8 out of every 10 middle-class people dream of taking at least one trip to Europe in their life either because:
- They are DDLJ fans, or
- That’s one of the three foreign places they know of (the other two being US and Canada, of course)
I’ve never watched DDLJ and neither am I geographically challenged that way, but as my luck would have it, a Europe trip happened to me in 2017.
It’d only been a few minutes since the flight took off and I was trying a little too hard to exhale with my nose and mouth closed, in my attempts to relieve my blocked ears. An entire week was lying ahead of me before I could sleep in my own bed and enjoy a shameless number of servings of ghar ka khaana (home-cooked food). I was already feeling homesick when I suddenly heard the clinking of steel tiffins followed by the smell of thepla!
It doesn’t matter whether we’re sitting inside a tin box that has wings, flying hundreds of feet above ground-level, and are heading ~7000 km away from India; it’s absolutely normal for any middle-class Indian to carry their own dabba (tiffin) wherever they go, all right?
Since this was a work trip, I never really got any time to absorb the fact that I was being sent to Germany for a conference. There was no time to rave about it in front of my friends amidst the neverending number of tasks that needed to be taken care of before I left. Fortunately enough, I had an enthusiastic (then) colleague (and now a close friend), Pearl, to get me to extend this trip by a few days after the conference was over, and proceed to explore Amsterdam. I think I agreed to her plan without thinking even for a second, and this happened to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
The night before the big day was a mess.
I think I’m a good packer in a way that I never forget to carry any of my essentials. The only drawback is that I’m one of the heaviest packers in the history of packers!
I have a different kind of FOMO – the fear of missing out on carrying things that others may need and I may not be able to help them with when that happens.
So I packed, and repacked, and then packed some more items.
I’m not very used to having my parents help me out with stuff that I can manage by myself. I am quite self-reliant that way, or at least, I’d like to think that I am. So, it was a bit awkward as well as cute when my family decided to drop me off at the airport. Their faces looked more excited than mine did.
I knew that if they stayed for too long, I’d start feeling homesick even before I left. So I decided that I’d rather miss them in the airport lobby after they’re gone than miss them in their presence. Even though I had a good amount of extra time, I waved a goodbye and entered the airport a little too early.
A lot of our flight experience begins right from the time we enter the airport. Talk to one rude check-in/immigration exec, and your experience is already ruined by half.
Queues, for example, are a great place to judge character, I believe.
You find all kinds of people here – the lazy ones who move at the speed of a snail; the over-enthusiastic ones who want to document their time standing in a security check-in queue by clicking a thousand selfies; and the anxious ones who think they have to hurry even though boarding is still 3 hours away.
Then there’s this special kind which comprises of aunties with razor-sharp elbows who believe that it’s absolutely fine to enter a queue from wherever they please or lie to the security exec saying that their flight is about to take off. All this only so that they get done with the formalities before everyone else does.
After yet another failed attempt at trying to wring a smile from a security exec who scans people’s butts in a curtained area for a living, and trying to not to feel drowsy looking at all the sleepy faces in the waiting area, I finally decided to give up on trying to make this journey seem pleasant.
Since this was going to be my first plane ride, my mind was juggling between excitement, nervousness, fear and prayers.
Excitement, because I had not set any expectations about how I wanted this trip to unfold.
Nervousness, because what if I left an important item back at home that I may not be able to do without in a foreign country?
Fear, because nobody wants a screaming kid in a 3-meter radius around their seat. And given how much I “love” kids, there’s a good chance that there will be an irritated and chatty a.k.a., a monster of a toddler right behind my seat!
And lastly, prayers, because what if the plane crashes and the last thought I had before dying was ‘where does all the poop collected in aircraft toilets go?’
Surprisingly, I did fine when the plane took off. I wasn’t terrified of the experience at all. All those years of hanging by the train doors had done their fair bit in preparing me for this.
The one thing that I was looking forward to on this flight journey was the food. I’d heard a lot about how boring and tasteless flight food is. The food served to us was okay-ish and was too cold to be savoured. But for some weird reason, I enjoyed it just like I would enjoy an obesity-inducing cheap Indo-Chinese meal on any normal day.
Call me crazy, but the idea of eating proper food, or nibbling in case of certain airlines, hundreds of feet above the ground, seems revolutionary to me. I mean, did we (read: humans) actually achieve this? Who would’ve thunk!
We had two stopovers – the first one at Doha, and an unexpected second one at Kuwait. Although we were sleep-depeived and tired of sitting in the same position for all that time, all those empty hours spent waiting at the Doha airport in the wee hours of the night were suddenly filled with a lot of conversations. This was the first time I was sharing a huge chunk of my thoughts locked away in the ‘Personal’ folder of my brain, with a person I’d barely interacted with at work; and I didn’t regret it.
Our first stopover confirmed that the upcoming week was going to be a good one. Even if it wasn’t, we were certain that we would manage it somehow.