Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Diaries of a vacation: Part 1.

Diaries of a vacation: Part 1.
It is amazing how the mind collapses into a declutched state when vacation begins. After nearly two years, I am on a break with my family in Kochi. My journey began from Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon; and by the time I set foot in my home at Kochi, it was Thursday afternoon. I chose to fly Emirates this time. Though Delta would have yielded free tickets, it was convenient for me to fly through Dubai to reach Kochi, than take a circuitous route through Delhi or Bangalore. And I am glad that I did so for a variety of reasons.
What an aircraft the A-380 is? Introduced to the world of aviation about five years ago, this monster of a machine is perhaps the most convenient piece of passenger aircraft I can think of. Emirates has close to 50 of them (Airbus sells most of their A 380’s to Emirates). The sheer size is daunting. A two storied, 800 capacity flight with 35 Air attendants and four captains - it is almost a mini universe within that big elongated capsule. As this giant taxied up to our terminal in JFK, all other flights had to stand still to allow this massive body to inch its way out to the gate. One got the feeling that an emperor was walking up the red carpet, and all other dignitaries had to stop whatever they were doing and pay obeisance to the leader. The insides are pure class: elegantly painted in distinctive Emirates color, window rims and door knobs of polished mahogany wood, wide entertainment screens with high definition, comfortable seats in economy ( as good as Business class in most other airlines), Lunch, breakfast and beverages of the highest quality served at regular intervals with unflinching attitude. It was hard to believe that there were so many people on board. There was so much moving space all around. The most unbelievable aspect of the aircraft though is the low level of noise that penetrates inside, and despite the sheer bulk of the machine and the air speed that it achieves at high altitudes, there is hardly a shake - unless there is a perceptible turbulence outside. In all it was a 14 hour journey worth every single moment of it.
And then the quality of air attendants! I have had the opportunity to teach software in Emirates College many years ago, and what struck me then and has stayed vivid in my memory all these years is the sheer diversity of their staff. Virtually every corner of the Globe found its representation there. Beautiful women and handsome men, dressed in best traditions of middle east, taught or rather indoctrinated to adopt the highest standards of customer service; from the way they stand to talk to walk - there is a studied effortless elegance, supreme confidence and a visible passion in their eyes on being a part of one of the finest airlines in the world. Despite a predominantly Asian crowd on board, whose demands can at times be very unreasonable, the flight attendants maintained composure and tact, which can only come with discipline and commitment to the job at hand. Some would want to reason this as a cultural trait, but I beg to disagree. At least, one half of the staff were from non-Asian countries, and I think it is just the way the airline define their conduct that determines the attitude and quality of its employees. I am sure some of the other major airlines can definitely take a point or two on how Emirates achieves this level of excellence. The only other airlines, in my opinion, that matches this joy of in-flight experience could be Singapore, Thai and Virgin Atlantic. Of course, this is my personal view and I am sure my readers may have other names up there in their lists.
Well, enough of Emirates!! When I began this essay, I started off talking about a “declutched” state. A bit more on that... One of things I was determined to do was to switch off my professional persona completely - at least for the duration of this flight. Normally, I do catch up on some amount of technical reading, but this time, all that I did was to dip in Margaret Atwood’s “The robber’s bride” - which incidentally is her only book that I have not read so far. I had reserved this book especially for this journey. Not that it is her most spectacular work, but I wanted to read this book from start to finish at one go. A childish pleasure that I wished to indulge in! In forty odd years, Margaret Atwood has written more than twenty odd works of fiction, short stories and around a dozen collections of impeccable and peerless reviews, criticisms and commentaries of books, movies, social issues and personalities. And I have devoured each word she has written with relish. It would be a crime for me not to admit that many a time, her writing style percolates and suffuses my own; It is inevitable when one has spent so much time with an author. So reading this book, completed a sacred circle for me. Until her new book comes out in 2015, this will be the last.
As a part of my journey, I had a nine hour layover in Dubai. The last time I was there, Terminal 3 (the newest in the airport) was being conceived. In fact, many at the emirates college were raving about it then. And when I walked into it this time, I knew exactly why there ecstatic about it? The first impression one gets of the Terminal is that it is a huge, gigantic mall designed to lure and trap unsuspecting travelers into its glossy spidery web. Nearly a mile long of stores, restaurants, hotel rooms, resting lounges - there is a no way anyone cannot stall the temptation to spend a few dirhams/dollars. I spent nearly two hours walking up and down, peeping into every shop. The only store where there were hardly any customers was a solitary book store with a lovely collection of books. I was possibly the only one. After a while of window gazing, I sat on one of the many reclining chairs lined along concourses, watching people buy. It was an amazing experience. Weary travelers, mothers balancing kids on their shoulders, frantic husbands, temporary workmen (you will find many of them in Dubai) trying to buy stuff to distribute back home (a symbol of a “foreign returned” man) - all of them filling up their duty free trolleys to the brim with every conceivable consumable one can think of. The agony of having to spend so much is visible on many faces, as they turn every item to check prices multiple times, re-stacking , and then coming back to pick it up as an afterthought. So much of deliberation to buy things that in most cases will never be used by them. Yet, these are dues that still has to be paid to one’s family and friends who await their prodigal son or daughter returning from a foreign land. If there is one common denominator in the entire concourse, it would have to be the white Duty cover bag in every passenger’s hands. The question then is: what did I buy? I am sure most of you will laugh when you read this… I realized midway during my flight from New York that I had forgotten to pack my deodorant stick, and I needed to get one. I walked into every shop enquiring for a plain old deo, only to be told that they had everything else but that. It wasn’t a good enough product for them to stock in an international airport. Finally, I say finally - with a breath of relief – one small medicals store in one ignored corner carried two deo sticks. I paid two US dollar and bought them. This was my only purchase from one of the most highly regarded duty free markets in the world. Do I feel proud about it? Not sure, but certainly, I could pat myself on the back for not succumbing to temptations that money can buy. That is small little moral triumph, I guess.
This is gotten to be quite a long post. Will break for now and resume my next installment in day or two. Until then…
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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