Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Thoughts in a Jumbo

Navtej Sarna

A SHORT-HOP flight followed by a long and boring transit halt gives one a somewhat jaundiced view of life. Add to that a severe headache and you will understand why I began an instant and uncharitable why I began an instant and uncharitable dissection of my fellow passengers as soon as I had settled into my seat in the roomy club class of the jumbo. Through the haze of fatigue and sleep they crystallised into awesome types and larger than life.

As an impatient young man dived into the seat across the aisle, I recognised him instantly as the curious type. Even before we had taken off, he was delving into the seat pocket and giving a critical once-over to all the material that the airline has so thoughtfully provided. Having prioritised it, he chose the airline magazine as his first target. After that, he systematically went through the security instructions, the oxygen-mask and extinguish-your-cigarette syndrome and closely examined the freshen-up kit. By the time they began to serve dinner, his thirst for knowledge had led him to the fine print on the sewing kit packet. Relations between us deteriorated beyond repair when I found that he was reading my newspaper from the other side and seemed visibility irritated when I turned the page. Mentally telling him where he got off I turned away and found myself helplessly confronting the social type.

He smiled and pumped my hand and had handed to me a visiting card before I had time to duck. Discerning quickly that he had made a successful opening, he pitched in with his life’s story complete with childhood travails, aims-in-life and soul-searchings in the modern age. I mentioned somewhat indelicately that flights gave me a headache and he gave me a discourse on the need to practise yoga and hence maintain one’s equanimity. He himself was obviously a staunch believer in the theory that constant conversation was the most effective panacea for all such frailties. It troubled him little that my only response to his monologue was an occasional grunt and a baleful stare, While of course taking down my telephone number and promising to “get in touch”, I found myself almost wishing that my neighbour had belonged to the tribe of the sleepy ones.

This tribe, a prime example of which snored away within earshot, is perhaps the happiest of travelers. Having sprawled in senseless slumber for a few hours in the long leather chair in the transit lounge, they stumble into the aircraft, bleary-eyed and scarcely able to stifle a yawn. Fastening the seat belt once and for all they pull the blankets over the head and are henceforth oblivious to sumptuous meals and solicitous hostesses. The journey for them is at worst a disquieting dream. Otherwise harmless, they tend to get in the way after landing when one is trying to pull out the hand baggage and the sleepy one continues to sprawl with his legs across the aisle.

The most malevolent of all types faced me in the mirror as I prepared for the airport niceties. The grumpy type. The one who thinks that since he has a headache he has acquired the right to give dirty looks to all and sundry. The one who won’t lend a magazine, won’t carry on a civil conversation and objects to even letting his neighbours sleep. The most painful of all passengers. Thus chastened, I came back into the cabin offering mental apologies to all around and then curled quietly into a corner.