturbing two people from their sleep.
The landing time is nearing said one announcement. I saw the screen up there. It showed the connecting flights terminal numbers. I quickly went through that, but I missed mine. I waited for the next time that screen to prompt. I kept my body language in minimal as my inner tension wasn't be showed off. It came and prompted 'B14' for Manchester.
Getting down at the Dubai airport, I saw the buses standing here and there. Men stood there with placards for connection flights. I searched for the word that I mugged up for the last half an hour. No such words. I asked one man of African origin carrying one such placard and he prompted a bus by using his right hand. There are two buses on that side. I moved and got into the first one and promptly verified with a nearby standing man in sixties whether its for the right bay. He nodded. I learnt so many sign languages since I boarded the plane. I guess, this is mostly enough instead of learning languages.
The bus I got in crossed B10, B11, B13, B14, B15, B16... no, its still going.. When I got the ticket at first, my daughter in law, who travelled alone this same journey, a year back, with her five month old baby, luggages and stroller, but in daylight, told me we have to walk a lot for the connecting flight. After seeing my arriving and boarding gate in Dubai being same, the number three, my son said 'no problem, mom.. Its near.. there is free wifi. you can connect and message in whatsapp.. dont worry..' 'Don't Worry' are the coin words that makes anyone to go into the mode of worrying.
The bus stopped in terminal B 27 or something. My stress level is in the verge of a break. Travelling alone, no mobile connectivity, stayed back after-effect of heart bypass surgery's consistent leg pain all made me tired of running through adventurous maze. There showed a sign board 'Connecting Flights'. There is a security check point. They asked us to remove our shoes also. We ladies sat on a long sitting chair like structure and thoughtlessly scolded the security people.
The dimly lighted path way after that ended in an escalator. A man stood there like our Indian traffic policemen at the road junction, with one hand stretched and other hand 'Go..Go.. Jarugandi..' style. We all elevated by the escalator and again a maze.
At last a counter stands on the side of the pathway. Some people crossed it and hurried. One phrase in Tamil came to my mind, 'aattu manthai, maattu manthai maathiri..' (Moving like a herd of cows or goats). So I decided to stop and ask. She directed me vaguely and again I am in search of 'B14' board. Its not India like, I thought. Hundreds of people are moving through this way to so many terminals. They are mostly used to this airport, I murmured. Europeans, Africans, South Asians are the most. Most of the Indian people who travelled with me to Dubai are the working population. They got down there.
No place to sit there in that terminal. Fully occupied. I went and asked one man, about the vacant seat near him, 'Is there someone coming?' 'Yes..' was the most polite answer, I heard, without moving his eyes out of the mobile. Most of them are busy with their mobiles at that time of the night, around 1. I stand there, changing my legs in turn to bear my weight. Some people sat on the floor near the walls. I tried to connect the wifi, got it right, and messaged my son and husband. You couldn't make calls from that wifi, but messages worked well. My son was happy that I crossed one part of my journey successfully and thumbs up for the next leg of it. Mmm.. Bad.
Being a woman writer and feminist, I honestly accept the fact our Indian women are double sided. Not more on feminism and not less on family dynamism. Each woman has her own views about feminism and makes it suitable according to her life. Common phenomena is that being a woman writer and forward thinker, that you are supposed to be capable of travelling alone, meet anyone, dare not to think what others will say. But reality is little bit different. Boldness somewhat backlogs when we are brought up in a true Indian male dominated family. Girls are grown with some restrictions. Dependability is the main handicap. Women, in spite of their boldness, expect some dependence to lean on men. Thats the 'I am travelling alone', 'No one is here with me' phrases repeat in a woman's mind. Myself is not an exception. I come to terms for every other instances are not to be like that and I have to do it alone by any means.
After the security check, all passengers awaited on a big area. A man on his sixties, started coughing and it seemed not to end. Coughed severely, he simultaneously started searching his bag. I was intended to help him, but my son's advice after tickets were booked stopped me doing so. He told me not to look or watch someone keenly that is 'paraakku paarkirathu' in Tamil. Neither try to make a casual unnecessary talk with others nor help others without their consent. No one went near him.
He is coughing and gasping at the same time. He took a bottle from the bag and drank that. Then he felt some solace. He sat quietly after that. The man sitting next to him smiled a little by seeing him and returned his head to the mobile. Is this the world of decency? Is the civic way of behaving? Or we, Indians are over reacting? Are we people all are drama queens and kings? Without someone asking for a help, you must not interfere to do that is a practical way of not disturbing others. But if he is serious, how can he ask for a help when he is unable to talk? Then they are taught that situation as emergency and help arrives immediately. Still I can't accept this type of civilization, till I had experienced one during my stay. I'll come to that later.
When the boarding call heard, I was glad to board. My body's sleepy cells pleaded my eyes to close. I decided to sleep, once I boarded the plane. But it always wont happen as I said earlier. Its a big double decker jet, having more leg space, comfortable viewing and all. I got the seat on front of the ground floor and first floor steps started little nearby to me. My next seat was occupied by a young girl from Tanzania who is for higher studies in Manchester. Mostly Europeans filled the plane, as I cant recognise or split them up as Britishers, Scandinavians, Germans or Polish people. All are alike at that time. But during my stay period, I learnt somewhat to recognise people by their accent and physique.
Fear of surgery was not now with me this time. So at first, I switched on the screen in front of me. Have the headphone on my ears. Search for some music. In the Asian sect, A R Rehman music, some kajals, carnatic music like MS were there. ARR's songs were not the regular ones we listen in our houses. Searched Indian movies, particularly Tamil. 'Merku Thodarchi Malai', I already watched that one, but somehow watched a quarter portion while I finished off with the little snack that was supplied, which contains sandwich and pineapples and had a black coffee. My sleep was driven completely. My next seat girl, cuddled herself within the blanket provided and was in deep sleep. Next seat was occupied by a lad, who still seeing the movies with half eyes closed.
I turned off the screen for sometime. I tried not to awaken. So slept for an hour. Its an eight hours journey. Dont go for counting the hours as our mind would wander from time differences between this country and that, where it is now flying (as displayed), what time is it in Istanbul, Munich, Brussels and Amsterdam. Deprived of sleep, I started wading through the movies and found one name new, ' Evening Shadows' a Hindi & Tamil mixed movie with English subtitles. Its about a young gay man from a traditional South Indian family. Little interesting, but with the usual hardcore angry traditional father and an emotional mother and pestering relatives. Stopped it when the breakfast was served.
Our supposed Indian national food is 'Upma' had been served in different names like kichadi, Suji Veg and all. Vada is also served and its a delight to have the South Indian meal instead of a north Indian meal. And then I was mostly bored and couldn't sleep.
The window seat was the solace for me as the Bodhi tree for The Buddha. The view down is absolutely amazing. Canals, small hills, green pastures, fields, wind farms (that too in water) all along the way was amazing. And the Manchester airport is sitting amid a big lawn. At last it landed. And the immigration check and luggage pickup cost an hour or more in Manchester airport. My son waited there to pick me.
Though its a long journey and I am so bored and tired, its a new experience of breaking the 'travelling alone' taboo.