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The First Flight

He both heaved a sigh of relief and jumped up at the same time as he sank into the executive class seat of the premier airline taking off to New York. The former, because, he had just somehow managed to catch his flight at the very last moment and jumped, because the buckle on the seat stung his posterior at the most obnoxious angle.

He could not, but notice the anger and irritation behind the extra superficial smile of the air-hostess, who handed him a soft freshener of a hand towel with a pair of tongs. The smile on her pancake face was just as artificial and plastic as the hard, gelled hair of hers.

He loved creating images. Ms. Pouty Red Lips was now bending ever so graciously to take back the hand towel with a pair of tongs. He imagined the same tongs firmly planted in her gelled crop. He was sure, they would balance there till they landed in Manhattan.

He smiled at his imagination. She smiled back. He could almost read her mind. “Jerk” did she say?

He could not care less. He refused to give back the Turkish, still smelling wonderfully minty, hand towel. Almost blatantly ignoring the fake pout, fake mannered, fake haired damsel, he put the white towel on his tired, two days due shave, face. He closed his eyes. Ignored her. Ignored the safety announcements. Ignored the world.

Avi. For that was his name. Not Ravi, not Avinash. Simply Avi. Avi was on his way to the US of A, yet again. His third, or was it the fourth trip the other side of the globe? He wondered briefly, before chucking the thought, as even that would be a strain on his foggy brain. How did it matter?

All that mattered right now was a good decent sleep. He had not had a wink of sleep for the past 48 hours, working non-stop for as many hours. Being one of the most sought after MC, Master of Ceremonies in the country was not an easy job after all.

This last thought made Avi smile underneath the white towel.

It felt nice. To be one of the highest paid live show anchor. He indeed, had come a long way from the humble beginnings of doing live announcements in small time stores of the capital eons ago for measly sums of Rs.1000, for a day’s hard work.

Now, he was in a position to shamelessly, demand vulgar amounts for his talent on stage. The best part? People were ready to pay what he asked for.

Life had, had its ups and downs. Right now it was on a high. He wasn’t complaining.

Avi had reached the big league. Not without hard work though. He had both worked hard and struggled in the city of opportunities, Mumbai for years.

He now accepted shows, only with the biggest names in the industry. In turn, the biggest singers of Bollywood, the superstars of the celluloid when on a world tour sought only Avi.

He had that in him. Cheerful and spirited, Avi had a sense of humor to die for. He had a way with words. A complete charmer, he had the celebrities eating out of his hand. He had access, not only to their home but also their home cooked food. If on a personal level he was their buddy, on stage he was fire. Not really a stand-up comedian, a term and job of recent origin, he was a complete entertainer. The audience loved him. They looked forward to the ‘breaks’ in the performance for Avi to amuse them.

Such was the lad, who had humble beginnings in the capital as a small time anchor who did piece meal assignments.

The last decade and a half, he had tasted everything. Different mediums of entertainment. TV- Radio-big screen-theater-stage. Mini success, mini failures. Mega failures too. Presently he was basking in mega success.

With eyes still closed under the now, room temperature hand towel, he smiled once again. However many times he might travel by air, not one passed without him remembering his first flight.

After all, if it were not for that first flight, his flight into the world of entertainment, would never have taken off.

It was 18 years ago.

It was the time when few knew the full form of the term MC. Master of Ceremonies? Master Ceremony? Mike Commentator (Yeah, even that!)?

It was the age when, anchoring shows meant, a local fashion show by some obscure private media college, a corporate event by some, well, corporate house, doing live announcements in big departmental stores and the like.

Avi was forever, desperately on the lookout for such freelance work. An 18 year old, over enthusiastic kid, he was ready to take up any and every kind of assignment. With full support from his family, he knew, that Delhi was just a stepping stone on his way to tinsel town.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon.

Not that Avi was either moved or inspired by the fresh Tesu flowers on the road or by the birds screaming and chirping their mating calls.

He had no work for the past 3 days, apart from the mundane announcements on the local Radio channel.

Half sitting, half lying, he had his left leg on top of the 3-seater, worn out brown but inviting sofa, head plonked on two Gurjari cushions one above the other and an arm for extra support. The other hand, remote controlled the channels as if he were playing an arcade game single handedly. He finally, settled for the most insufferable movie playing on one of the channels. You would consider a Naseeruddin Shah starrer to be of some class, but not this one. Tridev. If the year of the film release had an award for the worst background music it would have gone to Tridev.

A half-eaten, now rapidly getting oxidized in the spring air, apple, lay ruthlessly abandoned on the wooden center table.

Avi’s mother stuttered into the living room from the kitchen, giving one dirty look at her most amazing piece of creation that lay on the sofa. “Avi! Will that apple turn into gold? Why is it half eaten and why is it lying on the table?”

Avi, always had a way with people. Mom? She was the easiest to handle. All he had to do was make the effort of getting off the sofa, put his dangly arms around her soft warm cuddly neck, make the same cute-I-love-you-mom face and whisper a sorry. That is it. She melted faster than the clarified butter she put dollops of, on his morning aloo-paranthas.

Just then the MTNL landline rang on volume 10 disrupting the filmy mother-son afternoon milaap.

Avi,  dived towards the dining table, that stood supported by the lemon coloured wall and doubled as the telephone stand too.

He already had an impressive voice. But you never knew if the person at the other end of the phone was Gulati Uncle, Hema Aunty or Laxman from the studio in CP!

The first ‘Hello’ into the phone should boom across to the other end, he felt. Hence, an extra base was added each time he took the phone.

This time it paid. It was a call from a known professional acquaintance. Work!!!!! In contrast to the audio that he portrayed into the mouth piece, was his small silent bhangra roll that he did, motioning his right hand towards his darling mother.

The sporting Mrs. Batra, as if taking the baton from his son, continued the bhangra jig almost in continuation. And then stopped with an expression of shock. This is how the conversation went.

Avi (with an extra base in his voice):  “Sure, when is the event? Tom morning? Ahaan…Hmm…Hmm..Ahaan. I will have to leave this evening? By flight? Oooo, I would get the tickets at the airport itself? Aaahaan…OK.”

Avi continued (Unable to control grin and excitement looking incessantly towards his mom): “No, no that is OK. What time is the FLIGHT today?”

Mrs. Batra, caught the magic word. Flight??? The client, whoever it be, was giving Avi flight tickets for someplace for a show to be hosted?

Mrs. Batra, could hear nothing beyond it. Flight tickets? Avi, his 18 year old was to go on his first flight? A thing they aspired unsuccessfully each year. One trip. One family holiday with one way on a plane. A government job surely did not allow such luxuries.

This came as a Godsend. Mrs. Batra was ecstatic. “Uparwale ne meri pukaar sun li. Tu flight se jayega bete Avi! Waheguru da Khalsa,” said she. “Waheguru di Fateh,” they said in unision.

The receiver was in place, but the Batra’s seemed to have lost their marbles. The elder sister, came out of her room, rubbing her eyes from the afternoon slumber, while Mr. Batra, rushed inside leaving a serious discussion with the next door neighbour on how to tackle the present monkey menace in the colony.

The two new entrants to the living room, on being told details of the telephone call, were as enthralled as the other two, except they did not do the bhangra jig. Instead, they looked at the clock.

It was nearing 3.15 pm.

The flight was at 7 pm.

Clothes needed to be decided.

The suitcase needed to be packed.

The airport was the other end of the city.

Which meant they had to all leave in less than an hour.

All had to leave?

Ofcourse! This Punjabi family, would all go together to leave their achiever son at the airport for his, first flight, ever.

For that matter the first flight by anyone in their family of four.

It was a big deal.

In less than an hour, they were all set. No cabs, no autos. “Assi sadday munday nu airport chaddan wastay appay jawange!” proclaimed the Batras to themselves.

The two scooters were taken out in style. An age old faithful ‘Lambretta’ and the comparatively new ‘Bajaj Chetak’. Mr. Batra and Mrs. Batra took over the wheels. The kids took one rear seat each, respectively. The small black overstuffed suitcase, was balanced between Mr. Batra’s legs in the front of the ‘Lambretta’. Both diligently, ensured the grown up kids wore their helmets, as they put on theirs.

The law abiding Batra parivar were set for the airport.

1 bulged out suitcase.

4 black helmets.

2 scooters.

And 4 very enthusiastic souls.

Just as they were putting on the 1st gear in synchronization, through the polycarbonate plastic helmets they heard a faint ring. The telephone!

To take the call or to not to take the call, that was the question.

Since, landlines then were the main source of two way communications, it was decided with a heavy and racing heart to quickly take the call and rush to the airport.

Avi’s spirited sister, did the job. One moment she was on the pillion seat, the next moment she had unlocked the bigger than a brick, Harrison lock and the next jiffy she was on the phone. The senior Batras, craned their neck to peep inside the living room. They saw their daughters face aghast and now speaking exaggeratedly, in a high pitched and volume for the hearing benefit of the three perched on their scooters.

The conversation went like this:

Avi’s sister: (Eyes getting bigger and wider with each passing moment): “What? Can’t hear you clearly, what did you say? Avi should not leave for the airport? (Desperately looking at mom Batra for help) Why? Because the main anchor who was to host the show is back and would go for the event to Mumbai?”

Mom Batra did a furious but nervous, dumb charades act. She animatedly took her right hand and hit her forehead and motioned with the same hand as if someone had left. The daughter, unquestioningly and obediently, translated the actions into words . ”Oh ho…he has already left for the airport. What can I do now?”

Mom Batra, now signaled her to cut short the telephonic conversation and hurry up. She did so dutifully.

This small incident, would not marr Mrs. Batra’s enthusiasm nor her son’s chance of taking his first flight!

The family of four rode to the other end of the city. With hardly any traffic on a Saturday, they were sure to reach in time.

However, Avi had not an inkling as too what would happen at the airport, where the organizers would be waiting to tell him about the change of plans. It would be embarrassing. He felt for his parents and sister whose hopes that soared a couple of hours ago, had come smashing down.

On reaching the airport, the four walked towards the main entrance. Avi met the organizers there. The organizers profusely apologized for the inconvenience caused and explained how, Avi was approached at the last moment for the event as the main host was unable to make it. However, now that the original choice was all set to take the assignment and fly to Mumbai, Avi would have to let it be this time. He was assured of a bigger event coming later that month.

Even as the kid in his last but one year of teens, nodded in disappointment, Mrs. Batra, would see none of this business.

The next thing you saw was the tall, smart, stout lady in a cream salwar kameez with a cream chiffon dupatta, leaping towards the organizer who was holding the 4 paged pamphlet of a flight ticket and almost violently snatching it away from him.

Looking menacingly and waving the ticket at the shocked organizers, she shouted, “Jayega to mera beta hi” and ran towards the entrance gate with the black suitcase in hand. Avi, completely bewildered followed his idol mom.

“Ja ja Avi, jaldi jaa, achcha show kariyo!” adviced she to her runaway son.

The organizers meanwhile stood frozen. Never in their lives had they met someone like Mrs. Batra or faced a situation as bizarre as this. How could they stop an elderly lady from snatching the ticket or running away with it? They sweated, thinking what or how would they explain the same to their boss in Delhi and super boss in Mumbai?

(It was the time when, ID cards were not needed to board planes really)

Avi not only boarded his first flight, he even had the free toffees served on flight.

God was kind.

He got the window seat too.

He made sure he went to the loo during the flight as he had questiones of his sister to be answered. “Dekh kar aaiyo, ki samaan jataa kahan hai, damn it?

He pressed the bell on top atleast twice. Once, to ask the time of landing. And the second, to ask for some water. It was fun.

What lay at the end of the 100 minute flight was something he was dreading but he decided to enjoy everything while being at a height of 31,000 feet, amidst clouds.

Yes, he eventually did anchor the event the next morning, despite looks and remarks from all and sundry at the venue. But he did such a fantastic job of it, that post the event, he was approached by 3 clients for new projects and events.

And he owed it all to mom Batra. His first flight.

Light, warmth and a smile,  came over his face. He realized the Turkish towel had slipped.

He opened his eyes lazily, to see the same air-hostess looking down (pun intended) at him nevertheless, with the same fake and synthetic smile. She asked if she could take the towel away.

He nodded. Grin still intact (Imagining a pair of stainless steel tongs on her super gelled hair).

She seemed to sneer.

“Jerk”, he seemed to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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