“Would you care for some crossiants?” asked the girl in aubergine. Today I figured what she meant but that day I hadn’t.
Back in the 90s when the budget airlines hadn’t come in most of us almost always took trains. It could be to go to the next town or to a far off city. Air conditioned travel was only for the rich and flying was almost unheard of, at least in my middle class, small town life.
Thanks to father and his LTC though we did get to fly once in a while, four years to be precise. We’d almost always be the only ones around to be going on holidays to far off places that too in an aircraft. If course that made us smug.
On one such holiday, my brother and I found ourselves aboard a Rashtriya Sahara flight. For those born on the right side of the century, it was an airline that was (as evident) run by the Sahara group. True to everything that the group stood for the airline was cool and posh too. The stewards were great looking, the air hostesses were smart and well dressed, there was much drama and fanfare. If you are older than 30 then you’d also remember that this was the time when every airline was full service. There was no concept of buying your own food, or bringing it along: you were a guest in the aircraft and they’d take care of you like one. Welcome drinks, candies, toys and good food were expected; great service was the norm. Whether it was a good idea or not, to budgetise flying that is, is debatable, but it surely has sucked away the excitement of flying. You no longer look forward to the vacation that entailed a flight or two and there is more stress than joy in traveling.
Or maybe it is age. At twenty everything is exciting; at forty everything is boring. Well almost.
I digress. So this burning June afternoon in Delhi, parents, sister, brother and I boarded a Rashtriya Sahara flight. We had travelled to Delhi from Lucknow on another flight earlier that day and this one was taking us to Goa. Goa, unlike today wasn’t your everyday place. People hardly went there and those who did were always considered a notch above. Just like those who took airplanes instead of trains.
At twenty and sixteen my brother and I were obviously excited about the whole flying to Goa thing. We would be among the it crowd at school and college. While I had bought almost entirely new wardrobe (most of which was useless in the rain drenched state), brother and sister had other plans: to take as much candy as possible on the flight.
It was at such a moment that we encountered things we didn’t understand or hadn’t seen before. The cold towel was one such. When the stewardess got us those, we weren’t sure if what to do. We looked at each other sheepishly and wondered what could this be for. Father, as always, came to rescue.
Almost immediately after the towel we were offered a drink. The girl came to each of us and said ‘would you care for some mango pa nna?’ Now, if you have ever paid attention to the airline stewards speak, you’d know that they have a peculiar intonation. This makes all of them sound similar and yet make them hard to understand. Especially to someone not used to them. So, neither my siblings, not I could figure what did she say. But, how could we ask her to repeat? It’d have proven we didn’t know.
Not wanting to forgo a treat (everything on board was one), we took the glasses. What ensued aftwards is a family joke. Too embarrassed to return, too fussy to drink we kept passing the glasses onto each other, until mother returned them.
I don’t recall much else of the flight, but today as I heard the girl offer me a croissant in the same intonation, I was, in a moment, transported to that June afternoon twenty years ago.
Oh! what will I do to get that innocence back.