Anumita reminisces of a time, when she was barely nine-year- old. She walks down the memory lane and takes us on an interesting air travel from Calcutta to Venezuela with her Ma and little sister. Here’s a hilarious account of the adventures of a little girl. A Different Truths exclusive.
“I am not talking to you if you get drunk,” ma hissed. The nine-year- old girl beside her, kept her eyes down, picked up the glass of coke and took a tentative sip. Keeping her voice low she said, “Ma, this is just a soda.” One eyebrow shot up and Ma gave that well known stare. The warning had reached the level of red lights flashing and sirens blaring. Eyes still down, the girl gulped down the bubbling soda, and dared a burp. A tiny gasp escaped Ma’s lips and she kept looking at the girl from time to time.
After few decades, I can understand Ma’s fear and that her anger was just a result of anxiety. She was travelling by air for the first time in her life. This was accentuated, as her two little daughters were her responsibility and she was terrified of anything going wrong. Many years later, she confessed it, giving me credit for being the brave one.
The flight took off and we had settled down. All that soda sends urges for me to use the rest restroom. I peered up and down the aisle. I spotted a pretty air hostess and decided to make all enquires. Fumbling with the big buckle of my seat belt, I heard Ma whisper, “Where are you going?” “I need to pee,” I said. Her eyes brightened. She came closer and said, “Check everything and let me know where, what and how of the bathroom.” Nodding dutifully, I bounced down the aisle to my adventure to discover the bathroom. Once my job was done, I took Ma and sis to my new discovered contraption called – the bathroom in the air. I explained to her every details of this contraption, from the entry to the exit from it. Feeling thoroughly proud of my accomplishment, I turned to return…. “Moon, where do you think you are going?”
Dumbfounded I looked at Ma. She is asking silly questions now, I thought. Before I could open my mouth, she whispered, “Stay here, what if I get locked in!” I nodded my head, completely understanding the gravity of the situation. Once all our bladders were emptied, we grandly marched to our respective seats.
During our journey in 1980s, we had to change aircraft four times from Calcutta (as it was known then) to Port Ordaz (Venezuela). Ma was barely 29-year- old, very attractive, convent educated, fluent in English and never wore anything but saree. She might be a combination of various things, yet she had her head where it belonged. A strong willed woman, she taught both of us sisters to believe in ourselves and follow our hearts.
Our itinerary had Rome as a layover with more than 24 hours for the next flight. We were told to take the airport shuttle to a hotel, which was arranged by Baba’s (Dad’s) office. The Roman ordeal was way more frustrating than the fizzed drink on the airplane. English language was scarce and we could not make them understand our visa was meant for just an overnight stay.
Ma tucked her saree pallu around her tiny waist put my little sister on a seat beside me on the rows of chairs. She marched her petite frame up to the officials and demanded someone, who can talk to her in English. As I swung my legs from the hard, elevated chair, I watched Ma keep her apprehension under control and stand there challenging the Roman officials to hear her out.
Believe me she won, and after what seemed eternity, we were on a bus bound to the hotel. As the bus rolled through the city, history unfolded itself in the form of various magnificent sculptures and buildings flanking on both sides of the road. My chin touched the back of the seat as I knelt on the seat to watch the magnificent architectures pass outside the window of the bus.
The bus stopped, we disembarked. The wind hit us like cold fingers ripping our Kashmiri coats. These coats were bought with so much of fanfare to help us battle the December cold of Europe. All it did was make me and my sister scratching all over, due to the fine wool mixed fibers at the cuff and collar. My sister clung to Ma, teeth chattering and almost at the verge of tears. Jet lag was engulfing us all.
Right across the road was the hotel. Huge and gleaming with light, but the doors were closed. Our face fell. A lady walked towards the hotel doors. The doors just slid open and as she went inside the door closed behind her. Ma’s eyes widened and she looked at me. “Go and wait there till someone comes out, or goes in and hold the door for us,” was her instructions. I ran towards the door without waiting a second, and ma picked up my sis and the bags and walked behind.
The moment I went near the door, it slid open. I panicked and ran back. Ma practically screamed. I froze. I turned and walked slowly this time and the door opened again. Ma picked the bag higher and ran in, taking me along with her. Once inside, the door slid closed. She smiled and we all heaved a sigh of relief. Welcome, to the automatic sliding doors, I told myself.
Few minutes later, with the bell boy leading the way, we walked into this room. It was so grand that our sleep deprived eyes popped open and hung from the sockets. Ma and I looked at each other and then heard a whoop of delightful shriek. My sis had decided the bed was the world’s best trampoline, and was practicing the loops on it.
Grumbling stomach made us realise it was way past eating time. We trudged our way down the stairs, as Ma thought the elevator would suffocate her (she hid her claustrophobia well). The beautifully spread dining room was a bit intimidating for Ma, but I tugged her hand and led her onto a table. After spending five minutes going through the menu, we decided it was written by aliens. Ma let me do the ini-mini- myni-mo on the menu booklet and choose a few items.
After few minutes, plates of strange food were set in front of us. My sister decided the dinning chair made a grand bed and snored to her heart’s content. Ma and I tried our best to chew and swallow. After few spoons, we silently made a pact to flee the dining room. We mapped an escape route towards the door. With my sister on Ma’s shoulder we dodged the tables to the door to the reception. Without looking back at the calling maître, we ran up the stairs to our room.
Standing in front of the door, we were panting from the exertion of the quick escape from the dreadful food. Ma fumbled with the keys and all she did was to click the door lock and not open it. Frustration was seeping into her. Her hands were shaking. She was at the point of tears as the door would not bulge, however she twisted the keys. A gentleman was walking by, he stopped and took the keys from her and the door magically opened with a flick of his wrist. Ma looked at him dazed and stuttered a “thank you” and walked in with my sister. I turned and shook his hands and smiled. He smiled back and left.
After few months, I realised that I shook hands with one of Hollywood’s celebrity. No wonder Ma was at a loss of words!
Next morning, we boarded the Royal Dutch Airlines, and were on to our next destination. Ultimately, when we landed in Puerto Ordaz, Baba was waiting for us. All I could do was hug him and feel back at home.
Ma and I have travelled many times since, and I have done several travels with my children, but that first flight will always be the best and memorable. Ma and me often sit and reminisce on it, laughing and feeling good about it. Memories are supposed be just that…
Pix from Net.