Monday, January 08, 2007

Flying Into The Sun

Five hours in, it occurs to me that a long-haul flight is probably the only place in the universe a teenager has difficulty falling asleep. Try as I might, squeezing my eyes shut and leaning my head against the coarse headrest leads me nowhere. Sleep refuses to take me; instead it prances around the edges of my consciousness, waving and pulling faces. Much like the annoying toddler in the seat in front. Only not as noisy.

I think my tiredness is making me confused. Typical half-heartedness. I wish it'd knock me out for a few hours instead.

* * *

Just as I am about to fall asleep, I'm dragged roughly back from the gates of oblivion by a polite cough from the presence standing by my seat. It's one of the stewards. Tentatively, he offers me a cognac. Progress I suppose. Last time I flew to India, the cabin crew were asking whether it was a goodie bag that I wanted.

Despite myself I decline his offer with a smile. He deserves it. All the stewards and stewardesses do. After all, a planeful of South Asians is hardly a recipe for plain-sailing. Lesser men and women may well have been driven to suicide if they had to deal with the kind of treatment we dished out.

The cabin crew served us with all the food and drink we could possibly want; we replied with mild insults and strong complaints, all in the hope of somehow ending up in the heaven of first-class from the hell of economy. Looking back, it might not have been the nicest thing to have done.

But it worked. At least, sort of. We managed to swap two cramped aisle seats for two marginally less cramped seats by a window. It was a small victory that felt disproportionately satisfying.

And that's when I realised. Whether by accident or design, in hindsight I can say that this plane journey readied me perfectly for the experience known as India. It was overcrowded. It was uncomfortable. The toilet facilities left a lot to be desired. Black hair and brown eyes were all that the eye could see. All around, people were filling in meaningless forms. You had to complain to get anything done.

But my God, was the food good. Now usually, I'm no fan of vegetarian dishes - I'll only eat them if there's no meat on offer. Yet the meals served on board this flight, all Indian preparations, were unbelievably delicious, and still contained not a trace of any sentient being. I guess this is the real reason that so many Indians are vegetarians - religion doesn't come into it.

So there it is, most of India contained within an aeroplane. It's amazing. Almost everything's here. Looking around at my fellow passengers, I can even see a few cows.

* * *

A couple of hours later when I landed, I realised how wrong I was. Trying to fit India into an aeroplane is like trying to fit an ocean into a teacup, or a lifetime into an obituary. Trying to describe the sights and the smells and the sheer life of the place using something as feeble as words is almost an exercise in futility.

But I can only try.


Anonymous said...

One should not be able to remain unfazed after reading this short story. The fabulous imagery, the horrible truth about what vexes us on planes are all but mind blowing.

"Sleep refuses to take me; instead it prances around the edges of my consciousness, waving and pulling faces. Much like the annoying toddler in the seat in front. Only not as noisy."

who can say no to that!? Although i find i have a relative easy time falling asleep, this little twirp is in for a big ass beating!

Assuming i was foolish enough to challenge you to a short story contest, you would win fair and square. Maybe a change in wind will come, but i doubt it..

splendid story, seeing as i can really connect to this story, it got the best of me. good job chapp.
looking forward to the next already.


Pascal Chatterjee said...

Instead of a challenge we could always join forces... The world is ours for the taking ;-)

Red Wolf said...

I think it was very good... this is exactly what the plane journey was like!!!