Saturday, January 31

Plumbing Depths

This one goes back a few weeks. The first-born of a new generation in our family was planning to tie the knot, and the Missus decided uncharacteristically late - perhaps my eminently avoidable influence - that we ought to make the trip to Ranchi to add to the congregation assembled in Jharkhand's capital city for the occasion. Post the usual motions that accompany such marital confusion-making (it would be a bit puerile to call it decision-making), the argument was settled in the customary fashion - after all W is for Winning - and the vanquished assigned the menial task of booking flight tickets. Skipping any remonstrations vis-a-vis our misconceived munificence - well deserved as they may be - let me get to the chase.

My favourite fare search engine revealed the penury of choices in connectivity between the national capital and the pride of Soren-land (this predates the ignominy of Tamar where Guruji achieved a near impossible first, loss for a sitting Chief Minister of an Indian state, using a by-elections to get formal sanctity for governance rights). The onward alternatives were limited to three, of which our much-maligned national carrier and the reincarnation of no frills-pioneer Air Deccan were known offenders on counts of service as well as timeliness. In fact, the third option also suited us beautifully in its early morning departure time - just right for the inviting festivities at a Big Fat Indian Wedding. And yes, mention must be made at this juncture, of this transporter's alluring tagline: a promise to touch sky-high, one believed, standards of excellence! Hence, setting aside any Shylockian considerations, a new personal high in domestic one-way transport purchase sweepstakes was scaled in a few clicks.

Come the anointed day and we rose at day-break - a chore that typically guarantees to dampen the spirit amongst the weak-fleshed - but, as foretold, the prospects of a delightful family reunion and its concomitant abundance of good cheer beckoned. Meru deposited us at the airport and we found ourselves at the relatively non-descript check-in counter in no time. Service was quick, although the resident critic turned her attentions to another's attire for a change, with a mild chuckle to note the incongruity in ground-staff's commercial finery - perhaps the colour, but more likely the grooming or absence thereof. In a state of partial sleep deprivation, one was more than relieved though, for a quick scoot through Security. Indeed, such was the jubilation at the extra moments of rest thus afforded, that a repeat appearance of the check-in staff at the terminal exit door was met with avuncular appreciation - forgetting momentarily that costs cut thus had not found their way to the fare calculator.

These economic considerations were promptly laid to rest a few minutes later - after all, one can only withstand so many jerks when expecting a quick dash to the aircraft and met with a cross-country drag race variety of ride. Seconds turned to interminable minutes, and minutes to many aching more, as our joy-ride lasted the length of the runway, across the breadth of the domestic terminal, and then halfway again through the runway at the opposite end. Not just once during the twists and turns in the morning chill, there being no air-con on the bus, did one get the feeling we had taken a road trip and not a flight to Ranchi.

All good things come to an end one supposes though, and few years later we found ourselves in a hitherto unknown nook of the certainly-not-so-large-as-to-be-uncharted Delhi airport. Two dusty aircraft in hues of aluminum silver and occasional blue greeted us but, in mocking wave of destiny, we were told we could not begin boarding, or disembark the jalopy we had done our safari in, for ubiquitous 'security' reasons. The lorryload of co-passengers soon gave ample voice to their frustrations though, and we managed to convince the driver to open the door, he acceding to our entreaties and relenting its use merely as an inlet for fresh air and not en route the aircraft. Blessed be these small mercies.

Moving with the script, after a wait of another few minutes, a Sumo driven at quasi-breakneck speeds made its appearance to reveal what seemed to be the ground staff. Notable of these was unquestionably their supervisor - quite the perfect Italian job: hair gelled back, day four stubble and toothpick dangling from a corner of the mouth completing the Cobra-Crime-is-a-Disease-I-am-the-Cure look. His malevolent glare dissipated in a jiffy our desires to alight the diesel contraption we had ridden thus far in, yet failed to work its magic to speed up the rest of his platoon as they somnolently soldiered to remove the stoppers under the aircraft's tyres and assorted other gestures to ready the plane. Yet more time gone and not a sign for us to start to board, nor of the aircraft door to open, or for that matter, of the cabin crew - in all, a veritable mockery of my extant flying experience.

It was at this precise moment that a whole new set of actors decided to enter the plot - the erstwhile Sumo's twin, driven at equally breakneck speed, and carrying a few more passengers - sorry, no cabin crew yet. My Out-of-Africa parody was complete when Cobra announced - if that be the correct verb to describe those unintelligible sounds mostly accompanied by constant flicks of the tooth-pick from one end of the mouth to the other, and wholly unaccompanied by any hint of an apology - that there was a 'technical snag' and they would check for a alternate aeroplane. By this time, frankly, one was at a stage where the mere acknowledgment of existence of a back-up aircraft in this hillbilly service was like a manna from heaven - and my cuppa joy was definitely overflowing, having sighted the elusive reclusive cabin staff at a distance too. God was certainly in his element and all right with the Wodehousian world, as the replacement carriage was deigned to be the one parked next door, saving one the blushes of another jungle safari. In any case, we were all confessedly beyond a state to speculate on the existence of a third bird in the fleet!

Flesh and spirit were more than willing, hence, as one gave the W a nudge and bounded up the few steps to the cabin - with thoughts a mix of relief, tiredness and hope. We were about to Chhoo Lo Aasman...

[To be continued!]