Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Flight

So here I am, back in the mother country after a hiatus of four years. I was told by a number of people to look forward to a lot of change. Lord, there were changes, and how. The most important change for me was, no more free booze on trans-Atlantic flights. What? This doesn't make any sense! I know a number of people who keep flying across the Atlantic just for the free booze. Me, for one. In this depressed economy, why would airlines risk losing this valuable segment of their clientele for some trivial savings in alcohol?

So since I knew I would be paying for booze anyways, I decided to start imbibing in the airport itself. Newark airport is an alcoholic's paradise. From the security check-in right up to the gates, I passed a number of fine drinking establishments, beginning with the Heineken lounge, which was full of people graphically demonstrating their enthusiasm for this rather ordinary beverage in outlandish ways irritating to the average person, and culminating in the Sam Adams lounge, where people were drinking Sam Adams. And lounging. This way of life looked good to me, so I jumped right into it.

The barmaid turned out to be very friendly. I ordered a Boston Lager, paid her in cash and began looking for a seat near a power outlet. The barmaid yelled after me.

"Are you in loaf?"

She had a pronounced Spanish accent.

"Excuse me?", I said, stopping in my tracks.

"I said, are you in loaf?", she repeated.

"What? Why are you asking me that?", I said.

While she disappeared momentarily to tend to another customer, I gave the guy at the next seat a puzzled glance.

"Has she asked you if you're in love?", I said.

"No", he replied.

"Why's she asking me that, then?", I said.

"Maybe she wants to lay you right here on the counter", he replied.

I started thinking, perhaps it would be a good time to be running for my life. Before I could do that, the lady returned.

"Hey, come on, are you in loaf?", she said.

"Why do you keep asking me that?", I said.

"Here, you gave me an extra twenty dollar bill", she said. "You got to be in loaf".

I grabbed the cash and found a seat.

For the next three hours, I proceeded to do Jim Koch proud. In fact, I'm pretty sure I did his father, grandfather and two uncles on his wife's side proud as well. With the entire line of heavenly Kochs bestowing upon me the golden shower of their pride, I went to the gate and boarded the plane.

I had a window seat and sure enough, it turned out to be right slam bang in the geometric center of the wing. There was no way I would be seeing any scenery unless, cross your fingers, the wing were to fall off. But I'd heard disturbing stories about people having faced some difficulty in flying a trans-Atlantic jumbo jetliner with only one intact wing so I uncrossed my fingers.

Continental Airlines has some bizarre food on its Newark-Mumbai flights. It's almost as if the company has no Indian employees and none of its employees have any Indian acquaintances. So when it came to creating a menu for, let's say at a conservative guess, a half-planeful of Indian people, Continental Airlines was nonplussed. So they turned to the Great Gazoogle for advice. Searched for the term "Indian food", randomly paired each search result with an item of American food and voila, there was the menu.

The main course was chicken biryani. With chicken prepared Italian style. There was also salad. With two green chillies that had about as much spice content as a cotton blanket. And there was moong dal. Which appeared to have been sauted in butter with breadcrumbs. And for dessert, there was shrikhand. Followed by fat free plain yogurt. All in all, a strange exotic dinner. No doubt prepared by someone with the head of an Indian, the body of an American and the breasts of Angelina Jolie. I don't know, it's just that studies have concluded that every male thinks about Angelina Jolie's breasts about once every 5 seconds.

I don't know what it is about Indians that makes it extremely difficult for them to stay seated on flights. It's like they are just aching to be liberated from the shackles of relaxed buttock and pain-free lower back. And it's always the guy in front of you. He's either getting up from his seat and looking around, trying to gauge the probability of success of inciting a mass uprising against the pilot's fascist diktat of remaining seated until the fasten seat-belts sign's been turned off, or jabbing his fingers at the LCD, trying to get it to work, even though everybody else's is clearly also showing the same start-up screen. That is why when you have to fart in the plane (and let us not pretend that you don't because that would contradict the very laws of physics), it's a good idea to direct the jet right at the person in front of you. See, you don't know the guy behind you. For all you know, he might be a decent fellow, perhaps even a philanthropist, trying to save the world from AIDS and hunger. He certainly deserves the benefit of doubt. On the other hand, the guy in front of you is definitely a douchebag. He's probably responsible for half the world's AIDS and hunger. So fuck him and let the methane fly.

Despite the unorthodox and slightly nauseating food, I had a great flight. Hey, how could you go wrong with non-stop? Plus, my entire row of seats was unoccupied so I had a considerable amount of leg room to indulge my restless legs syndrome in. And soon, in what appeared to be practically no time whatsoever, the plane was preparing for its final descent, the pilot had turned the fasten seat-belts sign back on and the asshole in front of me was again looking for people to accompany him in playing catch in the aisles.

Mumbai airport was a pleasant surprise. Somebody appears to have finally come to a realization that even though the airport is government property, that in itself does not mandate its resemblance to a government office in appearance. The walls seemed to have been freshly painted, the corridors were lush with carpeting and even the signs requesting travelers not to jump into a cab with a random stranger offering to accompany you to a hotel were far more persuasive, affiliated as they were with an institute of considerably less decrepitude than before.

The other thing I noticed about Mumbai airport is that in order to get to the Baggage Claim from Immigration, everybody and their uncle has to pass through the duty-free store. I guess somebody's been taking lessons from Vegas, eh? This is where sales people accost you and gently explain why, if you were to refrain from purchasing a liter-sized bottle of Chivas Regal for your father, you would be a terrible son and your father would be so ashamed of you as not to include a single item of fakery in his narratives of your exploits to the neighbors. So heck, you purchase two bottles, because the excruciating banality of your life certainly demands fakery in its recounting, plus, they are on sale and come with a free DVD. This DVD contains hilarious real-life footage of people being convinced into purchasing two bottles of Chivas Regal instead of one. Who, for crying out loud, could pass up this offer?

Not you.

And neither could I.


gauri said...

Good to see you blogging again. Enjoy your stay. And uh, remember your promise to blog about the old haunts in Pune :P


gawker said...

Thanks, I'm hoping to, once I repair the scooter tire I punctured yesterday.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Suddenly, Pune looks like a fun place to visit.
How did you get there from Mumbai? One of those airport buses? (They take long enough to get from the plane to the terminal, so who knows, they might be driving via Pune)


gawker said...

My folks came to pick me up. I said I would take the bus but I guess my dad had a lot of pent up road-rage to be released.

Aman Sharma said...

Good one! Made me smile. Liked the narrative.

As I read through the post, I could actually draw parallels with what I have been observing on international flights. Glad you did not rake up and 'publicize' the habit of Indians to pick up a fight or two on board!

Keep your posts flowing! Enjoyable.

Twitter id : @amancool5

gawker said...

Thanks, appreciate it.

ANAGHA said...

Nice blog there...
Good to see some Pune bloggers on the block...

Aditya R said...

Well, if India gets you to blog more often, then you should stay there.

Keep them coming. I'll be in Mumbai in about a week. And then spend 2 days in every southern city - Blore, Chennai, Hyderabad - before my fatigued body realizes this is a 'vacation' only in name. It doesn't help when every member of your family is in a different city (spread over three countries, me included) Thank god my dad's visiting India.

Anurag said...

Good timing for a visit, huh? Weather's pleasant. :)

Unknown said...

As long as it keeps you blogging, please to stay in India only

Anonymous said...

enjoy pune. drink it all in and eat some kaathi kababs! welcome back to blogging, entertaining post.

Rumpelstiltskin said...

Nice one,gawker.

gawker said...

Anagha, Rumpelstiltskin : Thanks

Aditya : Look at it this way : By the time you return, you might be engaged. Wait, that's probably a bad way to look at it.

Anurag : Yeah, although at times, I do have to scrape off burnt hair off my head.

TGFI : I'm sure writer's block followed me here. It just took the next plane.

bhad : Thanks, I'm getting up to speed on my eating. I'll probably meet the gang this week.

sherene said...

Four years? Yikes. Quite a hiatus, that!

Hehe, surprised you didn't mention the desi tendency to start opening up the over-head luggage as soon as the aircraft starts to taxi on the runway :P

P said...

Oi pandu. You have an ncg-type of fan. Eww.

RukmaniRam said...

you censored my comment! wait, censored isn't the word. you banned it? prevented it from seeing the light of day? damn, I'm at a loss for words. look what you did!

gawker said...

sherene : That's because most times, it's the same guy who's so eager to get off his seat.

P : kya re?

Rukmani : Did I? I'm sorry, it must have slipped through with the bots. I never ban comments. Would appreciate if you could post it again. Also, something wrong with blogger, shows me one unmoderated comment but refuses to show me which one it is.

Rachel said...

LOL. This one was a really good narration of your flight. You do have a wicked since of humour.

Utkarsh Dubey said...