Some memories that my camera could not capture; I am glad they remain vivid in my mind’s eye, reminding me of that indescribable feeling of timelessness and weightlessness as I travelled through the stratosphere- in an airplane, of course!
Air travel came my way quite early in life thanks to my father’s postings in various cities in India and abroad, and the leave travel concessions that he used to avail for us for our holidays. Some of these experiences are unique because the airlines themselves had a short shelf life and went out of service within a few months or years.
When I think of these, Damania Airlines is the one that comes to mind instantly. Dad had enjoyed their service on a few of his official trips and I finally had the pleasure and privilege to fly Damania when in college, and with my father for company. The aircraft was not full that day and I got a window seat and the row all to myself while Dad elected to take a seat a few rows away to give me all the space I wanted! Soft warm blankets, springy pillows, a lovely red rose still in bud, and the most sumptuous spread of hot eatables coming every few minutes……the flight lasted nearly two hours, and we actually had to decline a few of the items even as our stomachs and minds protested- for completely contrary reasons obviously!
Good times don’t last, and Damania could not sustain their luxury service for too long, and had to make way for that hideous but absolutely must- have avatar of modern air travel- the low cost carrier. Hideous because all the charm and glamor have been stripped off flying- some low cost airlines and their hangars really look like bus stations, but where would we be without the boon of zipping from one place to another?
Another abiding memory is of flying with my newly wedded husband, for whom it was his first trip; as I held his hand tight I again remembered the wonder and excitement of my first flight, and as we descended towards the green expanse of the town in Kerala that was to be our new home, I was thrilled with my great fortune……….
A few years later saw us going to Nepal to work, and how can I ever forget the spectacular vista of the Himalayas spread out all around us as our aircraft skimmed over and around the mighty snow clad mountains for almost fifteen minutes…..!!! I wish I had captured this at least on film- either we didn’t have one at hand or were totally mesmerised by the scene- I forget which, but it is there, truly and surely, as if I were even at this moment in the lap of Heaven- endless white and a few of the peaks touched by the rays of the rising sun and turned into torches of orange light- abodes of the Gods themselves!
Nepal gave us a good amount of thrills and not a few jitters too, as we took the twenty- seater shuttle flights between cities there. The stewardess, already petite, had to bend from her waist as she welcomed us into the tiny twin- propeller fuelled aircraft- almost a toy airplane! At first we mistook it for the typical gesture of hospitality but when we had to bow back to her the truth dawned on us; add to that the deafening noise and the sickening turbulence and it was a miracle that all our trips passed without a hitch!!! The only refreshment served on the flights that lasted fifteen odd minutes was a glass of lemonade that we absolutely had to gulp down lest it splashed……..
Black humor notwithstanding, the last foray of MH 370 comes to mind as I recall our first trip to Malaysia, again on work. The ocean, rough and rousing, the blue changing from aquamarine to indigo, no land as far as the eye could see, and I remember feeling fear for the first time on a flight. As we approached the coast, anxiety readily gave way to ecstasy as before us was the darkest green, the densest tree cover and the dearest image of “Malaysia, truly Asia”, gleaned from the numerous commercials that ruled the airwaves back then.
My last trip from Malaysia- I was alone, coming back to meet my family after nearly a month. The southwest monsoon was rumbling and rehearsing her entry into the Indian subcontinent, and as our aircraft readied to land at Kolkata airport the turbulence became unbearable. I clasped the hand of my co- passenger tightly and he was neither surprised nor embarrassed- probably glad, I think. Faces had turned white, knuckles were stretched to breaking point and teeth were audibly chattering. I prayed and cursed at the same time- prayed I could see my daughter one last time, and cursed my penchant for leaving home to travel……
The landing strip was in sight and the wheels almost touched down when all of a sudden a great force seemed to lift us all again into the air…..yesssss, we were taking off again, rising and rising into space until after almost an eternity we seemed to plateau and start cruising. The pilot, in a voice as calm as a yogi’s, announced that we were diverting to nearby Dhaka to avoid the terrible monsoon gales and a possible crash landing. Dhaka airport,surrounded by rice fields, cows and goats, welcomed us back to earth and hearth, literally! We waited half an hour and refuelled, making phone calls to frantic relatives and grinning sheepishly at each other, until the winds abated and we landed in Kolkata as smoothly as if NOTHING had happened…!
Doctors save lives? Pilots hold our life in their hands, turn it upside down, and then bequeath it back to us- more precious than ever before.
The great loss to Pondicherrians when Spicejet terminated their services to my newly adopted hometown, but not before I enjoyed one flight from Kolkata to Pondicherry via Bangalore. Travel time and expense being comparable, the road trip was avoided and the five- hour layover in Bangalore totally worth the money- time to explore, loll at food courts and book stores, plenty of window- shopping…. The roughly half- hour flight from Bangalore to Pondicherry was on a smaller aircraft, holding about thirty I suppose, again with enough turbulence to keep hunger at bay. But soon the coastline came into view- green palms, blue sea, white waves and the surf breaking over golden sands, the gaily colored low houses- what a sight to behold- conjuring up fun, beauty and peace all in one breath………..
And the last really memorable one- on a flight from Kolkata to Kerala once, I saw the aircraft of the reverse route cruising slowly past in the horizon, following an unseen road in the sky- I do think I almost jumped out of my seat at this one!