The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a daze, with time spent mostly in airports, cars, board games and killing zombies with Gatling pea shooters. Since the number of things that transpired far exceed my threshold for the composition of a sensible narrative, I have decided to dispense with trivialities such as time, space and vibrating strings. The following is a pseudo-fake account of the last couple of weeks.
Chennai to Toronto
It started with a suit, or to be precise, the lack of one. I walked up with my usual practised smile to the check-in counter, after carefully selecting the right check-in clerk. Personally the method I use involves picking the clerk who has neither just arrived at the counter nor has spent hours dealing with passengers insisting on checking in the questionably packed 45 kg cardboard box containing a brand new Sumeet mixie. The key is to pick up some one who has dealt with 3-5 customers prior to yourself. Why this elaborate process, you might ask. Maximizing probability of free upgrade to business class, I might answer.
You see, when Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved temporary airborne-ness at the turn of the century, little did they know that a few generations later, Deep Vein Thrombosis (or Economy Class Syndrome) would be the primary concern of frequent flyers. But I digress. Where were we? Yes, in the Etihad airways check-in counter at Anna International Airport. I walked up confidently, with my small check-in baggage, telling the girl at the counter that I “just” had one bag to check-in, to subtly hint that I deeply care for her daily struggle with Sumeet mixies and Lalitha Wet Grinders bound for Chicago and Toronto. I then nonchalantly handed over my 3-booklet passport and asked if a free upgrade was well.. on the cards. I added a smile that prematurely announced my immense gratitude at her yet-to-be-displayed generosity.
She fell for it. Well, she almost did. If this was the social equivalent of a bear trap, she seemed to have the keys to wriggle free. She said – “Sir, I am willing to upgrade you but we have a strict formals only dress code at Etihad.” Apparently, my Wrangler jeans and fake Lacoste t-shirt from Tirupur did not cut it as far as Etihad was concerned.
So I spent the next 18 hours as a node in a hexagonal close packing lattice structure frequently making ways for nodes that wished to visit the restroom .
But as is usually the case, I had interesting neighbours. When not watching award winning German art movies on the personal entertainment system, I was watching the heated exchange between my Modi-supporting, Tambram-pride showing, Congress-hating, Vegetarian terrorist neighbour and the foul-mouthed, Syrian flight attendant, sorry..Stewardess. No wait, was it supposed to be the other way around?
My neighbour, let’s call him (since I do not recall his name) Sikkil Ramavaidyanathan for simplicity’s sake. He had some extreme views on where this country was headed and why drastic intervention (generally involving forced exodus of muslims) was required. As the Alfredo pasta and White wine settled in, I wasn’t actually listening to him, but mostly imagining what he said. I imagined that he was Neobram, part of a futuristic cult movement that sought to take Tambrams who had gone soft, back to their superior Aryan roots. I imagined Swastika tattoos, Mass veda chanting, Meditation (and concentration) camps, Skinheads (with kudumi of couse) and self-flagellation, in the form of Poonals made from Maanja kayaru and glass pieces. Sieg Heil Ramavaidyanathan. But as soon as the wine wore off, I chastised myself on entertaining such unfair metaphors.
But anyway, back to the moment, he was demanding vegetarian food, and the flight attendant counter-offered vegetarian animals, such as hens and cows, as food. Apparently, the management at Etihad had the habit of answering the question – “Are you vegetarian?” with “Yes, We only eat vegetarians, as that conforms to the definition of Halal meat”, and therefore were generally unwilling to believe that people could starve themselves of animal protein and still live to pick fights with flight attendants. As offers and counter-offers flew, my neighbour eventually settled for a salad. It had cucumbers, pinapples, olives, parsley and to top it all off, a fillet of smoked cod. Vaidya muttered a curse that would have mostly been an extended beep on American daytime television.
We then started speaking about general gilma like democracy, and somehow that led to Suu-kyi and that led to Myanmar, and eventually, the subject, for some strange reason, turned to the immoral vendors in Burma bazaar. Our man felt that the vile flith being hawked by the (obviously non-Hindu) smugglers there was spoiling our youth. He was referring to ubiquitous “Sir. Do you want Matter?” offers for videos that featured men and women generally attempting to follow the Biblical diktat to “be fruitful and multiply”. Matter-videos are the basest of evil, he declared. After all, what can be worse than arming a 17 year old with knowledge he should only learn as a crash course a few minutes before his wedding’s first-night?
I then suggested a counter-business model that could balance this wholesale destruction of our city’s youth. If matter videos spoil, wouldn’t anti-matter videos enrich? My idea was to mass produce devotional (anti-matter) DVDs and make them available for an even lower price. Surely, the rich, textured world of myth, lore and bhakthi will pwn matter of all kind. He looked at me quizzically to check if I was being sarcastic, but then I usually save my most earnest expressions for making the most ridiculous of suggestions.
I reached Toronto, and spent a boring couple of days mostly cooped up inside my hotel room playing Plants and Zombies and once in a while, trying out various transitions (Wipe left, Blinds down, Spiral etc) for the presentation I had to make to a customer. Nothing exciting, except that I did visit Hotel Saravanaa Bhavan this time, at Mississauga (pronounced Mrs. Ogre) and for $7.50, confirmed that the sambar there tastes the same as the one in KK Nagar. There is Six Sigma, and then there is the Six Saravana (a.k.a Aaru Mugam) methodology, that ensures Sambar similarity at the molecular level. I was impressed. When I walked into the Pearson International Airport to catch my flight back, I was dressed in a suit, as I did not intend on sparing any effort to have my free upgrade. I got my upgrade, and soon enough, I was sipping on Champagne, munching on Mushroom kebab and playing around with the seat controls to see if I could get myself a full-body massage.
The return trip was mostly uneventful. At Abu Dhabi, we were all tested for Swine Flu. I noticed a smirk on most of the Arabs’ faces, almost as if to say that their casual curse “These Dirty Pigs from the West..” had suddenly taken on a rather literal meaning. For the first time in the world, Asian countries were screening people coming from First world countries like Canada and the US. They did a pretty good job though. There was this big scanner that produced an IR image of all passengers filing through the arrival gate, and anyone with a reddish throat or chest area was held for further analysis (or something to that effect).
Chennai airport, on the other hand, used an even more powerful scanning method. The Form. We were all given one that we had to fill, and the questions on that form would have certainly shaken the strands of DNA in the H1N1 virus with the deepest of fears.
1. Have you visited countries that are infected with H1N1?
2. Do you have fever or cold now?
3. Have you had fever or cold in the last 10 days?
4. Have you interacted with people who have had fever or cold in the last 10 days?
5. Have you had symptoms of flu?
6. If yes, is it H1N1?
Question 6 essentially sealed the deal for me.
I answered no to everything except 1 and handed it to the doctor in charge, who had temporarily assigned IR-scanning responsibilities to his eyes. He eyed me for a few seconds, rubber stamped me swine-flu free, and let me go.