Saturday, March 15, 2014

Of water served with a lime twist

Spicy Saturday
(This post has been selected by blogadda for its Spicy Saturday Picks on March 22, 2014)
Having embarked on the first phoren journey with exactly four tick-offs from my quota of transgressions and a little loss of self-confidence because of certain events at the airport, I covered the flight from Mumbai to San Francisco with relatively less amount of excitement and adrenaline rush. From the usual I-have-paid-for-this-flight-so-I-can-take-as-many-chocolates-as-I-wish lady to the I-want-a-glass-of-water-even-if-the-fellow-passengers-are-still-not-settled gentleman,in-flight experiences those days, even on international routes, were not very different from what we see today. However, one small incident gave me a sneak peek in to what I was going to endure in a few days. This is what transpired ...

Air Hostess (AH): Good evening sir! What can I get for you? (Pushing the big drinks trolley)

Ruminating Optimist (RO): Can you please get me a glass of water? (Feeling thirsty and dehydrated, with my facial expressions leaving no doubt about my state)

AH: I beg your pardon!

RO: Can I please get a glass of water? (Mind you, I was concentrating more on getting the damn pronunciation right. So emphasis was on the wa- of water which, coming from a newbie, sounded more like whoa- or voa- ... anything but what it is supposed to be. The -ter, as they say, was lost in pronunciation.)

AH: OK sir. (With an amused look on her face, what with the funny pronunciation.)

In around five minutes, there she was, with a glass of water in her hand, nicely garnished with a lime twist.

AH: Here you go sir.

RO: Thanks! (Feeling nice that she took special care to add the lime twist - what better than that when you want an energy boost. The glass was empty in a single gulp.)

The air hostess left a little more amused. I however felt a bitter taste in my mouth - may be the lime twist was not fresh.

After going through the bunch of newspapers and magazines I had picked up in the waiting area at the airport, I decided to shift my attention to the movie that was being played on the screen. However, the really uninteresting movie, coupled with the fact that I had no "good company" on the seat next to me and the taste of not-so-fresh lime twist in my mouth, I soon started getting a headache. Yes, movies released in 2006 with five-letter names starting with V- and ending with -h are capable of aggravating your headache when you are forced to watch them on the common screen hanging from the ceiling seven rows up. I waited for the headache to subside, assuming air pressure problems in the aircraft were the prime reason (did somebody say "incomplete knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge"?). With no signs of recovery, I again requested for whoa-ter from the still amused air hostess, swallowed a pain killer with it, and tried going off to sleep, but to no avail.

Through all this, the air hostess' how-can-this-guy-be-so-silly look did not go unnoticed. Though there was no lime twist this time (may be I didn't look that dehydrated), I still had a bitter taste in my mouth. Damn the painkiller ... I should have checked the expiry date. But why was she giving me those looks? Anyways, the Mumbai-Frankfurt leg of the journey got over, with some Asian-Veg meals thrown in between. For a change, they offered, and I accepted, apple juice, and the rest of the journey was smooth.

On the Frankfurt-San Francisco leg, when it was time for another hydrating exercise (why do they insist on hydrating so frequently), the gentleman sitting next to me requested for whoa-ter, with his -ter too lost in pronunciation. He was served the familiar-looking drink, in a familiar-looking glass, with the familiar-looking lime twist, but the not-so-familiar smile on the air hostess' face while serving the drink (as against the amused expression in case of the other air hostess). I asked for the same, and got the same, with the not-so-familiar smile. The taste was absolutely the same. How in the world can they once again serve me whoa-ter with a stale lime twist. Losing my patience, I stood up to check with her. My eyes then fell on the bottle from which she poured the drink for both of us. It was my turn to be amused. It read in bold - S.M.I.R.N.O.F.F. Tick tick five!

And then, I started replaying the events of the day, or night, depending upon which time zone the flight was in. The air hostess' first amused look (alcohol and thirst-quenching?), the lime twist (energy boost, eh?), second amused look after my single gulp (vodka, bottoms up?), headache and the bitter taste ... all blocks of the puzzle started falling in place. However, one piece of the puzzle out of reach of my comprehension was to find out how was the sound of -ter lost in pronunciation the same as -dka lost in pronunciation? I needed to know because somebody's misinterpretation ended up making a teetotaler sip vodka for the first time in life.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First time at International Airport

Although it has been close to seven years now, the experience of my first travel abroad is still vivid and brings a smile on my face. It was, like for everyone else, a mix of excitement and nervousness. The memories came back to tickle me last week while I was sharing them with a few friends of mine.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan
Having spent close to five man-days of effort between me, my boss and the travel adviser filling / reviewing the form, copying information from the last few approved visa applications, taking print outs and making full use of the xerox machine (and pricking my conscience once again on seeing that I scored more in Social Science than Mathematics and Science in my 10th Board, and still opted for Engineering), another three days during the hot and humid month of April doing rounds of the Consulate in Mumbai, while standing in the serpentine queues gulping random liquids available on the streets, and having ensured that I do all the right things (and avoid using all the "prohibited" words) during the interview process, I was on tenterhooks till the time I reached the airport, exactly four hours before the departure of the flight. Fortunately, for a change, there was no last minute drama, and I was delivered the visa and passport just when I was about to leave the queue outside the entry hall for the seventh time, to join it again at the back! My romance with queues had just started. Tick tick one!

With the newly purchased blue color Aristocrat (somebody had advised that a different color and a different brand is helpful while identifying the bag at the baggage carousel) and the new jacket for the forecast weather conditions (optimum utilization of baggage restrictions made me wear the jacket in that Mumbai weather), I was all set for the journey. Having crossed almost half the length of the kilometer long hall, I got irritated by the constant whistling by the security. Only when I noticed almost everyone staring at me, except for the gentleman in the expensive business suit who must be coming across such idiots during all his fortnightly sojourns to the International Airport, did I turn back and see that all that was for my silly act of transgression - I did not take my luggage through the X-Ray machine. Oops ... there goes a little bit of confidence. Tick tick two!

After checking in the luggage, I followed everyone towards the immigration section. I was so proud of the fact that, unlike other careless passengers, I did not have to make any last minute movements of luggage from the check-in bag to the cabin bag, or between the two check-in bags. After all, who likes to show the entire world how many pairs of undergarments are you carrying or for that matter how many packets of Haldiram Bhujiya and Mom-made Besan-ke-laddoo have you packed in your bag. All this while, I did not notice the small piece of paper in everybody's hands. I was made to realize this only after spending around half an hour in the queue when I was sent back some 50 places and a few meters to collect and fill the declaration form. Well, this was a significant improvement, having repeated this a few times outside the entry hall. Tick tick three!

Image courtesy of charlesdyer @ Flickr
With all the bags in place, forms submitted, all security measures dutifully followed (including the all-important, two-time removal & wearing of shoes, belts, wallets, jacket), honor and pride still intact (well almost, with the interesting concept of frisking making you all but ...), the two-liter, half-filled Bisleri bottle unceremoniously dumped by the security-conscious, environment-unfriendly officer in the garbage bin, and having ticked off three acts of felony from my quota, I finally reached the waiting area, just about one hour before the departure. As advised by a dear friend, I once again checked the multiple copies of passport and visa, the hotel address and local phone numbers hidden here, there and everywhere. More importantly, I double checked the bags for any unknown packets of white powder or unrecognized pieces of glass hidden inside the Parker pen I was carrying. Rest assured, I finally relaxed and began the last hour of my wait.

As I look back, a few things change over the years, a few remain exactly the same. Phones were not so smart those days, nor did they make you feel (or look) smart. Hence, the family in the next row was actually discussing, planning and looking forward to their holidays in the Caribbean, unlike what I witnessed a few months back. Then there was this lady sitting in the far corner all jittery with the thought of traveling alone with the little one in her lap. Yes, that can be some experience. Ask my dearie. And of course, there was this group of 20-somethings who were yapping their way to glory, trying to impress folks around with all those words they had memorized during the GRE preparation. All in all, everything around didn't give me a chance to notice that there were 20 calls I had missed from my Mom. There go the remaining 20 minutes of the wait, one each for the 20 times she tried to call me. Tick tick four!

The announcement came on time, giving me no opportunity to tick off any more chances, leaving enough in my inventory for the journey ahead ...