August 27, 2008 @ 11:42 am
I am sitting on board a flight from Bangalore to Delhi. The passengers are still trickling in and rushing to occupy whatever little overhead baggage space that is still available. The air hostesses are wearing devilish red and the air conditioning seems to be working overtime. I raise my hand upwards and turn a knob to switch off the cold air hitting me from the top. I am sitting at the emergency exit, a place I usually try to seek since it has the maximum leg space (perhaps more than the business class too).
I sit back, take a deep breath to prepare for a long tiring journey (2.5 hours to be precise) and buckle-in the seat belt mechanism with a satisfactory click sound. A tall well built man comes down the aisle and takes up the window seat. He looks at me, smiles and says with a loud voice, “How are you doing?”
“Pretty good”, I reply and continue burying my face in the day’s edition of the Times of India. The river Kosi has spread havoc. But this news is not the main news, a status accorded to the political turmoil of a neighbouring country.
“Is that the Delhi edition?”, the man asks.
I look at the top of the paper and strain my eye to read the small font which says New Delhi.
Upon hearing this, he reaches out and picks up the paper from the pouch in front of his seat. What if it was the Bombay edition? He wouldn’t have read it then?, I ask myself.
“By the way, my name is Anil”, he announces with an outstretched hand across the seat that lies vacant between him and me.
I shake his hand and introduce myself. I immediately sensed that it was going to be the talkative co-passenger type of a flight.
The air hostess walks down the aisle, suddenly stops and looks at this man who is toying with his expensive looking Blackberry.
In a stern voice which would have done any school principal proud, she says “Sir, please switch off your mobile phone.” Clearly, this air hostess is pretty annoyed about something in her daily dealings.
My fellow passenger has apparently initiated a shut down of his mobile device and just shows the instrument to the air hostess, pointing out the shutting down message to her, with a frown on his face. The angel in red scoffs, checks herself quickly and just walks away. Far from a customer-is-the-king philosophy, but I don’t blame her. My fellow passenger sure isn’t going to get a good meal, I think to myself.
“Bangalore traffic sucks”, he says after a while.
“Delhi is much better”
“I think it is because it is where I’ve lived all my life”, he continued.
“Yeah. True”, I take an effort to seem interested.
“So you are a Gujarati”, he affirms based on my last name. “I, by the way, am a Punjabi”, he announces.
I nod my head. Couldn’t agree with him more on this, factually.
“We Punjabis just like two things in life – eating and drinking”, he chuckles and I add in a smile.
“Work in Delhi?”
“Sorry?”, I look at him
“Going for work there?”
“Yeah” and I tell him where I work.
“Great. I work for a private equity fund. Investments et al”
“Oh, that’s nice”
“Which college did you go to?”, Anil continues
I tell him my B-School and turns out one of my former batchmates has worked with him in some investment related role. I try to recall the batchmate but unfortunately don’t have much to say about him.
“You travel often to Delhi?”, he changes the topic
“Not really. Once in a while”
“Ok. The only city in this country having good infrastructure is Chandigarh”.
I nod, with an all-knowing fabric stretched across my mind.
“I’ve travelled a lot around. Work takes me places”
“That is nice. I don’t like much travelling though”, I add
“You know, the only city which has really made tremendous progress is Ahmedabad. In fact the entire state of Gujarat is developing at a great rate”
“True. The Modi government has done a lot of development I hear”
“Yes, and corruption is at an all-time low. They are doing some great work out there”
“But I think the communal riots and subsequent genocide was sickening. Not sure if the development and progress is acceptable when there has been such a horrific past.”
“Sugar comes along with its propensity to cause diabetes”, he chuckles.
“Sorry?”, I fail to understand
“Simple yaar. Medicine is always bitter. It is a trade-off. Somethings need to be done, can’t help it”
I didn’t have much of a response there. Hundreds of people died brutal deaths in those riots and here it was being casually brushed aside, an insignificant event that didn’t deserve to be spoken while sipping on fresh lime juice in an expensive airline.
Our conversation continued and I learnt how carefree about the world people can really be. No carrying burdens of the society, no worrying about your role and its impact and definitely not bothering to build an opinion of things that didn’t affect you directly. It was a different world, but a world that seemed easy and smooth.
Was that the right way to go? It didn’t have any issues or dilemmas or social empathizing, it was individualistic, free and devoid of any bindings. Analogous to being a libertarian compared to a socialist? As I thought about all this, the conversation moved from the good hotels in Bangalore to the most expensive watch outlets in Delhi.
Food arrived, so did coffee and tea in small compact flasks. Clouds filled up the view outside and the lights dimmed. A short nap and I find myself landing at the Indira Gandhi Airport. We get out, take the bus to the terminal, bid goodbye and find our respective cars to go wherever we were supposed to go. A hundred cars whiz by as my taxi gets on to the highway and picks up speed. A hundred lives, a hundred minds, a hundred souls. Who is right and who is wrong. How many rights are there and how many wrongs. What is right and what is wrong.