110 minutes

I love early morning flights. The alarm, hot shower, the sleepy good bye hug, the Meru ride to the airport, empty sodium vapour-lit roads, the bright smile of the check-in lady, the lazy yawn of the x-ray guy, the fresh brew of coffee at the Jet Airways lounge and the phone buzzing constantly with emails from countries that are about to sleep and those who have just gotten to work – pleasant reminders that all is well with my world.

The coffee had just hit its spot when the public address system announced the departure of my flight. Gate 12. This means I have about eleven minutes before they closed the gate. A five minute walk to the gate means I have another six for the ‘breakfast’. I begin to work my plate. Two of life’s greatest mysteries:
1. How the chefs in Jet lounges across the country, manage to make the most wonderful coconut chutneys, but just cannot make a single soft idli.

2. Why are airline fruit bowls always made of papayas and pineapples and the sourest of grapes? Is there a papaya lobby?

Pondering these, I grab 2 water bottles, put one in my bag, open the other and walk towards gate 12, which is comfortably placed right next to the escalator.

There is a spring in my step because I know that after today’s meeting in Mumbai, I am going on a week’s vacation for Deepavali. This also means I have till end of the day to wrap up all ‘work-related work’. So, the 2 and a half hours in the flight becomes very critical. Factoring in 40 minutes for take off and landing, I should have 110 minutes of quality time with my laptop. Even if I finish 50% of my to-do list, I will have a peaceful, non-pre-occupied vacation. That is the reason I am not carrying a book on this trip. I pat myself on the back for a wise decision and appreciate the relative lightness of my knapsack.

At the aerobridge, I do the customary ‘Indian aerobridge twist’ – a dance movement designed to show the guard your boarding pass and also the rubber stamp seal on the tag on your knapsack, in one fluid motion – crafted after years of practice. Remember Mallika Sherawat in ‘Dasavatharam’, bending down to show her rack and then twisting to jut her butt in your face? Now replace Mallika with me and a knapsack and you get the drift…

A couple of cabin-crew pleasantries later, I settle down into my usual seat. Now, there is a myth that there are only two classes in a domestic flight – business and (as Tharoor would put it) cattle class. That is a myth. There is a third ‘Trishanku’ class and that is the ‘rear exit row reclining aisles’ – quite a mouthful, but totally worth it! I am a man who is not particularly popular for doing things ahead of time, but over the years, I have come to appreciate planning for ‘Trishanku’ – because there are only two seats in this class (14C and 14D, if you are flying a 737) and you need to web check-in at least a day and a half before if you want to beat the other Trishanku-seekers.

What follows this is one of the main reasons I prefer to fly Jet or even fly, for that matter – The fresh lime juice. When it comes to my all time favourite liquids in the world, the Jet Airways fresh lime ranks in the top 5 – along with Kingfisher, the Big banyan Cabernet Sauvignon, the Kabaleeshwarar temple ‘thulasi theertham’ and water.

After savouring the last drop of it shamelessly, I get ready for the take off – which usually means a quick nap. As much as I appreciate my safety, I just cannot listen to another safety briefing again in life – even if it means that I will never again witness an attractive young woman, seductively put on a yellow mask, or even if this means that someday I will end up with a life jacket that I wouldn’t know how to blow into, in some faraway ocean that is rapidly freezing my balls.

Cruising altitude, seat belt signs are off and I jump to open my bag and pull the laptop out. And that is when it hit me.

There is a sign on the bottom-right part of my screen which tells me the amount of battery left in my laptop. Over the years, this particular piece of information has become more valuable to my life than stuff like blood pressure, love, world peace or sex. And presently, it is showing 3% and that means I have just about 10 minutes left – evidently, I have forgotten to put the switch on, after plugging the laptop for charging last night.

Ladies & Gentlemen, at this point, I need to clarify what this means to me. Not that I would not be able to finish my backlog before my vacation begins. Not that I will be missing a crucial deadline with a client. More than any of these, I am now left with 110 minutes and nothing to do. Not a fuckin thing! I pull out the magazine from the seat jacket, only to find that it is the same issue with the cover story on Sikkim tourism that I have read so many times, that I can recite it as a poem. I did not carry the iTouch because it is ‘unsocial’ on a family vacation. No book. No newspaper as this is a Jet Konnect flight. No nap, as unfortunately I had a good night’s sleep. The man to my left started snoring even before I boarded and so no scope for conversation.

My worst nightmare.

I try to close my eyes and think of something useful to do. The bladder isnt full and so a trip to the rest room will be pointless. Besides, they have just pulled the food trolley out and I wouldnt wanna wait behind it like a jackass. I briefly consider reading the safety instruction booklet and decide against it. It is funny how at 32, I am prepared for most things in life but not ‘Nothing’. In fact, it is quite scary. What the fuck will I do if I am ever 85, on a wheel chair, presumably blind and without a liver and in all likelihood, stuck with an unattractive mallu nurse? How will I kill time? I make a mental note to buy a pistol and a bullet on my 50th Birthday.

Back to present. The customary co-pilot announcement! (Message to co-pilots: Dear retards, let me tell you a couple of things. Stop waking people up in the middle of their naps to tell them your cruising altitude. We dont give a rat’s ass if you are flying at 30K feet or at 3 feet. We gave you loads of cash, so you can worry about this shit inside the cockpit and get me to my destination. And whats with the ‘outside temperature’ crap? Look around you. Do any of us look like we are about to open the door and take a walk in the clouds? Why the fuck should I care if the temperature outside is -25 degrees? )

Back at 14C, I am still awake and bewildered. I rearrange the contents of the seat jacket, dust off a spot on my trousers, uncross my legs and look at my watch again, hopefully. No luck – 70 minutes to go. Now I am seriously considering switching on my phone to play poker. My thoughts drift – wife, car, boss, obama, business idea, sachin, college hottie, deepavali…and magically, I relax. The to-do list fades into oblivion, the laptop gets stowed away, the legs gets stretched and I suddenly realize that I have not done this in a long time. I have not ‘just sat down’ and drifted along with my thoughts, without an agenda or a care, in a long long time. And boy it feels good. In fact, liberating! I indulge for a while and look at my watch again, reluctantly. No luck – it is landing time…

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5 thoughts on “110 minutes

  1. Very good post. I couldn't help but realize how much of a seasoned traveler I've become. Like you, I have perfected the boarding pass/security tag "twist" and the advance check in for the emergency exit row. I might have a leg up on you in the "doing nothing" department. Being airborne is one of the few times that I can be free from any electronic devices or communication with the downstairs world. Good time for quiet self-reflection. Or choreographing Bhangra moves in your head. Whatever floats your boat.

  2. i was surprised to see filter coffee missing too…but it is most probably above all lists… :)for some reason, i like knowing we are flying over some place or at some ht/temperature…makes me feel amazed at all that man has achieved….or maybe the novelty just hasn't worn off!!

  3. thanks, folks!@marquez & @arch: lets just say I wrote this on a late saturday night and so FC wasnt top of mind ;)But then again, I think I like Arch's explanation and so I will stick to that!

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