Flight lessons

Comfortably ensconced in my seat, I optimistically presumed that the one beside mine would remain unoccupied allowing me to stretch myself a bit on the seven-hour flight. My joy was short-lived when a burly, middle aged bloke staggered in late and lodged himself, literally spilling into my seat.

The seat belt couldn’t cover his girth, so the attendant instantly brought an extended one and fastened it, casting a sympathetic look at me. Indeed, I needed not just sympathy but empathy as well to cope with the impending ordeal. 

In short, I endured it all – the elbow nudges and thigh bulge, the loud yawns and burps and the ignominy of some space being usurped for which I had paid handsomely. I thought I had enough when just before landing he wheedled me to fill up his immigration form. That was the last straw, nearly compelling me to plead for oxygen.

On another flight, there was this retired teacher returning after visiting his son in the US. Naturally garrulous, he nattered away non-stop and questioned me as if he was writing my biography. Not only did he narrate his own life’s history but would look me in the eye while talking and expected me to do the same. Willy-nilly, I acquiesced.

But not all my neighbours on planes were like them. Indeed I was lucky once to rub shoulders with an airline pilot going on holiday and was fascinated listening to his adventurous tales and the happenings inside the cockpit.

A particularly interesting companion was a Dutch priest making his bi-annual visit to a village near Mysore where an organisation he supports teaches adults novel ways of eco friendly and sustainable living. So captivated was I by his story that I forgot to take his contact details. Striking up a conversation with other flight-mates some 30,000 feet high, also led to a discovery of common friends and similar interests, making the journey pleasant.

Several other flyers too left an impression. Like the affable gold trader from Dubai who was coming to Bangalore only for a weekend farm party, or the construction worker who broke down frequently, refusing to have his meal and surviving only on water because his mother had passed away that morning.

But a recent flight-mate never uttered a word, not even the customary hello. He switched channels on the small screen without plugging head phones.  Out of curiosity, I asked him if he lived in Bangalore. He wrote on a piece of paper, yes, and added, he was deaf and dumb.  I mumbled an apology. He wrote, “I like my world of silence”.

Truly, it takes all types to be your travel companions who do teach you to be kind, tolerant, friendly, helpful, silent and talkative. And yes, whether you like it or not, to even share your seat with bulky passengers.

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