Saturday, 4 February 2017

A Thought Cloud

To catch a flight I need to be at the airport well in time. I do not like to rush and run to board. But unfortunately this morning I was just in the position that I always avoid. Mumbai airport, bright and early, looked like there was a free fare to Las Vegas and everyone was there to grab their own special seat.

At the check-in the serpentine queues were lazing as my anxiety was slowly awakening. But before I could start palpitating, thankfully, a call was made for passengers on my flight to move to the front. Finally I was able to check-in, get my boarding card and proceed to the security check points.

Like I said, it was a free fare and so the security check queues also meandered around. One look at my watch and I was hyperventilating. 30 minutes to take off. A frequent flyer, somewhere I knew that with a boarding pass issued and checked in bags accepted, it would be rather unlikely that the flight would leave me behind. Yet I wanted to be seated inside the aircraft, 25 minutes before departure time, which is when boarding technically closes. And so I requested the women in the never ending ladies queue if I could kindly go ahead of them. Most had no problem. Some said thank you for asking. A few joined me as they were on my flight. So we came to the point where we dropped our bags on the security conveyers, ready to move to the frisk check queue. And suddenly there was an uproar. 

"How dare you cut into the queue?" A non-natural blonde glared, ready to eat me alive.
"Am sorry, but I asked the women in the queue as my flight is in 30 minutes. Only when they said yes have I moved ahead. So technically I have not cut in but have been generously allowed to jump ahead." I was factual and polite.
"I am on the same flight and you have no business to jump the queue." 
"Sure you go ahead of me."
"Yes I will, and you must stand and wait for your turn."
"Yes I would have but then the flight would have left given how long the queues are and hence I asked. But you please go before me."
"That I will, given I was here before you; and you stop being argumentative!"

I stepped aside, a little perplexed. Was she upset because I had jumped ahead, was she unhappy because she had stood patiently for a long time or did she just not like my face! As I awaited my turn for being frisked, a lady in a black tunic and red scarf patted me on the back. "My dear, it's ok. You have a flight to catch. We understand. It's alright." She smiled and my turn came. I was stunned by her gesture of assurance. Empathy from a stranger reinforces that emotions are maybe still alive in the world. 

The gate was a little far and I made a dash for it. The injured ankle also had to start whining just then. Promising to wear the ankle binder as soon as I was on my seat, I solicited cooperation of the little joint. In some pain but in one piece and with all hand luggage with us, we - my ankle and I - reached the boarding gate. That is when the phone started ringing. Who ever it was would have to wait. 

Coming to my seat, I put the hand bags in the overhead bins, sat down and was about to put on the ankle binder as promised when came another interruption. 

"Am really sorry to bother you. My husband and I are travelling together. I have been upgraded to business class and he has not been. Would you mind exchanging seats please." Now that was sweet and welcome. 
"Sure. Would you mind if I was to just wear my ankle binder?" 
"Absolutely not. Please let us know which are your bags and my husband will help you move them." 
"Oh thanks! But really not needed."

But my not needed was not heard and my one laptop bag and my little Prince's birthday gift were both taken to their new storage hold. As this action was happening, the woman sitting across the aisle looked at me and said, "She really wants to give up a business class seat to  travel with her husband! Must be newly married!" The couple heard this and the wife smiled, "Not really. We have been married for seven years and I don't think that two hours of petty luxury is worth leaving time with my husband." I smiled at her; a true heartfelt smile. That is my kind of a woman; and I moved up front. 

As I took my seat, settled in and began to relax; a thought started clouding the skies of my brain. Is human emotion really getting depleted? Perhaps not. Because while I had three examples (including myself) of selfish behaviour, I had two simultaneous samples of acts of emotional warmth. And if I added HP's call wishing me a safe flight, it is three acts. 

As the cloud was taking shape, the flight took off and I found myself staring out of the window. The Mumbai local trains, the red buses and the cars were running on their designated routes. Flanking the roads and rail corridor on either side were concrete structures ten to twenty stories high. Slowly the heights started to slope downwards till I could see the vast spreads of the slums and eventually the creek and then the expanse of the Arabian Sea. 

While I saw all these man-made creations up above from the skies, I could not spot one human being! Not the car driver or the train passenger. Those dwelling in the sky scrapers were as invisible as those living in the slums. The boats that dotted the creek and the ships that adorned the sea seemed equally barren and devoid of human life. And so my cloud started to take a new shape. What is the use of materialistic possessions and gains without having a human eye to appreciate them? What value does success hold if not cheered by an excited human voice? What can help overcome a bout of disappointment better than a soothing human touch? 

And just as the sun started to light my internal skies we started our descent. Climbing down from thirty thousand feet above the ground, coming closer to land, I could see someone walk across the field. Closer to the landing strip I could spot children eagerly watching the plane land. And just as we touched down, I saw the directions being given by an air traffic personnel. 

There definitely is something about emotions and closeness. What it is I cannot articulate. But whatever it is, it is that which makes the world a better place.

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