Continental Flight 82 from Newark to New Delhi. Thirteen straight hours wedged in a window seat doing my imitation of a sardine. Elderly couple on the seats next to me (henceforth referred to as Auntyji and Uncleji), clearly flying back to India from the US for the first time ever. Falstaff being his considerate, helpful self. Unending drama.
Crisis 1: As the plane pushes back from the gate and begins to taxi towards the runway, Falstaff, being inexperienced in these matters, commits the terrible blunder of starting to read a book (a set of Cheever's short stories). Immediate gasp of shock from his co-passengers. Doesn't he realise that with his book raised up like that Uncleji can't actually SEE the runway?! How does he expect the plane to take off if Uncleji's visibility is impaired? How dare he put the safety of the entire plane in jeopardy this way?
Falstaff meekly lowers hands and continues to read with book held at arm's length. Only now Uncleji's pointing arm is in the way. Uncleji apparently feels that unless he carefully points out all the relevant sights to Auntyji, she might miss some of them (after all, there's so much to see out of an aircraft porthole). The fact that in the process of doing this Uncleji narrowly misses taking Falstaff's nose off does not apparently concern Uncleji.
Crisis 2: The first on-screen announcements begin. The message flashing on the blue screen reads: "We hope you had a pleasant flight. Thank you for flying with us. We appreciate your business" and "Please ensure that all relevant paperwork is completed before disembarking from the plane". All this before our flight has taken off.
Uncleji has noticed this. He excitedly points this out to all those sitting around him, but the rest of us just shrug, figuring someone goofed up and it'll be corrected soon enough. Uncleji, however, belongs to a generation that is much less apathetic about matters of national importance, and feels duty bound to jump up from his seat (disregarding the fasten seat-belts sign, but what's a little risk when such weighty matters are at hand) and go find a harried flight attendant who he can explain this to. Eventually (some ten minutes later), the announcements get corrected. Uncleji beams with a hero's pride.
Crisis 3: Auntyji and Uncleji have ordered special vegetarian meals. Said meals contain rice (check), pickle (check) but (horror of horrors!!) no CURD!! This is unacceptable. Even westernised barbarians like Falstaff, who are eating Chicken Cacciatore, get curd. (And pickle. Because there's nothing like a little imli flavouring to spice up your pasta sauce). Uncle-ji indignantly tries to catch flight attendant's eye. Flight attendant, like all good waitstaff, has eyes carefully trained to remain uncaught. Eventually, growing desperate, Auntyji (who has clearly spent her two months in the US assidiously watching NFL) comes through with a flying tackle, stopping the fleeing steward in his tracks.
The news of the Great Curd Treason does not faze the steward, however. He points out that Auntyji and Uncleji had asked for a vegetarian meal and curd, being a dairy product, is non-vegetarian (where Continental came up with this particular brainwave is beyond me). That's why they've been given grapes instead.
Brief moment of silence while Uncleji's Tam Brahm brain struggles to cope with idea of grapes being a substitute for curd. Sound of bearings squealing, then giving way in protest. "But we want curd", Uncleji says, with the kind of dogged consistency one hopes for from the Indian Cricket Team. Eventually curd is provided. Once again the good citizens of Gotham can sleep in peace.
Crisis 4: Meal over, Auntyji and Uncleji decide they're in the mood for some in-flight entertainment. A fifteen minute struggle ensues, in which Uncleji unhooks his wife's seat belt, switches all available reading lights on and off, reclines and brings forward his seat 273 times, narrowly escapes making long-distance calls to Swaziland and almost succeeds in connecting his headphones to the rivets holding his seat together, but is still no closer to actually switching his entertainment system on. At this point Falstaff's earlier hooliganism (see Crisis 1) is forgiven and his help is enlisted. Falstaff proceeds to give careful instructions, helping Uncleji to get to point where he's happily watching Video Channel 2. Uncleji then proceeds to 'help' Auntyji with her system. The fact that Auntyji seems to have managed to get the system to work by herself and is happily immersed in some inane Karishma Kapoor film (I know, I know - the adjective is redundant) makes no difference. She's a woman, therefore it's his duty to guide her.
Two minutes later Auntyji's interactive screen menu has been 'permanently' set to Japanese, a language that Auntyji, sadly, does not understand. She'll have to do without entertainment for the rest of the flight. Just her bad luck. Auntyji takes this philosophically. Uncleji however, decides that it's best not to tempt fate by actually attempting to change channels on his screen, with the result that he proceeds to spend the remaining 11 odd hours of the flight watching endless repeats of Big Momma's House 2 (clearly the folks at Continental have not read this).
Crisis 5: It's time to fill out disembarkation cards. In the process of doing this, Uncleji discovers that they have only two luggage tags, though they'd checked in three bags. Panic. Falstaff (whose skill with entertainment systems has entirely redeemed him) is consulted, and is forced to admit that yes, there are only two tags when there should be three (the math to prove this is hard, but nothing that some elementary matrix differentiation can't solve). An irate Uncleji proceeds to call the steward. Recriminations fly. Auntyji is almost in tears and is being consoled by other Auntji's for her grevious loss. Uncleji is growing angrier and angrier. Other members of the crew have come over to see what the trouble is. People at the back of the plane are beginning to wonder if we're being hijacked. A few of them are already trying to work out the best way to storm the cockpit.
At this point, one of the crew members points out that the tags in question are from April and are marked New Delhi to Newark. They are thus obviously the tags from the time that Auntyji and Uncleji flew to the US. The tags for this flight must be somewhere else. Auntyji proceeds to search desperately through her purse. Sure enough, three other tags emerge. It's 8:00 pm in Delhi, 10:30 am in Newark, we're 6th in the queue waiting to land, and all's well with the world again.
P.S. Yes, I'm back in Delhi for six weeks. Hence the gap since the last post.