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passport and boarding pass - check

Traveling is an art.

Those with natural talent are best at it. Some appreciate it – and usually pay far more than it is worth for it. While the rest of us struggle through it with gritted teeth in a desperate attempt to not look like hopelessly backward dweebs.

I always imagine that real travelers must dominate the strange landscape they are in, smiling and being nice but not taking any smack from the local yokels.

Heck, they probably even have stories about how their cab was robbed but they managed to convince the robbers to give them a lift to the airport.

Not quite my experience.

This time, for example, I stepped out of my home at 3:30 am to find torrents of rain rather inconsiderately coming down in sheets.

Blindly racing to my cab, which was waiting several yards away, I slipped on some wet mud and smeared myself face-first into the driver’s side window, in exactly the sort of manner that a murderer would if he had just found his latest victim.

Cue iconic lightning flash.

It took whole minutes for the driver, who was evidently snoozing, to begin breathing again, shut his mouth and recover sufficiently enough to open the passenger side door.

All the while, I waited in the rain, tapping the glass.

But it was alright for I was heading to an airport to fly.

Now airports are kind of annoying with all their rules and regulations, but I always figured that’s the price I paid for flying. Ever since I was a child, I loved the sensation of lifting off from the ground in a metal container weighing several hundred tons. This feat of human ingenuity and engineering always gave me goose bumps.

And honestly, every time I saw security guards trying to calm passengers who lost all grip on sanity over a bottle of moisturizer they cannot take with them, my sympathy inevitably veered to the guards.

why do we fly?

Even as I watched the crowds and the carousels and the planes on the tarmac, I pondered the question – why do we do this?

None of this is necessary. We do not have to reach our destination within one and half hours, cramped into giant toothpaste tubes without our moisturizer. Our life spans have been stretched, our comforts increased. Through land and sea, we can still cross continents in comfortable journeys, both small and big.

So why do we fly?

I like to think that even those who say they do it because ‘it’s convenient’ are really obeying a primeval instinct buried deep inside the human psyche.

I do not think we fly because we must. We fly because we can. Because to the human spirit there can be no kingdom that we do not take by storm. Flight is naturally only the arrogance of birds, but our haughty souls cannot tolerate any other god in this realm but us. None may look down upon us, for very long anyway.

We fly, because it is in us to soar.

And I love it.

view from the plane window

I always try to get a window seat in my flights. Therefore, should I spot any birds, I can fulfill the destiny of my species by giving them the finger while mentally giggling and whispering “suck it bitches”.

I am also always amazed at the little pantomime that the stewards do at the start of every flight – the safety demonstration.

And you HAVE to watch it. Because standing up there, they can totally see if you ignore them. I am pretty sure they mark you at that point and not only spit in your food but ensure your baggage gets lost in transit as well.

Just once, I hope that one of them totally loses it and instead of the usual routine, screams out –

“If something goes wrong then that seat is your coffin and this plane is your impromptu crematorium. And there isn’t anything you or that stupid yellow life jacket under your ass can do about it. Enjoy your flight!” (For more on this – read here)

This thought would also be a great way to keep our minds occupied, at least until the food comes.

The really surprising thing was that Jet Airways served said meals with metal, instead of plastic, cutlery – allowing me to eat my food with a dignity that was on par with inmates in Tihar jail! Oh joy!

Naturally, the first thought which sprang to my mind when I held my metal knife was that I should probably storm the pilot cabin and hijack the plane. I have no idea why!

But, I soon dismissed the idea. Not only was the knife was blunt and the food getting cold, but the cabin crew looked perfectly capable of kicking ten kinds of shit out of me should I attempt anything.

plane halted on tarmac (all rise)

Disembarkation is always an interesting study into the line that divides that the cynics from the naive in our species. There is always that crowd of sheeple that jump to their feet the very instant the plane comes to a halt.

And then the rest of us, who had the sense to remain seated, get to watch (with the acceptable amount of disdain that one is allowed to show in such situations) puzzled and semi-betrayed expressions slowly spread across their collective faces as they realize that now they have nothing to do but stand there awkwardly for the five to ten minutes it takes for either the ramp to be bought up or the cabin crew to stop laughing and open the door, whichever occurs first.

Are these people afraid that the airline is going to leave with them still inside?

This is the most cash-strapped industry in the world! They wouldn’t move an inch without billing you first. If they could, they would throw you out of the plane at 30,000 feet to save on fuel and airport surcharge costs. (Parachutes would cost extra.)

The only way to even slightly delay your own offloading is to NOT relinquish your grip on your seat even as two stewards hold either of your legs and pull with all of their weight.

Even then they would unbolt the seat, bill you the cost of the seat and the extra time you spent on the plane, and then throw you out – with the seat.

Since I had paid a small ransom for a small seat for the duration of a short flight, I planned to sit there as long as possible. If I had my way I would sit there till the pilots came out and began to look at me awkwardly. Naturally I was one of the last to get off the plane.

As I strolled over to the cabs, I was happy to note that it was still a magical ride for me. I was and will probably always be thrilled that I live in times where such feats, and they are feats, are not only possible, but in fact mundane.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka. Image by Amy Marash

The words of Arthur C. Clarke came to my mind – sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.

It all seemed magical anyway, until the cabbie asked me where I wanted to go.

“Err…right…hmmm…err…”

A vague email floated to the top of the sinkhole that is my memory.

“Collect hotel details from HR before leaving.”

Right. It was 7:30 am. No HR till 9:30 am…at least.

Travel, I realized for the 100th time as I gritted my teeth and went back into the airport to find a place to camp, is an art.

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