Food for Thought
I closed my eyes and counted very, very slowly up to twenty. It did me no good whatsoever, since I opened them only to find myself in the midst of the same chaotic scene I had been seeking to escape. I was beginning to wonder if the monsters featured in my Percy Jackson book (picked up in a futile attempt to assuage my Harry Potter cravings) had manifested their way out of the story and into the aircraft cabin, to surround me on all sides. So how did I get here in the first place, you ask...
It all began a few days earlier, when my father and I embarked on our three-day trip to India – on his insistence, using our national carrier. I had bitten my tongue (metaphorically speaking, but it was still a painful experience), since one's parents should be if not honoured, then at least humoured whenever possible. And travel-wise, things went smoothly enough on the way out. But that was more than made up for when we arrived at the airport to check in for our return trip to Dhaka.
Frankly, travelling on Bangladesh Biman is rarely a good idea. However much of a patriot you may consider yourself, you're likely to arrive at the check-in counter Kolkata Airport at the appointed time to find no Biman staff there, and an understandably snickering group of Air India personnel shooting you pitying looks as they take over the task instead. In our case this was made just a little worse by the funky purple T-shirt worn by one staff member that read “The more I drink, the better you look”. It sent a fairly clear if subversive message to inconvenient passengers demanding to be checked in.
The situation deteriorated further with the arrival of the first passenger who was in fact a serious dhoroner freak. As I would soon discover, he was only the first of many on our flight. Anyway, this British man bounced into the check-in area loudly announcing his name to the airline staff, as if they should know who he was, instead of just quietly handing over his passport and ticket for check-in. Just in case anyone had missed the critical importance of his arrival, he also proceeded to let all of us know that he had travelled all the way from Ladakh via Delhi and on to Kolkata that very day. Unperturbed by the general lack of interest shown in his identity or movements, he continued talking loudly to anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path right until we had finally boarded the aircraft.
This, as it turned out, was to be for quite some time since the flight was nearly 3 hours late in taking off. Not that any Biman staff members were around to inform passengers about this; presumably such duties were not part of their job description (and yes, many people do wonder what actually is!). To make matters much, much worse, there was no announcement regarding the flight delay for the entire waiting period until we were finally summoned on board – tired, hungry and not a little grouchy because, as you have no doubt guessed, passengers weren't offered any refreshments either! The final straw was when the cabin crew welcomed us on board over the PA system without making any reference to or apology for the considerable delay, which made my normally mild-mannered father quite upset.
I have to admit that by then I was past caring about the cabin crew. The wait had taken its toll on me, as well as the behaviour of some of my fellow passengers, particularly one young woman encountered in the departure lounge. I'd been standing in a quiet corner, using a wooden podium to read my Percy Jackson book (just wait for the movie), when I suddenly noticed a young, smartly-dressed woman making the all-too-familiar hissing sounds to encourage her child to urinate against the wall of the departure lounge.
Unable to believe my ears, I said “You do know that there is a toilet right over there?”
It was less than 50 yards away.
To my amazement, the woman replied – in English - “I know that!”
“Then why...” I started to say, before giving up.
Just as well I'd stopped at that point, since she drew himself up to her full height and gave me a very hostile look before expostulating, “What did you say to me?!”
“Nothing,” I replied, thoroughly fed up and giving up the fight before the situation degenerated further.
When I went to the restroom ten minutes later, I was amazed to find the same young South Asian woman there. This time the child with her was standing on a small bench, being encouraged to urinate once again - on the floor. All this was happening while three empty toilet stalls of various kinds (both Western and deshi options on offer) stood vacant just a few feet away! It's strange indeed to be in a situation where it's the parent who needs potty training more than the child...
Despite my fast-fading hopes, things didn't get much better once we were all aboard the plane. One reason for this may have been that the peculiar Englishman was sitting right across the aisle from me, standing up and holding forth on everything that was wrong with Bangladesh to one of my fellow countrymen, who listened politely, nodding his head at suitable intervals.
As it turned out, the Brit was living in Dhanmondi, while the Bangladeshi currently lived in Finland, but the rest of us had very little time to appreciate the vagaries of globalisation, since the Englishman was so very determined to share with us all the hardships he was experiencing - for which I'm guessing his official hardship allowance, provided by whichever organisation had brought him to our "benighted country" had utterly failed to compensate him.
The point at which his (perhaps partially justified) complaints got completely out of hand was while he was telling all of us about how the postman had demanded a 75 taka bribe to deliver a package to his house. His maid had apparently felt compelled to hand over the money to the postman, but our hero assured us that “If I had been home, of course, I would have given the fellow a beating! Yes, I would have beaten him, not given him any money!”
However much one might sympathise with his outrage over the postman's illegal demands, I don't think the idea of handing out beatings is something for any decent individual to show off about. Particularly at the point when he is claiming to belong to a more civilised society, as this “gentleman” was doing at the time. Then again, perhaps he would claim that exposure to barbarians like us has allowed him to explore a natural affinity towards speaking at a deafening volume, loving the sound of his own voice and threatening gonopituni as an immediate option whenever he is feeling disgruntled...?!
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