Friday, August 26, 2005

S c r e a m i n g I n d o n e s i a n W o m e n

So I am using the pretext of writing my travel stories in order to escape this tedium of non-output in my blog. Yes, I am shameless. :)

S c r e a m i n g I n d o n e s i a n W o m e n

On the 29th of July, I was there waiting in the Hyderabad airport on an early morning, for the flight to Singapore. I would later take a connecting flight to Los Angeles. It was 5'o clock in the morning when I checked in. The flight was expected at 7. But suddenly, an announcement flashed that the flight (which was supposed to arrive from Mumbai) had not taken off and would be getting delayed by 6 hours.

I was on a tight schedule to attend a conference and hence, this news was decidedly unpalatable to me. The other passengers sighed and left the airport in the manner of ducks running away from a rain. My parents were present to see me off, and they decided to stick with me a little longer. We visited Ragz, a close friend of mine who was also living close by. It was there that we observed the news on the television, reporting about the mess that had happened in the Mumbai airport. It was raining miserably in Mumbai for some time then, and apparently, the gravel near the runway on the airport had turned into a soup. An aeroplane had skidded and got stuck into the mud while trying to take off. Interestingly, it did not blow itself up and nobody had died ! But consequently, the entire airport had been shut down until further notice. Cursing my gargantuan ill luck, I telephoned the airport authorities in Hyderabad.

They asked me to come back, but after I had arrived, would coolly report to me that the flight would not arrive before dusk. This was just the begining of a cat-and-mouse game that Air India would play with us for one whole long day. As a matter of fact, the airport in Mumbai had been cleared by that time. But this particular bird had not been not given the green signal and would not be given for another 12 hours. Limited in our capacities as humans to foresee future, we passengers were engaged in a silly game with the airline authorities - with them reporting that the flight would arrive in the next 2 hours and then us waiting, and then us resigned to listen to more announcements. To cut a long story short, I boarded this majestic bird at 2'o clock past midnight. My parents waited until late evening before they saw me off with a deep sigh.

I was understandably in melancholic spirits as I stepped onto the plane. I would inevitably miss the first day of my conference and this feeling did not sink into me like a spoonful of euphoria. And then I noticed where I would be seated. My seat was tucked into a sea full of female fish ! A sea full of black female fish, to be more apt, as all these fish were dressed in black - the black robes of chastity expected of devout Muslim women. And they were screaming at each other in an alien tongue-twister language.

The long day had already taken its toll off me - my head badly needing a dash of pure caffaine to get rid of that swimming-sinking feeling. But, no sir, it instead received several mbps of audio in Bahasa Indonesia. No doubt, an Indonesian sailor returning home after a long honeymoon at sea, would not find anything more welcome than a bevy of female Indonesians clucking in his native tongue. But sadly, I was not an Indonesian sailor returning after a long honeymoon. And the clucking of all these birds rose deep feelings of paranoia, terror and trauma inside the left side of my chest.

As soon as I put my earplugs on, the girl sitting next to me (let's call her Pepper, her given name was very pretty and starts off with a P.. something) made her presence felt by immediately changing the station of my radio. She made it so as to match with her own station so that she would not get disturbed by the noises that would come from my phones ! We Indians pride ourselves in our social skills, but this incidant blew the pride off me. I looked at the face of this wonder and mentally saluted the social abilities of the Indonesian folk. Pepper had a fair teenager's face and extremely mischeivous eyes, and a tired demeanour suggestive of a long journey. My immediate reaction was vaguely protective and that of compliance, though I absolutely desisted the bollywood and the indi-pop-dhamaaka music that the radio station was playing.

I smiled at her and introduced myself, "Hi, I am Kiran"
She gave me a dumbfounded and startled look. And nothing else.

I thought I had not made myself heard.
So I said again, "Hi, what is your name ?"
She said, "Eh"
I said, "Your name, your naam.. Aapka naam kya hai ?"
(Foolishly encouraged by her preference to the Indipop music, I blurted something out in Hindi as well)
She said, "blahthk..blahngthk... blahnwh.. angreis.. blahngwfhthk .. blahpthk"
(Which I put together as "I dont speak Angreis")

The defeat was final and decissive. I was already in sinking spirits and being put down by an attractive girl because of lingual problems was not exactly a cure for this. I turned around and tried to establish a conversation with an elderly woman (from the same group, I concluded, from the manner of her attire) Again, distress followed. I screamed out, "Is there no one that understands English !!?"

All the female fish in the vicinity stared at me, smiled and shook their heads.

Then, through a language consisting entirely of proper-nouns, I gathered this information. That all these women had been coming from Delhi. And that, before Delhi, they had been to Bahrain and to Jedda. That they were on their way back home to Jakarta. That there was not a single male member in this entire group. "All women ?" "Yes, all women".

Was it some Muslim nunnery or something !? How many were they ? (It looked as if these fish could fill up a whole ocean !) Were they on a piligrimage, returning from the Haj ? Were they going out to see the city of Singapore ? I wouldn'tt know. Our conversation did not proceed any further, though we had tried miserably hard.

Like a porcupine, I pulled myself into a spherical ball and tried to snuggle under the blankets. But then I was shaken by a feeble hand which was waving a couple of papers and a pen at me. It was an elderly Indonesian woman waving her port-of-entry forms at me. These people had been given a similar bunch of papers in Delhi. Now this woman was asking me to copy the data from these forms for Singapore. I picked up the pen and filled in the details. Some details were missing, but I could not communicate to her about them. But finally, she gave me a warm smile and whispered "Thank you". That was the first English word that I heard in the plane, and interestingly, would be the only English word that I would hear.

Then I noticed that Pepper was filling a form too. I took a sneak peek at her forms, trying to see what her name was. I noticed it (some P... something.. a very pretty name.. How did I manage to forget it !) and to my surprise, also noted that the girl was a few months elder to me in age. But not before she gave me a terrible look and hid the forms away in a corner. But I gave her a huge smile and kept on looking at her.

"P... Is that your name ?", I said.
"Noor" she said.
She shook her head and said "Noor".
Then I noticed that this was what the other girls were calling her. Noor was probably her nickname. She pointed her finger at me and said "Kiran". I smiled back and said "Yes".

The other women seated behind us screamed in the Malay tongue and were laughing at us. Noor turned very red. They kept on screaming, sniggering, giggling and screaming, that I was also embarassed.I turned back and tried to give a smile at all the people. But then, the screaming and giggling only increased. I tucked myself back into my seat and tried to look like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

I was almost dozing off when I woke with a start - I heard a huge collective scream. There was an incessant chatter in Malay as every woman screamed at every other woman. (Pepper, though, was undisturbed and kept the same bored look) Then it hit me - the horrible and extremely disgusting stink ! Without a thought, I attributed the stink to the Indonesian milieu and cursed my predicament. But then I found the cause for the stink. It was a guy who puked after too much alcohol, and he was on the opposite end of the same row as mine, and to my utter disgust, he was an Indian ! I was deeply ashamed for some reason that I did not know. The Indonesian women thrust their pillows over their nostrills and tried to breath into them. I gave the bell for the air hostess and explained the situation to her. She gave me an "Oh My God !" and gave the bugger a throw-up bag lest he throws up more. And then she left, doing nothing else to redeem the place from the stink, and leaving us to ourselves.

It is not too often that you find yourself in a thoroughly rotten situation all due to one single person or group. But there I found myself boiling in agony, all thanks to Air India. I realized that my time had been so rotten that I was afraid what worse could be still in coming.

It was then that I decided that I had had enough of everything and opened up my laptop (Not actually mine, but borrowed from my friend Sriram, for giving my presentation at the conference. My laptop, incidantally, went phatoook sometime back.) and put on my headphones (My friend oskie's headphones, rather - smuggled for the same reason). I made a playlist of some nice Telugu melodies from a movie called "Ninne Pelladutha". It was a feel-good movie starring the Telugu actor Nagarjuna, which came about some 10 years ago. And the soundtrack of the movie was especially good. A soft melody broke out in the head phones "Kannullo Nee Roopame... " and I found myself putting on a smile again.

But half way through the song, I noticed that something was scratching against my hair and I turned. Pepper was rubbing her ears against my phones trying to catch in the music, and together with her was another girl who was seated behind us. I gave them a smile and offered them my phones. The girls screamed a delighted "Thank You" at me and accepted them. And thus, I became their personal DJ for the evening. I put together the best of the Telugu film music that I could find on my computer, and we stayed huddled close to each other, smiling at all the music that was coming in from the head phones.

"Kannullo Nee Roopame.." was instantly liked by the girls and we listened to it repeatedly.

Pepper asked me "Hindi ?"
I said, "No. Telugu".
I tried telling her that Telugu was another language in India and that it was my native speak. Ofcourse, I was not sure if she understood half of that.

But she understood the language of music, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I played them several songs from films such as "Premadesam", "Roja" and so on. We lost ourselves in this fun, and did not notice that the whole group of female fishes were watching at us. And that the entire cabin was stinking of alcoholic vomit.

We were lost. We were lost in the land of music. A single pair of headphones playing music to three eager people - cheek to cheek.

But then, we were about to reach Singapore. The air hostess asked us to open the shutters for the windows. And then we saw the marvellous sight of early morning sun sending its soft orangey light over the clouds. It was an amazingsight and we kept looking at it for a long time with open eyes.

I pointed at her and said, "Noor", then pointed at myself and said "Kiran". And then showed the sunlight over the window and said "both mean light".

She gave me a deeply puzzled and embarassed look, and then I realized that I could be gesturing like a romantic. And that she could have attributed a totally different meaning to the whole thing. I tried doing it again, trying to tell her that "Both Noor and Kiran mean light". She became very pink and giggled at the other girl. I was confused myself, but by then, the plane had started its descent and we were prepared to get down.

She waved me a "Bye" and I gave her a "Bye" in return. Then we departed in the airport. I was in a rush to catch the connecting flight to Los Angeles. But there to the side, I caught sight of the actor Nagarjuna himself, with his lovely wife Amala, both seated on a bench ! We passengers shouted them a "Hii" and waved our hands in the fashion of stars waving at their fans ! Nagarjuna and Amala gave us a hearty laugh and waved back at us.

I whispered under my breath, "Thanks Nagarjuna, for that lovely music. One good thing you have done :-) "