Jan 292006

Detroit Airport

“We will have to wait for one more hour” he said while I was washing my hands in the bathroom. “It happens all the time with Deccan airlines” I said. “This is my first time flying” he confided. We were talking in Telugu.

In the US, we don’t talk to strangers in the bathroom. And, strangers don’t speak in Telugu. But, I was in Hyderabad, on the way to Bangalore. My co-(ahem)victim is also waiting for the same plane it seems. He is around 60, with glasses and looks like a ex-military man with short, trim torso. Not oozing with riches — Deccan airlines surely made flying affordable for even the middle class.

Naturally, I savor even such small inconsequential conversations. Years of spending abroad makes me feel like a perennial member of minority. It is nice to be taken at face value, a member of majority, and yet somehow the influential minority.

When I was young, I used to look forward to traveling. My mother always believed that we should wear our best when we travel. The need to appear well-bred and perhaps even well-off is no longer there. I ignore the dress code so completely that my attitude of studied indifference gives away that I am part of that well-off minority. At least, I was told so in the next hour.

I waited in the lounge with other passengers. We were all united in cursing the airline. Normally I would get lost in a book, but in India, it is always a pleasure to talk to people. I looked at my neighbors to see who looks interesting.

The seat opposite to me is occupied by a youngish girl, perhaps in early 20s. It is obvious that she is no stranger to flying. She made herself comfortable, occupying both the seats. I knew that the rest of the world is created just as an accessory for her. She was semi-reclined on the chairs reading a book. I glanced at the title — “Da Vinci Code”. What is it with airports and Da Vinci code? Do they get special fares with that book?

Fortunately, I read the book earlier, enough to chat about it. (There are people that say that I don’t have to read a book to talk about it too). I waited till she grew bored with the book and started glancing around.

I smiled at her. “How do you like that book?” I asked. She frowned a bit, not expecting to be small-talked to by a stranger of the opposite sex. I smiled widely suggesting that I am cool enough to be ignorant of local social mores. May be that was it. Or, the fact that I was a man of a certain age made the difference.

She too smiled. We were now a part of a small select club that makes its own rules. She said she could tell I live abroad. She asked “States?” with clear accent that I was reminded later of when I listened to radio ads in Bangalore. I nodded.

Of course, she had cousins “practically all over in the states”. She went there for a summer too. She excused herself for flying in Deccan Airlines. “I had to fly back to Bangalore in the last minute”, she said.

With a practiced tone, I sketched my profile, “living 100 ft above the ground, with two large windows overlooking the creek, and the new 7 Series BMW on the way”. But then, that was the price of admission into the club. Or, perhaps my genuine interest in her as a human being.

In the next one hour, I heard her speak in lovely accent all about the local scene. She just finished her medicine and going back to Bangalore, where she lives. She would like to do FRCS, and loves helping people. It is not the money or the prestige that attracted her to medicine. I surely understood — she is rich enough not to bother.

Of course, I surely understood and sympathized with her. I found myself agreeing with her on everything. Why, India is improving, the pub scene is great in Bangalore, we get everything that her cousins get in New York within a few days, traffic is a problem, wish cars were costlier so that there would be fewer.

I too mentally became part of that page-3’ish crowd. I would smile indulgently to encourage her to tell me the other side of life. Not explicitly, I seem to have suggested that I was part of a similar scene in my days. At least vicariously, through “hep-cat” friends in IIT.

We were called to board eventually.

At the baggage pick up area in BLR airport, I overheard a loud voice, “Geez! Would you stop barging in like that?” I saw that man with short, trim torso at receiving end of the confident rebuke from the voice of new generation. He seemed to have lunged for his luggage at the baggage belt.

Non-standard disclaimer:
Well, it could have happened to me. I may have embellished the incident. Perhaps, the characters in there are composite sketches. The essential truthiness is there. The message is right, even if the facts are largely made up. Aw shucks! Give it a rest, will ya! I am telling you, I did go to prison! It did toughen me, I tell you. What if I am planning on writing my memoir? Why do you wish it wouldn’t reach the best seller list?

Ok, Ok, you really want the truth. Well, to begin with, it did not happen in Hyderabad Airport. It happened in Frankfurt. It did not happen to me. It happened to somebody else. I don’t even know who.

There. Now, quit complaining to Oprah.

Ramarao Kanneganti,
Bangalore, Jan 29, 2006.

 Posted by at 12:02 pm