A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: #IdiotAlert on a flight

Sonal Kalra,A Calmer You,Sunday column
The thing is that you find several varietals of buffoonery during flights.

This week, one of my frequent short trips between Delhi-Mumbai made me realise a deep truth. When we travel, we work hard to carry stuff that’ll keep us entertained during the journey – gadgets, books, music. We hardly ever appreciate God for having sprinkled natural sources for amusement every few feet around us. In the form of morons. You don’t even have to work hard to spot them. You just need to look up, and they are uniformly distributed all around. Sadly, we stay hiding behind artificial sources of fun. The irony is much like desperately hunting for bottled water, when you have a lush, natural spring in front of you that you can just put your mouth under and savour straight.

Haan, toh I see stupid people during flights. I’m sure some of them see and consider me as one, too, but that’s okay. What’s not okay, however, is when idiocy crosses the thin line between fun and annoyance. So here’s this guy sitting on my left, by the window. The usual announcement of ‘please open the window shades during take-off’ is made, and the air hostesses start walking up and down the aisle to check compliance. “Sir, please open the window shade,” she tells him. He does. She moves on to the seat behind us. He shuts the window shade. She comes back in a few seconds after chastising 2-3 of ‘we-paid-for-reclining-seat-and-thus-we-shall-recline-all-through-the-journey kind of people. “Sir, please open the window shade,” she tells him again. This time staying a couple of seconds longer on ‘please’. He opens the window shade. She moves ahead, and he snap-shuts. She turns back. This time Durga avatar. “Sir, it is mandatory as per rules to keep the window shades open during take-off and landing.” She almost growls. He shrugs, opens the damn shade. AND closes it as she turns. I squirm and sink back a few inches in my seat. I want to focus on the debate in the head about whether his mental age is different from the growth of the rest of him, or whether I have the privilege of sitting next to a rebellious aeronautical scientist who believes that it doesn’t make a rat’s a** difference if a window shade remains shut during take-off. But there’s no time for my mind’s debate because the uniformed warrior has returned with a steely gaze. “Sir, is there a problem?” she asks. “No. Dhoop hai,” he mumbles, slowly opening the shade. And just as she turns…he again shuts… and she turns back. At this point I want to get up and tell them ki aap dono hi khel lo. Mera ho gaya bas.

The thing is that you find several varietals of buffoonery during flights. We just don’t know whether to fret over them, or begin to enjoy the display they put up for free. I encountered the following kinds just during my to-fro trip this week. Do you relate to any?

The Inseparables: The ones, who, even if the duration of the flight was three minutes and seven seconds, would request neighbours to switch seats so they could be seated next to their companion – when they have not checked-in for adjoining seats. “He is my brother. Aap thoda adjust karenge?” asked a middle-aged guy, pointing to his middle-aged sibling (not twins, not conjoined), who was in the same row, just one and a half feet apart. “But I have the aisle seat and your brother’s seat is the middle one,” I hesitantly countered, not wanting to give up aisle, but worried about committing the sin of separating Karan Arjun. “Yeh mana kar rahi hain,” he shouted out to his brother. A creepy looking dude on the aisle seat next to his brother’s then came to the rescue. “You swap seats with me, I’ll sit with the lady,” he smiled. I suddenly wanted all window shades opened. Sigh.

The toilet ‘frequenters’: These people spend two hours waiting to board, at an airport with 32 toilets, but want to relieve themselves in the 3*3 cubicle inside the plane, as soon as the seat belt sign is off. Like a nanosecond after it goes off. Sometimes I feel they secretly dial the pilot in the cockpit – “You have the plane in control buddy, don’t yah. Just switch the damn sign off, man, I’ve got to pee”. And then the match starts. Between the airhostess with the food trolley, and the I-can’t-wait-to-use-the-loo brigade. It’s better than IPL. But the helpless airhostess plays mostly on the back foot, and the human in a hurry to generate bio-mass usually gets his way.

The instant jumpers: Here’s a challenge. No scientist would ever be able to calculate the unit of time that it takes between the aircraft landing and these people springing up to open the overhead compartments. Maybe they have livestock in their hand baggage and want to see if the cat survived the journey. To be able to touch their bag and bring it down is near orgasmic for this category, the pleading calls of the air hostess — ‘Please be seated’ – be damned. Hamein ghar jaana hai yaar. We have grown up hanging from fast moving public transport buses…this aircraft taxing at the speed of Shimla’s toy train doesn’t bother us. It’s jhoola. And then we want to stand and stretch our back. You know how ergonomically important that is, after sitting for 45 minutes with just six loo breaks. No one understands logic, I tell you.

I’m not even bringing up the ‘air hostess troublers’, the ‘loud music lovers’, the non-stop talkers, and some such, here because you know who they are. I just hope you are not them.