This write-up was written a few years ago when my son was five years of age. We have travelled with each other; in India and outside and he is the most enthusiastic, no-fuss travel companion one can hope for. His excitement begins from the time he begins to pack his little blue suitcase and does not dip down even by a fraction during the course of our sojourn. He is happy travelling by any means of transport and has not given me any trouble where food is concerned. Just as excited with dosa and Idlis as he is with a subway sandwich or his favourite croissant or scones with butter. He just wants to be ‘on the go’. For me, surviving turbulence is one of the sore points about long journeys. Sharing my write up about the same.

I love travelling. The very thought of visiting new places, meeting new people, and infusing my senses in new smells, sights and sounds puts a smile on my face. Very often these days, I travel with my five-year-old son. I, armed with my suitcase and he with his —a small fluorescent blue case— that he loves to pack, drag, and flaunt. We do fabulously in each other’s company, mostly. I like nosing around the airport bookshops and retail outlets while he plonks himself near a window, clapping at the sight of every flight landing and take-off.  Intermittently, he glances at me and shouts the names of all the flights within view. Listening very earnestly to the flight announcements, he jumps up each time he hears the name of the flight we’ve booked. ‘Did you hear? She said, “Vistara”,’ he would exclaim horrified.

‘Let’s go, or we’ll miss it,’ and he would lunge at his suitcase. After much explaining, he now understands that Vistara has many flights plying to different cities and that we are only going by one of them.

All is fine till we board the plane. For my son, it’s nothing short of an adventure. To think about it, that’s what is, really. You can gulp and guzzle juice and potato chips while looking at, cottony-buttery clouds floating next to the window and lego shaped buildings spread out below. And, the privileges don’t stop there. It’s nothing short of a pleasure den for a five-year-old. You get to pee in a mid-air toilet with a flush that sounds super awesome!  I believe he would never come down if that was allowed, or if we could afford it. When he was around three, we were once seated near the wings, which made him think that there was another plane flying right next to ours. His fascination for planes began after a flight, and thereafter manifested itself in stories, pretend plays, poems, and general conversations. We were forced to look for animations and stories that featured jolly-looking planes and valiant pilots. When once asked  if he wanted to become a pilot, he casually replied, ‘Well, I am one.’

I, on the other hand, have a bitter-sweet relationship with fights. My favourite flight pastime is reading interspersed with glancing at the changing contours on the ground. Sometimes, I just stare and marvel at the cloud kingdom outside and the way the sun rays pierce through it like shimmering-sharp swords. This peaceful reverie is often shattered by the dreaded ‘turbulence’. Here’s what happened on a flight that my son and I took recently.

So, we buckle up our seat belts. My son absolutely insists on ‘no-help’. Constantly monitoring the seat belt sign flashing above, with astronomical accuracy of fifteen seconds per utterance, he demands to know when the wretched contraption can be unbuckled. To my dismay, the sign is on for too long. I am dreading the worst and it is revealed soon enough by the matter-of-fact announcement. ‘We are experiencing some turbulence. The seat belt sign has been switched on. May we request the passengers to remain seated? The use of toilets is prohibited now.’  I am as hopeful as Faustus during his existential crisis in the last Act. ‘Why this is hell, or am I out of it?’ Never have I ever understood the predicament of the famed protagonist better.

Blood drains from my face. The flight begins to shudder and grunt like an untamed animal subjecting me to the verge of a panic attack every few seconds. My pupils get dilated; my mouth goes dry, albeit moving in a frenetic prayer. Motherly instinct takes over. Smiling sheepishly, I slide my hand into my son’s. He looks at me with some irritation.

‘Don’t be scared, baby. The flight is caught in air pockets, it will be fine soon,’ I say mustering some reassurance in the trying moment when I can do better with a shoulder to howl on.

‘I am not scared at all; I like it! Please keep your hand in your part of the chair’. He gently pushes my motherly limb on the armrest. Evidently, the air acrobatics haven’t deterred his spirits at all.

‘I really like it when it goes up and down,’ he gesticulates animatedly. We should think that we are on a swing, good plan?’ His eyes twinkle at the thought of this ingenious strategy.

I look around for sympathy. In this life-threatening moment, I am astonished to find most passengers placidly dozing off. ‘ What insensitivity! I mean how could they?’ I can understand when people are thick-skinned about socio-political issues, but how do you explain such a non-caring attitude in the very face of death. The man in the adjacent seat is oblivious of the tumult and enjoying an Owen Wilson comic caper. I try focussing on his screen, maybe the movie will give me a break from my overactive mind. Suddenly, the plane dives down and I gulp down a shriek. The couple behind me have ceased mollycoddling. Romance needs more stable conditions to thrive. Who knows, maybe the turbulence lends a golden opportunity to the man to emerge as the ‘knight in shining armour’, provided he is left with the mental strength to feel like a knight.

‘It is very scary, sometimes, isn’t it? I look wide-eyed at the girl behind me. She nods in agreement but that’s about it. Maybe she is as scared as I am. My mother- in law’s worried words on the last call before this apocalyptic flight echo in my head.

‘It’s raining. Take care.’

‘That’s beyond me ma. It’s up to the pilot now’. I had said helplessly.

‘How long will this seat belt sign be on?’ The irate voice of my little boy jolts me back.

‘Tell, in how many hours and minutes we will reach.’

‘There’s a lot of time. Nearly one hundred and twenty minutes.’

‘Is that more than an hour?’ He demands.

‘Yeah, that’s one hour more than an hour. Let’s pray. We’ll pray for the turbulence to end soon.’

For a few minutes, we sit with folded hands and closed eyes. Every now and then he opens his eyes and winks at me. What an innocent soul! He has no clue that these might be our last minutes together. My lips are on an autopilot prayer.

‘Look, it’s gone,’ my son points to the seat belt sign.

I am somewhat relieved but far from confident.

‘Let’s thank God, the pilot or whoever made it stop. Let’s just thank.’ Gosh, I’ll live! I will live to see more turbulence in more flights I board in future.

Maybe I should shun air travel forever. We fold our hands again and pray.

After a few seconds, when he opens his eyes I ask, ‘Did you thank God? What did you say?’

‘Yes, I thanked. He said, ‘you’re most welcome,’ says my son, nonchalantly.

Things return to normalcy with the flight attendant announcing the commencement of the in-flight food service.

‘Mango paper boat for me, please. Don’t disturb me now. I want to look at the sparkly rivers and shadows of clouds,’ says my son resolutely, turning his gaze out of the window lest a harried mother disturbs him with a demand for a prayer.

*** By the by, these days I find comfort in chanting ‘Swami, swami, swami’ during air turbulence. 🙂 Sorry Swami, what silliness you have to put up with.

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Rashmi Sharma

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