It’s a ritual in my family: every evening at 7pm, we sit down with milky cups of kappi and we watch NBC’s Nightly News. Now that I live 3,000 miles to the right, I’ll be honest, I’m somewhat lazy and so the Bru/Taster’s Choice usually stays in the kitchen cupboards, but thanks to the magic of DVR, I never miss Brian Williams’ slightly nasal take on the day. For that– and a hundred other things, right now– I am grateful.
I cried while watching that segment, on the news. I cried again when I tracked down the clip and embedded it. I was so overcome with the awareness of how different my life has been, as well as by how excited these children were, to take imaginary flights on an old, grounded plane. Remember that? When our lives were just as shaped by what we imagined as by what is? When there was hardly a difference?
I’ve never had the sort of glamorous (or arduous…take your pick) job which requires any sort of air travel so I still like airports and airplanes. I always have. When I was 3.5, and we first moved to the Bay from Southern California, I used to beg my Father to take me to SFO, so I could watch the planes take off. A year later, when I went to India for the second time, I was elated to be on the plane vs. in the car, watching them, from afar. The simple idea of being in the sky thrilled me; the fact that I was transported to another world, one which reduced my parents to crying children themselves, only reinforced my sense of wonder at what an airplane could do.
We all have our individual reminders of how everything is utterly different, post-9/11. Almost all of us are now kindly “invited” to be actors in security theater– but that’s not when I’m hit with the “it’ll never be the same”-realization. I don’t feel that prickly, undeniable sadness when I’m putting my shoes back on after going through security or when I’m forced to remain in my seat for the final 30 minutes before landing at DCA. I feel it when I see the cockpit doors.When I was 16 months old, we received the news every first generation Desi dreads; my paternal Appachan was on his death bed, in Kerala. He had never seen his only American grandchild, the only child of his favorite son, the son with whom he had the most in common and yet, or perhaps because of it, the son with whom he had also fought the most. Finances be damned, my father grimly applied for my first passport, and he and I left for “home”.
While on that, my first flight, when my father passed out from exhaustion, I apparently slipped away from him and toddled up to the front of the plane, past all the other sleeping passengers, which is where I remained, until my frantic parent rushed there with a flight attendant in tow, only to find me in one of the pilot’s laps, proudly wearing “wings” pinned to my pinafore. Now, when I’m buckled in and idly watching the safety demonstration, I think of how no other baby (let alone a brown one) will probably get away with such shenanigans, ever again. I think of how some other uncle won’t have that story to retell over cut-crystal glasses of Black, at dinner parties where their wives are in the kitchen and their children are playing in the basement.
I probably broke free and was able to make a waddling run for it because my Mother could not accompany us on that trip. Still, my Father had many offers of help, especially from the brightly-made up Indian stewardesses who posed for pictures with me in their arms. When I saw the sweetheart flight attendant in the NBC news clip, who talked about enlarging possibilities for the children on her flight, who happily said that “we are providing them with dreams“, I immediately remembered those photographs, as well as everything else I am typing.
To know that a mere three percent of Indians have ever taken a flight…well, it shouldn’t have shook me, and shamed me the way it did, but…it did. I half-exist in this rarefied, virtual world, where according to my Mom (and because of this blog) I’m “more Indian” than I’ve ever been in my life, but I keep forgetting that the Indians I interact with get on planes all the time, like it ain’t no thang. I am not as mindful as I should be, about differences and privilege, but also about the purity of spirit we all seem to lose while going through puberty. I got to fly around the world before my second birthday; I wish the same, and so much more, for every child on Bahadur-uncle’s magical flight.
More, via a year-old (which explains the disparity between stats?) TimesOnline article:
AN INDIAN entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.
All they want is the chance to know what it is like to sit on a plane, listen to announcements and be waited on by stewardesses bustling up and down the aisle.
In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the â€œvirtual journeysâ€ of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.
As on an ordinary aircraft, customers buckle themselves in and watch a safety demonstration. But when they look out of the windows, the landscape never changes. Even if â€œCaptainâ€ Gupta wanted to get off the ground, the plane would not go far: it only has one wing and a large part of the tail is missing.
None of that bothers Gupta as he sits at the controls in his cockpit. His regular announcements include, â€œWe will soon be passing through a zone of turbulenceâ€ and â€œWe are about to begin our descent into Delhi.â€
…Passengers are looked after by a crew of six, including Guptaâ€™s wife, who goes up and down the aisle with her drinks trolley, serving meals in airline trays.
Some of the stewardesses hope to get jobs on proper planes one day and regard it as useful practice.
As for the passengers, they are too poor to afford a real airline ticket and most have only ever seen the interior of an aircraft in films.
…Jasmine, a young teacher, had been longing to go on a plane. â€œIt is much more beautiful than I ever imagined,â€ she said. [link]