Friday, June 24, 2005

Tales From Middle Earth 3: Mid Air

I hadn’t banked on the potency of the cucumber daiquiris. I hadn’t bothered to move my watch a half forward to sync with Indian Standard Time either. The thundering cannons in my nightmare translated to frantic knocking on my door. I charge out of my bed to open it, only to discover the Uberharem standing there- each of them dressed to kill. “The hotel van is ready to go” they chime in chorus. “But there’s still half an hour to go” I plead. “Oh no there isn’t” the chorus respond. Damn. I had intended to adjust to local time- the damned daiquiri got in the way. My beauty routine was slashed in half and I entered a van of very grouchy looking people. Attempts at polite conversation were futile. I had kept them waiting and Delhi heat caused them to resemble heads of lettuce in a sauna.

On to Delhi airport. Why oh why does one of the world’s sexiest cities have to have one of the unsexiest airports ? Delhi airport manages to make “Islamabad International” look good – and that’s no mean feat. There are no lifts, the wiring has come apart, the floor boards stand uprooted, the duty free shops are basic and the least said about the restaurant the better. The only saving grace (for me) was a large cigar shop. Having procured my Cohibas, I discovered I could only light up at the bar. Dimples and I ordered coffee as a group of delayed Keralans stared wistfully into their Kingfishers. Time moved ponderously. I stared at our tickets. Druk Air. “Dimples, have you ever heard of this airline?” “No. Never. Ever.” “What do you think “Druk” means?” “It means “Dragon” darling. I’ve done my homework.”

Time to board. Another flash of microwave heat. The transit bus weaves its way through an unending maze to arrive at one of the smallest aircraft I have seen. Its belly rises a mere yard above the tarmac. My stomach churns. Strange, because I haven’t eaten since the cucumber daiquiri. The harem smiled weakly. I rose and they followed me, Saudi style. I crouched and entered the jet. Jewel and I agreed to sit together. I looked around for my the other half of my seat belt. It didn’t exist. The crew looked distinctly underage. The jet shudders and –miracle of miracles- rises. The coffee trolley arrives jangling an odd assortment of drinks. I opt for a stiff vodka and tonic. “But its only eleven in the morning” Jewel pleads. Ignoring her I ask for a swift refill. Adventure flying can be fun.

Flying on a Stoly haze, I finally mustered the courage to stare out of the window. The view is, literally, breathtaking. Snow capped peaks rise through the clouds and seem near enough to touch. An Oz accent comes on and points out Everest on the right hand side of the jet. My instinctive reaction is to register the sheer loneliness of the peaks. Wow. There are places more isolated than Islamabad. The hissing silence is punctuated by the sound of a hundred digital cameras rising to the occasion. The view is dutifully captured. A stray voice says “Preeti did you get the south face.” “Yes Daddy, I did.” The jet does a nauseating bank so the audience can get a better view. My vodka tonics swirl anti clockwise. What the heck. Druk Air may be an awful airline but nobody can ever accuse them of not obliging their passengers.

More Stoly. The underage crew come around and ask everyone to remove all bags on the floor for stowage above. An Australian accent comes on imploring the passengers to fasten their seat belts and cautioning us not to be scared of the landing. The jet rises slightly and dips in to a nosedive. The brakes come on mid air. We lurch. Jewel says a vague prayer. The cabin shudders. I slip my feet out of my loafers. Damn. I should have had another drink. The silence becomes positively pregnant. The engines perform an aria from La Traviata and we enter the narrowest valley I have seen. Another massive drop and the jet banks awkwardly to the left. I look out of the window to see the wing tip move a few feet away from the mountains. I instinctively closed my eyes. There is a dull thud. This could either be a landing or a crash.

The Harem breaks into spontaneous applause. I open my eyes. The door slides are “disarmed” and I step out into a world that could only have been designed by Disney. The men wear knee length skirts. The women longer skirts. The overarching sky is connected by a series of mountains which reach forever into the sky. There is a profusion of smiling faces. I am dazed and confused. Is this Shangri la ?

2 Comments:

Blogger say what? said...

luv your writing man :D

7:46 pm  
Blogger assiniboine said...

The inflight recorded messages are in Australian English?! I must tell my mother to avoid that airline: she finds Australian totally incomprehensible and she can't be the only one -- you must know that Australian films are dubbed for overseas distribution. (To my Tamil housemate: "Sam, what religion ARE you?" [Thinking, of course: "Something interesting -- Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Jain...."] "Anglican." "Oh [thunk!]. Well, in that case we're going to church at that rather grand Anglican cathedral I spotted yesterday." Of course she, having a rather acid view of these things, when all is said and done, sat back in her pew, crossed her arms and legs for the duration, and curled her lip throughout, and afterwards opined, "It was a good thing that Australian bishop was good looking: I could not understand ONE WORD of his sermon." And of course I have told you my story about my aboriginal university students in Canada getting up and walking out of the Australian film "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith" -- which I had thought they might find rather interesting, dealing as it did with aboriginal Australian issues for a change. "Oops," thought I --"obviously terribly offensive in some arcane aboriginal way...what could it have been?" Next day in my lecture, the explanation: "Oh, it was in some foreign language and there were no subtitles!"

2:48 pm  

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