Normally flights at dusk offer very little in terms of natural beauty. These further become gloomy affairs when thin occupancy rules the roost. After initial setback in form of gradual rise in altitude, a silver lining comes by way of sight of twinkling lights down below. These, nevertheless, disappear from view in no time.
The experience gained in Flight No. SG 894(Guwahati- Delhi) on 12th May 2011, however, came as a breath of fresh air. The half empty aircraft gained its expected altitude within 15 minutes. Though sky was clear at take off and one was craving to see the panoramic view of the gigantic Brahmaputra, it was the rugged beauty of thick black and white cloud formations that actually stole the show. The view in the fading orange light was not only eye catching, it was also awesome. The horizon was at its best, with five prominent colours - orange, yellow, green, blue and black making a candid statement. It was a rare opportunity to see nature in its absolute glory. It restored my mind, body and spirit after a hectic day. Despite a ban on in-flight photography, I cannot resist the temptation to take half a dozen shots of this incredible scenario.
My romance with the wonderful sight gets a temporary setback when a tall, slim and smart hostess offers a non-vegetarian dinner packet upon struggling a bit to pronounce my surname. I am impressed once again with Rekip, whose alert and sincere acumen ensured delivery of this hot packet, of course on payment. My request for a vegetarian meal in place of a non-vegetarian one is quickly acceded to. When asked to divulge the reason, a streak of smile is visible on the face of the teenaged hostess. She is informed that the vegetarian packet was being ‘saved’ for D.T. who loves hogging the plane food even if it is at the dead of the night. One of such ‘savings’ figured prominently under the title “Caught in thin air” in one of the national dailies in October 1999. The direction of the flight was opposite this time. The view outside gave an impression that the air craft was now plying through thick clouds. It prompted occasional announcements from the pilot and crew -“Please fasten your seat belts; please do not walk down the aisle; please do not use the rest-room”, etc.
By the time we complete sixty minutes, it is pitch dark. Couple of snow peaks, including Mount Kanchenjunga, that were visible in the beginning, are not to be seen. All of a sudden, the aircraft takes a sharp turn. We go up, somewhat lose balance and are placed far away from the colourful horizon. Within a few minutes, we have a reverse experience, while we go down. The feeling was worth remembering. The scenario was worth a watch. The swing reminded me of Sky Diving or Bungee Jumping that one has always admired on T.V. but, perhaps, never experienced. The exposure was bound to inspire an artist or a painter. It was a full blown visual fantasy. I indulge in serenity that the sky offers and sit comfortably without any company on seat no. 6 F to soak in overall freshness. The occasional air bumps do not deter my elated spirits.
When I feel a bit hungry, two crisp round cookies, a bar of Perk chocolate and a glass of piping hot coffee are offered by a smiling steward. Having such a tasty beverage at 35,000 feet has its own advantages. Soon after struggling with a prominent daily and a non-descript magazine, I pretend to sleep, to be woken up in time with the sight of neighbourhood of Delhi, bathed in the glow of innumerable but artificial sodium vapour lights. This means that I am finally cut off from the natural, colourful horizon. The announcement regarding Delhi temperature being 390C at night (?) as opposed to 180C at Guwahati dampens my spirits. As if this was not enough, the approach to the earmarked runway takes longer than expected.
At 8.42 PM, when air craft was barely 500 feet above ground and that its stationary sisters were distinctly visible, our air craft, in a spur of moment, began gaining height once again and got diverted to dark sky in no time. Sharp at 8.52 PM, the Commander informs that the instruction of Air Control to move to runway no. 3 was given at the last moment. But for the expert handling by him, you could not possibly have read this brush with nature and adventure.
We had a miraculous escape, though most of the passengers were immune or oblivious to the gravity of the situation. It was strange, yet true. On reaching ground at 9.30 PM, I thank the Almighty. Fourteen years down the line, I witness some change when I enter my Delhi home. On the last occasion my people did not know the contents and intricacies of the story “Caught in thin air”, when I had dashed to Delhi, braving a dusty sky from the west. Coming out of thick clouds, on the contrary, I had entered the national capital from the east this time. In 1997, my little son was sleeping to glory. Now being an adult, he was deeply engrossed in studies. DT, who had instantly grabbed the ‘saved’ dinner packet once, gleefully accepts the Spice Jet packet but does not show any inclination to consume. Perhaps the mobile phone message had made all the difference. They were already aware of tense moments of a flight which had more fun than fantasy. In the changed circumstances, praying to God was collective and more passionate. One can write and write but sharing some exciting and memorable moments in a concise way is a good food for thought for posterity. I suppose, that keeps one kicking and away from complacency. (20/05/2011)