Jun 24, 2009

The Conscience

He was very bugged. Embarking on a marathon flight journey to a place across the world always depressed him. More so as he is leaving behind everything he loved. And missed.

The flights made it worse. Having to squeeze into the seats and sit with his knees pushing against the row in front for 8 hours on the trot was not a pleasing prospect. So with a sullen face he walked to his seat, trying not to bang his carry-on luggage against any seated passengers and those who refuse to seat themselves even after stowing their baggage in the compartments overhead and checking them for the 100th time to ensure it does not fall out during the flight. At least, he had the foresight to reserve a seat in the row that was next to the emergency exit. These seats have no immediate row in front of them and allow the passenger to stretch their legs or to dance a jig as they deem appropriate. He didn’t get the window seat this time as he didn’t want to behold the melancholic sight of the aircraft taking off, leaving his home behind; and the bright lights of the city at 1AM always seemed to radiate towards him in the misty cold night as if beckoning him to return.

It was to his consternation that he found an elderly man ensconced on what was supposed to be his seat. Next to the old man was an equally old woman who was apparently the wife. He tells the man that he is on his seat. The couple, who appeared to be in their late seventies if not into eighties, had the appearance of belonging to a lower middle class family ailing from a small town. The old man replied with a mix of badly broken English and Telugu and couldn’t speak coherently because of age induced frailty. The woman who appeared to know nothing in English decided to keep quiet with a smug face. He called the Stewardess. The German lady spoke a smattering of English. But this was enough for her to get the information across to him aided by her animated gestures. It seemed that the elderly couple had got seats away from each other and so the elderly guy moved in to the seat next to the wife’s, which should have been his. So now he had to move to a seat in the row behind. The Stewardess asked him to tell the elderly man to move to his actual seat, since he is an Indian and so he should be able to speak Indian. After, several attempts he convinced the Stewardess of his inability to do so; primarily since there is no language by that name and also because the elderly man spoke only Telugu. So he resorted to talking to the elderly man in what little Telugu he knew. After several minutes and numerous attempts in communication, he realized that the flight doors were closed and it was ready for take-off. So he resigned to fate and took the window seat in the next row.

He has never slept properly in a flight and this time was no exception. He was awake most of the time and could see the elderly couple in front of him. They had difficulties when the Stewardess came with food plates. Neither could comprehend what the other was saying. A couple in their early thirties were next to him. But except for the time the meals came, they were fast asleep leaning on each other and did not bother to help the elderly couple out. Even when they were awake they were mainly preoccupied with whispering in each other’s ears. So, each time the Stewardess looked at him when she wanted ‘translation’ of what the elderly man was saying.

He was wondering how they are going to fill out all the Immigration forms. And like he feared, the moment they were handed out, the elderly man turned back in his seat to face him and asked for help. So he tried to reply in Telugu. The elderly man understood the problem and said he knows Tamil a bit. Not much, but still better than English. So he tried explaining to the man in Tamil. In the end, he decided he would fill out the forms for them. As he was doing so, the man was explaining that they were coming to see their son in US. Their son was working there and has not come to India for few years because of work. So he invited them to come and here they were.

He cursed their son for letting his aged parents take on such a long and complicated trip without a proper companion. At least he could have explained to them what to do at various point of the travel –changing flights, immigration forms etc. But they were aware of nothing. He explained it to them from scratch. He was angry on how some one could leave such old people to find out for themselves. So as he was cursing the son and filling the forms, the old man told that he was a farmer in Andhra and somehow managed to educate his son who found a job in US.

The flight landed. There was a long queue at the Immigration counter. He tried to patiently explain to the couple as much as possible about the process. The lines were moving slowly. He was standing for more than half hour and was getting fidgety. Suddenly some new counters were open and there was a mad scrambling for them and all lines got broken. When normalcy was restored, he realized that the couple was far behind in another queue. He was confused. Already he was late. Should he go back to where they were standing? But there were so many Indians behind him. Surely, some one would help them when the couple’s turn comes. Even as he was thinking he saw a woman travelling alone who spoke only Telugu. The Immigration officer asked people in the line for help and some one who spoke Telugu helped the lady. He was sure the couple would get some similar help. Some one will. So he went ahead with his Immigration. All the while casting furtive looks at the couple who were completely unaware of what was going on at the counters. He went ahead, collected his bags and rolled them away in the trolley. The guy who was supposed to pick him up would already be waiting for him. Surely, some one would help them. He was exiting the hall and he turned around to take a last look. They were almost last in the lines. Not many people in front of them either. There was an Indian in another line. And another who was doing the Immigration interview and would be done soon. He turned around the corner quickly not to let the sight bother him. Somehow it did. It was the fault of the son, he reasoned to himself. The son is an idiot. Let him come running. He must be here to pick them already. So if there was a problem he should be able to assist them.

Somehow it still bothers him.


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