First day in an aeroplane. The excitement was not about taking off on a scientific marvel or agonising if its the Airbus or a Boeing, but the curiosity was about two other things;
a) how to pee in the aeroplane, and
b) what an air-hostess really looks like and what she really does.
Back in the nursery days, the back-bencher pundits of my class held the opinion that the rain comes to earth when Lord Indra pees from the heaven. My imagination of ‘peeing on the world’ from an aeroplane would be the closest to Lord Indra’s act.
In my lower middle class school, 95% of the good-looking girls of my acquaintance dreamt of becoming air-hostesses. The remaining 5% or less wanted to be a teacher or a doctor. None of those girls or their family had ever boarded a plane; so nobody had the slightest clue what an air-hostess really does. The air-hostess was the ultimate statement of fashion, beauty and high-flying career. This had a cascading affect and the worst victims were the students at NITs and IITs. During my engineering, I always considered air-hostesses to be my enemies, as they stole all beautiful batch mates.
I was travelling from Guwahati to Hyderabad by a Kingfisher B737 sized aeroplane. Those were comparatively ‘Good times’ for Vijay Mallya. Soon after boarding the plane I concentrated on the four air-hostesses as if I have to write a dissertation after landing in Hyderabad.
“They couldn’t have adjusted to our engineering hostel food and the poor boys would have had to help them for all metal-workshop and programming assignments”, was my first thought.
The three-hour flight experience shook many of my childhood concepts about the air-hostess. It so happened that there were some ‘seasoned’ passengers who had a terrible attitude toward them. I never thought someone can shout at those ‘beautiful angels’ just because they could not provide you a regional news-paper. While collecting back the food-remains from the passengers, I was like, “show me where the dustbin is, I like doing my own stuffs; what’s your name by the way! “.
The final blow came from an aunty, who suddenly realized her little-one had done the number two in her lap. Her immediate reaction was to call an air-hostess to hold the crying baby before herself rushing into the rest room. Imagine the situation of the pretty girl – standing at the focal point of 50 odd staring eyes, consoling a crying baby whom she could not bring close to her body, catalysing the dissemination of an unpleasant odour all around and still trying hard to make a natural looking smile as per written clause in her appointment letter.
My imaginative brain tried to imagine her as the future mother of a baby, for example, say, my baby! Error, error – my brain was denied to process that thought further.
My flight left me with a mixed feeling of joy and relief. Joy because I de-mystified one of my childhood enigmas and relief because I need not to update my diary page titled- “World’s most awesome careers- you are incomplete without these professions”. I did not feel the same envy for the air-hostesses as I possess for wildlife photographers or fighter Jet pilots. In fact, I felt like yelling at those beautiful girls of my acquaintance “I am no longer angry with you people, because, I really don’t care now”.
However, I was damn confused – the air-hostesses were not doing some extra-ordinarily creative work that I would relentlessly pitch my sister or girl-friend to try for. At the same time, this is a profession with a handsome salary, job security, and a profession of absolute necessity considering the gigantic technical specifications of an aeroplane. Now, if I look closely the only thing that doesn’t fit here is the species called “beautiful girls”. Hmm, let me explain.
After boarding an aeroplane, I want an air-hostess to greet me with a natural smile, take care of small necessities, make me comfortable so that I can ask for things without hesitation, and above all make me feel cared. But when a smartly dressed beautiful girl, with flawless makeup greets a guy of my age with the biggest artificial smile thinking – kamine ko dekhne se hi harami lag raha hai, parrots unintelligible words, bargains with you for a chicken sandwich over veg sandwich as she does not have change and tries hard to conceal her hot bombshell image while collecting the food remains from the ‘buri najarwale’ passengers, there is absolutely no scope for you to feel cared or comfortable. In fact, the same discomfort can be seen with the air-hostess girls also. Can we say this phenomenon as putting the wrong person in the right profession? Is it really necessary that air-hostess have to look like ramp models?
Am I making sense at all?
Recently I got shifted to Aizawl in Mizoram and I decided flying with Air India as one of my moral responsibilities. But to be honest, Air India did not simply remain as a forced obligation; it helped me unravel the ‘truth’ of air-hostess profession.
The first day I boarded Air India’s Airbus-A320 from Kolkata to Aizawl, I was greeted by two ladies wearing sari speaking clearly the word Namaste. Though the sari and Namaste satisfied my patriotic soul, my childhood image of air-hostess got severely jumbled up. My imagination of a pretty and gorgeous air-hostess suddenly got replaced by a woman of my mother’s age. I never visualized any gorgeous girl to be my mother for God’s sake; it is like hydrogen and oxygen yielding Calcium Carbonate after a reaction – will anyone expect?
After grasping the initial jolt, I tried to redefine my age-old concept on air-hostess. First, I need not to act smart or try to grab their attention- so, that was kind of cool. Next, I need a newspaper, ok, here she is.
“Hi, may I have a newspaper please?”
“I am sorry Sir, we don’t have any extra. But I can give you one Bengali newspaper.”
“In that case, can I have an Assamese newspaper instead?”, I was sarcastic.
“Oh, are you from Assam? The current edition of our Air India magazine covers Guwahati exclusively. You might wanna have a look”.
Well, she handled me quite nicely. In fact, she satisfied my reading appetite in the most suitable way. “Mera bhi chalta hai” is a soothing experience, isn’t it?
Did their age have any influence in the aeroplane? Yes, it was and surprisingly the output was immensely positive. I observed the lack of aggression among the frequent flyers – thanks to the Indian tradition where we are taught to respect our elders even if they are wrong. The lustful eyes were missing; rather they were concentrated on what Nishiraj A Baruah had published in the Air India Magazine. The young ladies were at peace as they did not have to compare themselves with the air-hostesses. The children were happy as most of them received an affectionate touch by their ‘mother-alike’ aunt inside the plane. Wow- what a tranquil atmosphere! Eventually the important piece came where Air India is unique from all other Indian carriers- free food. And, I believe everybody will agree that nobody on earth can serve you food in a better way than your mother (Just for information- I am not married yet).
By the time I landed on Lengpui airport in Northeast India, my concept on Air-hostess had a completely new definition. Thanks to Air India – I felt comfortable and cared for the first time while doing an air travel. I remember reading an excellent article on the hospitality industry by a British writer. It is a fact that beauty is given overrated importance in this industry, though the actual theme & objectives are quite different. I believe marketing and make-ups should not destroy the originality of any product. Think, how will you react if Bollywood movies start coming without songs and dances, but only with lip-locks? Hmm ok, not an accurate comparison maybe, but I am representing the perspective of majority of Indian audiences; you know what I mean!
You must be wondering when I did get the opportunity for ‘peeing on the world’. Frankly, I always felt very shy to queue for entering the lavatory in front of all staring eyes – thanks to my middle class upbringing. I also have complaint for the designers of Boeing and Airbus -why the hell they have to put the lavatory close to the area where airhostesses assemble, gossips and prepare food? Nevertheless, I kept postponing this peeing experiment which had a positive effect on my urine-control power in the unhealthiest way. In my last Air India travel, I was wearing my new Nike shoes and just thought, ‘Let’s do it’.
This time I did not feel shy to queue in front of the lavatory, but my urge coincided with the food service of the air-hostesses. Wrong time always- I returned to my seat. And, something unexpected happened after five minutes. The air-hostess who was asking for free passage came to my seat and informed that the lavatory was free for use. Wow!
“Oh mother, only you can understand my pain. How can I be complete without you……….?”
As I was acting as Lord Indra’s new avatar inside the lavatory, I only controlled my thoughts how Air India might change the emerging concept of “Air-host” one day.
Manjit Nath is an engineer from NIT Durgapur, now working for the government.
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