Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Flying Tales

The longest   period in time I stayed away from the country and most importantly, the longest time that I was away from home, happened with the day ending the past week. The first time it was 22 days, away in Rotterdam in the early 1990’s while on a seminar plus business prospecting tour. And now with the day ended yesterday, the unexpected swings in life have seen me away from home, for thirty days at the trot. Call it “the moving ridges” of life!

After literally cooling my heels in the UAE, I landed in Bahrain a day ago. During all my journeys by air, I have from the beginning been finicky and careful of my choice of the airline company that I fly with. One of my friends who was in a dilemma before his heart bye- pass surgery asked his consulting physician to suggest a cardiac surgeon he could approach for the bye- pass. The physician said you must go to the surgeon to whom you can "trust and give your heart". From there it was not difficult as he flew down to Cochin and the surgery was performed by an old mate who was the surgeon in a hospital there. So like the difficult and delicate choice of entrusting ones heart, I wanted to be confident about the airline I took as for a good part of the travel, not just my heart, even my life was pledged to their good will and skillfulness.

‘Puppet on a chain’ was an  Alistair Maclean thriller that became a movie in 1972.The breath taking boat chase though the canals of Amsterdam, the Schipol airport , the KLM air planes  and the Dutch locales placed a good imprint in me. And I dreamed and fantasised the fascinating chance that may one day come, to fly with KLM airline and boat ride through those canals and walk the streets of Amsterdam. The fantasy became true much later. And I was off to Holland for a pretty long time away from home. The flight was indeed out of coincidence the big white and blue KLM jumbo. The feeling of security and that the passengers are being cared for, was present all throughout the travel. And there and then began a good travel partnership with the airlines.

I garnered lot of miles on the airline and once even had a frequent- flyer platinum card. I used the miles I accumulated to travel with C to the USA and Canada, and to Italy. On an occasion, while on a journey to the North Americas, I and C had to cool our heels for seven hours in the Flying blue lounge at the Schipol. It was early morning 8’o clock, and till the connecting time which was a long time away, C sat in the lounge and polished off a bottle of “Bailey’s Irish Cream”. That was an astonishing feat! Thanks to the courtesy extended by the Airlines.

On another occasion on the flight from New York, KLM gave us a bonus- they upgraded us to Business class, and C again indulged in liqueurs and wine. Though I felt a bit embarrassed, she reveled. But believe me, the true hypocrite I’m there were occasions when I have had the most of spirits from the lounges waiting for flights even before sunrise. They were great travel times with the airline.

But the one hour flight from Sharjha to Bahrain was the first time ever that I flew with an airline that stakes more on the volition and whims of Providence than on the machine or the pilots who man them. It was an early morning wake up and travel. And I collapsed into slumber as soon as I took my seat. I was jolted by a haunting recitation and woke into an acoustic ambience that one would feel and hear in a medieval monastery; the monks invoking the gods with the haunting eerie chants of the sacred psalms!  Shaken jerkily, I looked out through the window and saw the aircraft taxing and about to take off."Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.......” went the chant played through the public address system. The aircraft moved into the take off speed and began hurtling along the runway. The intensity of the chant seemed to be increasing spookily.
I felt a sort of fright, for the first time. I have heard that passengers fervently pray loudly when the state of the flight was disastrous or the likely hood of a crash loomed large. But this was an awfully disturbing moment even for a person who did not subscribe to any faith for absolution or comfort.

The aircraft was soon airborne and the chanting eased out. I tried to get back into the sleep that was spolied, thinking, thankfully the invocation did not end with the statement,(Insha Allha.......), “God willing we will land in Bahrain”.
I wish to state that no disparaging intent is intended here but, it was awfully too far from comfort to me to hear such desperate sounding prayers(sic) on the public address system and at a crucial moment before being airborne. I understand that the phrase is recited by Muslims in many countries in many different situations. They, when they are happy, to express approval to praise a speaker, or even as a battle cry and even during times of extreme stress.

I slid back into sleep recollecting with some amusement the prayers and hymns that were sung in school, “Father we thank thee...:”; “guardian angel from heaven so bright...” and then later at the Government run schools, the pledge, “India is my country...”.But nothing like this in an aircraft about to be airborne.


Shilpa Garg said...

Very interesting flying tales!!
These chants, a standard feature in these airlines, can be very intimidating! And laughing out loud @ "God willing we will land in Bahrain”!! :D

Mélange said...

Lovely read as usual.Agree with you on KLM.Likewise same pinch on that Amsterdam dream..Awesome !

Insignia said...

:-) It should have been terrifying. The chants are associated with terror strikes for me. No offense, blame it on the situations. Having seen those documentaries on terror strikes, 9/11 and all that on TV, its terrifying. To top it all, chants growing louder as you air borne, phew!!

kavita said...

Sorry but ROFL :)About to start my work ,patients in waiting area and my assistant is looking at me in shock.Thanks for the laughs .See ya...

anilkurup said...

@ Shilpa Garg,

Honestly I did not think of laughter at that moment.

@ Melange,
It is funny world , isn't it?

@ Insignia,

You are right.To decapitate people chanting and invoking the Gods.
Oh my, am I moving away from the tales of flight?

@ Kavita,

Thanks .

....Petty Witter said...

'An airline that stakes more on the volition of Providence than on the machine or the pilots who man them' - yes, I've flown with similiar airlines and its no fun.

anilkurup said...

@ Petty Witter,

Yes indeed no fun!!

sm said...

interesting read about your travelling

anilkurup said...

@ sm,

May be the last experience was a jolt not very fanciful!