A Vembanad Weekend – Part 1


“Due to operational constraints, we have moved your reservation from the flight at 7:30 a.m. to the one at 10:30”, said the polite one from the helpline. 
“Oh but there was no prior notice! No messages or mails.”
“Sorry sir, as I mentioned, due to operational constraints, we have…”
“Yeah okay, okay, thanks a lot!” I interrupted before he could repeat the response as would a two-toned recorded voice if we pressed the wrong button in the sadistic automated phone system.
“Perks of the on-demand services,” I thought. “You-demand-only-then-will-we-inform”, I mumbled at the stroke of midnight and went to sleep with a rejuvenated hope of sleeping for a couple more hours.
Departure
While my dear was rushing through her last-minute cosmetic calibrations and I was jealously suffering from a bad hair day, I received a call from the cab driver informing that he had reached already. We did the safety checkups and secured the house and lugged away to wait at the gate. Every time I called the cabbie asking him where he was, he’d say he had reached already while we both were still at the gate counting crows. Finally, I went on a merry-go-round through the neighboring streets to find him parked at another apartment gate waiting to pick up an imaginary customer. 
One thing I always prayed for is not giving directions to stations and airports. But that’s exactly what I had to do that morning since he safely claimed to be new to the city and for all we knew he might have taken us to the Ennore port instead of the airport. 
Claiming to be a novice has its perks but not always. 15 minutes later, he received a screaming call from the controller’s office asking him why he hadn’t turned on the trip yet. He immediately turned it on and apologized to us, the wrong people in fact. He was so nervous he even requested us in a shaking voice, “Sir, could you please get down as soon I stop at the departure block. Without a toll, I just have 2 minutes to clear.” For a change, I thought I met a cab driver who was not brash and unapologetic.
Check-in
The security officer at the entrance checked my PAN card and then looked deadpan at my face for some time. Probably, the photo looked as though my face were repeatedly rammed and cast in a foundry and my hair closely resembling that of someone who traveled against the wind for a very long time. Government IDs always remind me that I can effortlessly hit the abyss in one aspect of my existence. He knew that too and so he let me in.  
The airline counter looked free with an upbeat helper at the desk. We had one carry-on bag and one duffel bag apart from the ever elusive lady’s handbag. Though the weight of carry-on case was touch and go, the airline didn’t push for checking it in. We got the boarding passes and eased through the security cordon, and double-checked the faded security seals, which came from a rubber stamp that needed a definite bonding with some saliva. 
Boarding
Waiting to board a flight seldom builds up the excitement for a vacation. Nine times out of ten, it is a drag that includes restrooms with urinals rinsing themselves in confused intervals, nervously open toilet doors, and fully relieved men who hawk and spit in cycles and then stand still for a long time gazing into the mirror so calm as though they’ve figured everything out; coffee shops known as the poor traveler’s food court, which serve vending machine coffee (90% froth and 9% milk and 1 drop of decoction),  plastic-wrapped triangle-shaped sandwiches and desiccated burgers; bookstores selling anything marked ‘One Million Copies Sold’ and a few love stories from elite institutes that are tailored to be endured for shorter flights ; flight status screens that could freeze and reboot any moment; multitasking passengers who eat, type and Bluetooth at the same time; single minded passengers who look around for suspicious passengers and end up looking suspicious;  lastly, a WIFI that never connects. It is an uncompromising drag. And when it is a domestic flight, chances are that you would even end up returning home on account of the flight getting cancelled for the day due to its internal operational strategies, or for that matter your plane is still in its previous flight circling the marina to find a parking spot. 
We sat in the coffee shop as the gate area seats had every alternate seat taken like a conspiracy against the couples. We chatted, grabbed sandwiches and some tea, and checked the current weather in Kumarakom, of course in the weather apps, which always predicts thunderstorms for the vacation days. As a backup, she had packed a few books to curl up with while my backup plan was to keep thinking about what my backup plan would be. We couldn’t hear the boarding announcement but the sudden fattening of the queue at our gate reaffirmed it. We attached ourselves to one of its multiple tails trying to get a glimpse of our plane. Having boarded the second bus amidst a local politician trying to jump the queue as would a fighter on a first-day-first-show ticket counter, I was so excited to be on the brink of my first domestic flight experience. The plane looked stylish; a Bombardier Q400. As one of the fellow travelers said, “Oh it’s a small flight!”
It is not small. It is tiny; much like a private jet for the sophisticated. Suddenly, I began feeling like a hotshot business shark who gets on his jet to close a billion dollar deal. Only difference was I had 75 fellow flyers who reminded me that I was not.

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