The fright of flight

The fright of flight

We were transferred from New Delhi to Jodhpur in Rajasthan in 1950, as my husband, Ramanna, had been assigned to teach Meteorology to the cadets at the Air Force Academy there. We were given Air Force quarters which belonged to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Our neighbours  were all pilots, some training the cadets in flying and aerobatics and the like.

We were invited quite often to the parties in the air force community where I began giving veena recitals. Surprisingly, many of them had not even seen this musical instrument. They remarked in Hindi, “Itana dubala hai. Bechari ye instrument ko kaise utha sakthi hai?”

Jodhpur was a far-off place from my home town, Bangalore. News from home was scarce. There were no computers or cellphones back then. If there was any thing to convey, one had to book a trunk call, which, too, was difficult to get through. Once every blue moon, our relatives would think of writing to us.

But time moved on. Life was quite interesting in Rajasthan, what with camel rides, singers playing crude violins, snake-charmers, good savouries and sweet shops, bandhani sarees, handicrafts and so on. The zoo and the public library were right opposite our house. I often took my three-year-old son to see the beautiful peacocks that pranced about even outside the zoo. 

I had read about locust swarms in one of Pearl Bucks’ books. But while in Jodhpur, we actually saw them coming at us like a dust storm from our balcony. They came close, sat for a split second on the trees near our flats and denuded them completely. It amazed me how, within a second, a great destruction was done.

We were discussing this and various other topics at a party, when one of our pilot friends offered to take our family for a flight on ‘Tiger Moth’, a small biplane. The plane belonged to the Maharajah of a princely state in Rajasthan and this friend would pilot for him. As the opportunity presented itself voluntarily, we made a grab for it.

The D-day arrived. My husband, my son and I went to the airport and boarded the plane. Since it was my first flight, fright took hold of me. Though an agnostic, the phobia transformed me into a “paramabhakt” of Lord Rama. I began chanting “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram” under my breath.

Our pilot-friend was explaining about the palaces and the forts below us, but I was not sure I heard him in between my fervent prayers. My husband, somehow, sensed my fear and assured me that all was well and that I should enjoy my first flight. His advise infused some courage in me and hum of thrill took over.

The pilot took us all around Rajasthan for about an hour. After alighting and reaching home, I told all my friends about my first flight experience. Not in the least revealing my phobia, I gushed about how nice the experience was, and how we appreciated all the forts, palaces and the desert areas from above.  

Today, having flown to the US around 13-14 times to visit my children, I no longer experience any phobia. Instead, I enjoy talking to fellow passengers, asking them about their professions and experiences and thanking the air hostess’ hospitality. But that first flight in Jodhpur remains indelibly etched in memory.

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