an attempt to fly
I strongly think that my financial status doesn't call for traveling within India using domestic flights. But yesterday I had to do that for personal reasons. I went to Bangalore and came back to Hyderabad by evening using air travel.
Ask anyone who knows me for even for one or two months, they will tell you in no diminishing terms, about my apalling dress sense. My family thinks I ought to be wearing more formals, where as my friends think, I do not look like a software engineer. In India, it translates to a dress code - bluetooth head-phone attached to one ear, jeans, tight t-shirt, an iPod hanging from the jeans pockets, a very posh looking watch, nice rebook shoes, and amazing deodorant smell, a nice laptop bag. Taxonomy would place these people under the genus - Charismo and species - technorica. The only difference between unmarried and married ones in this kind, is that married ones have some-what more visible paunch.
Like some guy poetically put it, I have all the vices and none of their virtues. I have a paunch and generally wear a loose t-shirt and cotton pants (comfortable, you see .. ), my laptop is eternally under repair and ipod now has video lectures on some or the other obscure comp.sci. topic. Some one stole my posh phone long time back and so my mobile is not something to write home about. You know what it's like. Not to bore you with my dressing habits and if you look at it, it's not just about dress sense. I lack the whatdoyoucallit,.... hahh .. character. Even though it's not my first flight, the situation I was in, more or less demanded class and so when there is a mismatch, you can expect unpleasantness.
For me it all started early in the morning in the cab to airport. Over the phone, the cab-wallah was all "I will wait for you, Sir. What time is the flight, Sir ?", surely with all the sense of feudal worship that is, in general, shown by him towards the overlords of flight-travel (here I'm talking about people of my age with more flight-character or people with money oozing out of their shirt buttons). I came down on time (5 am) to the cab for the fear of waiting-charges and immediately realized that it was the wrong thing to do. The guy was sleeping and when he got up, he drank me in with his eyes and I sensed the initial worshiping tone in his voice dropped to a formal reservedness when he asked me to get into the car in the back seat. It's almost like he said... "Ehh ... yyyoouu .. !! " He sluggishly opened the back-seat door for me. Again, as is my habit for any cab situation during sleeping hours, I left my bag in the back-seat and sat right next to him (determined to be wide-awake, just in case the driver is not), much to his amusement. In the meantime, as this was happening, very supportingly of course, my mother, wife and brother-in-law called in to check if I got up (lest I miss the flight) and if I had head-bath (I was going to a temple near Mysore). I assured them that it was so in my mother tounge telugu. This was another slip. He started off the cab and was as chatty as he would get with another cab-wallah. I noticed that at times, he almost restrained putting a hand over my shoulder as he shared some interesting current affair, all this in telugu. We talked about this and that during the 45 min journey. At the airport, I pulled out the exact change (like I do to auto-wallahs) and this time the look in his eye reduced to a mix of mere contempt and sympathy. I attempted to salvage the situation by providing him two extra 10-rupee notes, which he took happily but left that cold stare as I got down.
At the airport, of course, people are trained to keep their emotional reactions down while they speak to anyone holding a ticket. It's almost like they are afraid that the person would flash the ticket in their face, in case, they become less polite. So, it was all well, till the time an official came near me asking if I had paid the UDF charges for the airport. "Hah, yes, the ticket fair split up showed that I paid them already.", I replied triumphantly. He politely indicated to me that the charges increased by a 100 bucks more since the previous day, with that dude-dont-you-read-the-news look. So, with reluctance, I fished out a 100 rupee note and gave it at the UDF desk. The air-india check-in personnel smiled a 30A (terminal) to me as she handed over the boarding pass after doubly checking my identity in my passport. Do you know that these people put a good show ? Let me tell you. She knows upfront that given a chance I would like the window seat. May be I look like that guy. She asked me if I wanted a window seat. "I'd like that", I beamed at her naively. She pressed space and enter button twice and then alternated the sequence with a focused look on her face and told me that she was sorry as all window seats are taken. It doesn't take too long to realize that you have been hoodwinked as it didn't slip my keen observation that she's the only one in the air-india counter. May be you think I'm being paranoid. How do you explain, if the same thing happens during my evening flight as well with another airlines in Bangalore ? But that's that.
So here I was, waiting at my terminal, a singularity among many Charismo-technoricas. The air was polluted with combined fragrance that is emanating out of people's deodorants. When the time finally arrived for boarding, I got into the bus that will take us to the air-craft. My initial reaction on getting into the bus is to keep my bag in the corner and sit in a seat available. But I observed that, most of my fellow travelers, come in and keep their luggage on the metal platform provided and stand in the bus holding the railing on the top. The people who actually sat next to me are only about double my age. Aha. I got up promptly (taking cue) and tried to feel like one of them people standing. It didn't feel correct as this act put me right next to a very good looking girl and it seemed like I was being sleazy. I'm happily married and have a kid. And, I have the least intention to be sleazy. But who knows that ? Luckily for me another veteran occupied the seat I left and I was so relieved that he did. My neighbors in the flight were this college kid who was busy messaging someone, and this middle-aged couple across the aisle who were lip-locked for some reason (I know, what's happening to the world ?). I was hungry as I had a frugal dinner the previous night and got up early in the morning. The guy next to me and the couple declined the stewardess's offer for a snack, but I happily took it. It was some kind of veg-puff and bread, but that was god-sent at that time. It later occurred to me that I might have looked ravenous to my neighbours. But I think I don't care (placing me right out of their kind). Through out the flight, even as I was enjoying "Three Idiots" film on the in-flight entertainment unit, I was thinking about how may be I can be little spendthrift, just for once and I'd feel better about being one among my fragrant co-travelers. I decided to be lavish. I got down the flight waving a generous thank you to the stewardess near the door and attempted desperately to have an air of the dollar about me.
It was in this mood that I approached a certain "Akbar tours and travels" in the Bangalore airport. I asked the guy at the counter, if a taxi was available for taking me to Srirangapatna and back to Bangalore. After nodding an yes, he said that the charges would come to around ..... 3200Rs. What? This is outrageous. This is the amount I paid to get to Bangalore from Hyderabad. Controlling my emotions, I asked him if the cab will be available if I come after half-an-hour, as I had something to attend to. He said yes. So, I escaped the bandit. Walked out, took the airport shuttle to Bangalore. What do these people think ? They can walk all-over me ? Heh, I showed them that I'm not naive. Wait .. what happened to my determination for being a Charismo Technorati ? Ah .. somethings never change. It didn't take long for me in my bus towards Mysore to realize that I shouldn't try to belong there where I don't. My reverie was broken by the ticket-collector who asked me to hand him the ticket because he got the change he needed to give me. What a nice person, I thought, taking the 7 rupees from him. After arguing with the auto-wallah to my satisfaction, I headed to the temple. Again during my travel back in another bus to Bangalore after my temple visit, I was again broken from my deep thought by the ticket-man, who this time, asked me if I didn't want my lunch as the bus stopped only for 15 min, Sir. Then I started to realize that may be it is okay not to try and fit in the elite group.
Things got better as I just scraped through time to meet some of my good friends and the feeling of not-belonging somewhere was lost in the good half-an-hour I spent with them. As fate would have it, I was thrown back at this situation without much time to think again, during my return flight. I'm still thinking where do I fit in ? I'm sure my wife would much less share my dilemma if she reads this. What she can probably think of would be - why I didn't have proper dinner the other night and not to board air-india again.