Payanangal mudivadhundu!

It was very similar to a conveyer belt except that it carried humans. Each stretch ran for few kilometers and these belts placed serially one after the other enabled passengers to reach their gate. I was in awe marvelling at the sheer enormity of the Suwarnabhumi airport. This airport in Bangkok was the first one I saw outside India and the very sight wowed me! I was able to feel the amount of planning that went in to have made this a reality. The airport was, well state of art, if I can state it in banal terms. I had to get to the counter that would give me the boarding pass to enable me complete my travel to Seattle. There were direction boards everywhere and still I felt lost. Maybe the amazement that had gotten into me overwhelmed me I guess. There was one more transit point in Narita, Tokyo and the journey was already taking a toll on me.

I would’ve proclaimed that this was my first experience of cruising amidst clouds had it not been for that Kingfisher experience few months back. I was en route Mumbai when I got the message of my grandmother’s expiry. Vijay Mallya welcomed me into his vehicle for a quick 2.5 hour journey back to Chennai. I have to confess that I would’ve enjoyed every bit of that first time experience had it got into my way during better circumstances. For once I saw the elite face of my country. Business men flaunting their blackberrys and discussing about their trip to Swiss or Rome, executives with expensive laptops pretending as though Microsoft’s next product depends on the way they spend these 2.5 hours, gorgeous air hostesses with expansive makeup (man I’ve seen such girls only in cinemas before!!)… I saw the divide reeling in front of me at that moment of time… between the rich and the poor, business men and the working class… Who said that Indian economy is booming? If a Dalal street surge alone meant economic boom, then India is booming!!

My second flying experience, to be put in simple words, was not as exciting as the first. For one, I was not new to it. Also, the thought of leaving homeland coupled with the very ambience of that Thai Airways flight dampened me a bit. Only moments earlier, I had been given an elaborate send-off what with my entire family and Kartik waiting in the visitors’ area of the Chennai International terminal till the last second they could get a glimpse of me. Appa’s moist eyes still were standing in front of me even as I heard the announcement “Please fasten your seat belts during take off and landing…”

I was given all the warnings that any lacto-vegetarian would’ve received when he travels out of the country. I was slowly starting to understand what those numerous “you’ve to adjust da” meant! The breakfast didn’t present a great sight but I made sure I pushed in a bit into my oesophagus, just for purposes of survival. Tropicana was more similar to one of those cough syrups that amma used to give me but I vowed that I’ll drink this somehow and reach my destination rather that trying solid ‘unconfirmed’ food!

Indian railways has consistently failed to get me into serious sleep all these years. Sleeping deep in journeys, even when I’ve been provided with a nice berth, was not my piece of cake. Thai ensured that I don’t even get such a thought with those closely spaced seats that resembled nothing more than a luxury bus. Also as I already mentioned, the food was not great and neither were the air hostesses ;) Wavering incoherent thoughts befriended me for the next four hours... family, US, security checks, J2EE…

Airbus carried me from Mumbai-Chennai as well as Chennai-Bangkok. It was the first time I boarded a huge flying vehicle made by the world’s largest manufacturer… I work for projects that are being deployed in this guy’s company. (My organization prevents me from disclosing client identities and that is why this small puzzle!!). Destination Narita. I would’ve uttered a thousand thanks for allocating Sathish the very next seat. I was playing with the Toshiba laptop that Infy had given me, trying to detect some wireless network. A voice asked “Infy’aa?”. Sathish is from Infosys deputed for Microsoft, Seattle. “Thank God I have a companion for the rest of the journey – 18 more hours to go!”

Sathish and I were closer in aspects other than just the spacing between our seats. He had also blocked and released air tickets for nearly a month thanks to the innumerable uncertainties clients throw every now and then. We started striking some lively conversations pretty quickly. I knew that this would be a much better way to fly than staring at boring magazines and ordinary air hostesses! I was walking around so much just to make sure that my spine didn’t get too stiff. This time, there were more options than Tropicana. Some bread, butter, fruit… Occasional naps, intermittent chats, sky gazing and we were in Narita in no time.

I didn’t see as much of the Tokyo airport as I did of Bangkok. The route to our gate was pretty straightforward and so we reached quickly and opened our laptops. In few minutes, I was chatting with my school friend Srikanth through Gmail. Broadband signals wandering all around the airport ensures that passengers could get connected to the internet without wires, free of cost!! I’ve to confess that technology has grown so furiously that information sharing has become simpler than brushing your teeth. A quick mail to my sis and then to my colleagues…Status report – “Hey! Am in Narita!”

The last leg was the longest and that didn’t amuse either of us. We were already starting to get restless. I boarded yet another ordinary United Airlines deck… there was yet another first for me… seeing so many Caucasians in one single place sent a very strange feeling into me. I was finding it odd all of a sudden, with everyone greeting all unknown Homo sapiens around them trying to behave far too courteous. For someone from such a populous country as ours where greeting everyone on a Chennai suburban train would mean nothing but absolute non-sense, the fact that people need to be so polite during a travel evaded my understanding. But still, to keep up with the spirit of being a Roman in Rome, I also started smiling and saying “Hi”, “Sorry”, “Thank you” for anything and everything they did. The breakfast hurled a thunder on my head. “Chicken or mutton Sir?” I felt like asking “Mavale! Enna di nakkal panriyaa??” There I sat motionless, optionless!!! “Tropicana dhaan po!”

10 hours, I can write and give you, is far too much to travel in one leg. Sathish was no longer sitting next to me and I was left without company again. The guy sitting next to me gulped beer after beer, bottle after bottle, as though his only mission in life was to do that. I walked and drank Tropicana until the little wheels under this enormous vehicle opened out to touch earth again!

Flying thousands of feet above land is something that has always fascinated me. I’m sure someone would’ve stopped and stood in the rim of GST road, just like Kartik and I have done so many times, to marvel at the Thai airlines that carried me. The cotton like stacks, the fine layer resembling glass, the sudden enormous ‘white out’ and the innumerable formations that the clouds make high above the reach of humans generated a sense of admiration in me. The enormous engines that propelled the huge flyer, the speed at which the wings slit across air like a razor and the sharp descent in seconds reducing vast expanses of land into google earth images magnetized me into a state of astonishment. All this is certainly not child’s play!

Heroes get what they deserve and I did ;) I was presented with a wonderful welcome at the SeaTec (Seattle-Tacoma) airport. Anand, Lakshmi & Susheel lined up to spread the red carpet… something that not everyone gets on landing into unfamiliar territory. Thanks guys!

The cool Seattle breeze (11 degrees was the temperature), emission free Audis and Chevys, lush green tropical trees, McDonald’s, huge muscular men…. “En payyan Amerikka la irukkaan!”