Archive for December, 2016

ATC…ATC… Stop The Flight

images (7)ATC…ATC… Stop The Flight
by Mohinder Pal Singh

The Air India flight Mumbai-Delhi–Amsterdam landed on the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 5.10 AM, two hours behind schedule. It was an international flight from Mumbai which used to take some domestic passengers till Delhi. As all other flights were fully booked hence due to a sudden emergency at home I had very little choice but to board this midnight flight. The journey not so comfortable, firstly because of the bad weather and secondly my mind was continuously immersed in turbulent thoughts because of which I could not get an iota of sleep whole night. As I alighted at Delhi Airport and rushed out of the terminal, I saw my watch and realised I had only 40 minutes for my connecting flight to Bagdogra which was scheduled at 6.05 AM from the National Departures. I ran to the pre-paid taxi booth and got myself the first cab available. I told the driver to move as fast as possible. It was going to be tough to cover almost 10 kilometers. But I still had full hope.
Once the cab began to move, I closed my eyes and my mind again got wrapped into the fast sequence of events which had swirled my life in the last two days. It was day before yesterday i.e 15 Mar 1988, that I had got the news through a long distance call from my brother who was studying at Trivandrum that our father had met with an accident. My brother told me that he was leaving for Bagdogra immediately but he told me that I should stay put in Mumbai as my final exams were very near and that he would reach home and tell me about the situation.
I was in my final year of graduation and staying in the college hostel. In 1988 we had no mobile phones , the hostel had only one local call booth from which we could make only local calls. When it was empty one could get a incoming call also . And if any student was around he would pick the phone and call the person for whom the call was meant for . I told my brother to call me the next day at 11 AM and inform me about father’s health. By 10.30 AM I came down to the corridor and sat on the bench next to the local-call booth and waited for it to ring. After about an hour’s wait the phone rang and I picked up the phone , I could hear a very faint voice from the other end.
“This is Military Exchange Bengdubi, Can I speak to Mr Mohinder” The voice said.
“I am Mohinder speaking”I shouted back
“ Can I speak to Mohinder” The voice said again. Probably he had not heard me .
“I am Mohinder Speaking, Can you hear me now?” I shouted slightly louder this time.
“ Yes Sir, please speak to the residence of Col Amrik Singh.” He said. I then heard a faint music and then a faint voice of my elder brother.
“ Dad’s condition is not good, please start immediately. I have told Khurana Uncle at Mumbai , go to him he will lend you some money. Take the earliest flight possible.”
“Hello, How did it happen, Bhaiya” I shouted at top of my voice now.
There was a drop and the line snapped. I immediately went to my room , locked it and rushed out to Khurana Uncle’s house. Khurana uncle was a distant relative of my father. When I reached their house, I saw that all family members were very serious. Aunty told me to sit down and have something to eat. I declined. They started saying that they felt very sad about the accident. I said “God will save him , I have prayed for him Aunty”
“We will also pray for his recovery” she said.
“Here is the money and my elder son Bunny will take you to the Airline Booking office. Take the earliest flight available”.
Saying this Aunty looked at Bunny and nodded as if not to tell anything to me. I picked up the cue but at this stage I didn’t want to believe what I had not been told. We both went out quietly to the Booking office and got the seats for the earliest flight which was the Air India midnight flight till Delhi . And also the connecting flight to Bagdogra was Indian Airlines flight at 6.05 AM. Luckily for both I got ‘OK’ status tickets, which I was told meant a confirmed seat. By the time I came back to the Hostel it was 7 PM and quickly started to pack my bags to leave for the Airport which was about two hours travelling time in the evening rush hours. Then suddenly one friend came and told me that the hostel warden had called me to his office. Father Simon , our Hostel Warden was a very nice and a kind person. I had left a message for him in the afternoon that I would be leaving for home due to an emergency. When I went to his room there were some more people there. My two Professors from the department , Prof Vaman Rao and Ms Coutinho . Everybody was quiet and Fr Simon indicated me to sit on a chair. I don’t remember exact words, but he said few words to console me about my father’s accident while the other two kept looking at me.
“I said Father Simon please pray that my Dad comes out of this by the time I reach there tomorrow.” I said.
“ Look Mohinder You have to be brave , We know you have always been brave in life. We understand that you loved your father. But now you have to take care of your mother, she is sick and needs you. You are a grown up boy.” Saying this Ms Coutinho wiped her eyes and broke down. With over 15 years of teaching experience she was our most favourite teacher in the department and I was her most loved pupil.
“Look I have to inform you that we got a call from your home at 4 PM that your father has passed away.” She was sobbing now.
Mr Vaman Rao came close and held me tightly. For a moment tears rolled down my cheeks. There was silence for sometime.
Then Fr Simon said , “ I have prayed to god to give you strength, Mohinder, get up and pack your bags. Two of your friends are ready and will go with you to the Airport”.
“Mohinder , have a safe journey, I will pray to god for you to reach safely and attend your fathers last rights.” Saying this Fr Simon kept his hand on my head and blessed me.
I got up and moved out to my room. Some friends came along. They said warm words to console me. Somehow I managed to keep myself composed and moved out to the Airport with them. And then boarded the flight which was delayed by two hours and now left Mumbai at 3 am.The flight landed at 5.10 am and by 5.20am i was rushing out of the international terminal. The national departures that time was almost ten kilometers away and a cab had to be taken. I immediately took a pre-paid cab and dozed of for a while.
Suddenly the cab braked and my eyes opened and I a saw lot of lights , “have we reached? I asked the driver.
“We are about to reach in a minute.” He said.
On reaching the Domestic Departures I rushed inside . It was 5.50 AM. I rushed to the Indian Airlines Counter and found it to be closed. The person on the adjacent counter said that all boarding passes have been given and so the person has left. I took out my ticket and showed him “Look I have a “OK” ticket.”(in those days ‘OK’ ticket meant a confirmed seat)
He said “its only ten minutes left for departure of that flight, you go to the Duty Manager”. He pointed to the direction of the Managers office.
I literally ran towards that office with my bag lugged on my shoulder. I can’t afford to miss this flight. I have to see my father . Only once. Please God help me. Dodging the passengers and the trolleys I reached the office and barged inside to find a middle aged person sitting there.
“Yes”He said.
“Sir , I have a ‘OK’ticket for the Bagdogra flight but the counter is closed” I said.
“ He looked at the wall clock, the flight should be on the runway my son, You are very late”. He said.
“Sir, I came on the Air India flight from Mumbai, that flight was two hours late , I am rushing here from the International terminal. Sir , please do something”.I said.
“I am sorry”. He said.
“Sir, I will miss my father’s funeral at Bagdogra today. Please let me have a last look at my father.” My head was down and eyes moist. I looked at the watch and saw 5.59AM.
“Where is the funeral?” He demanded to confirm. Probably they were warned against hoax people and callers.
I reacted with immediate presence of mind and took out my Army Officers Dependent card and showed him . He checked my photograph to confirm and then saw my ticket .
“ Sir, my father has died in an accident at Bengdubi yesterday, today they are cremating him. Sir, the flight would not have taken off yet” . I said.
He looked into my eyes and something happened inside him. He sprung up from his seat. Picked up his walkie-talkie and mumbled some thing on it . I could only understand my flight number and word ‘emergency’.
“ I will just try. follow me” He commanded . He was running now. He was continuously trying to call somebody but was not getting any response.
I was running too,two steps behind him dodging the passengers again. I wiped my eyes. There was hope. I suddenly felt the hand of my warden over my head , blessing me. I will get the flight I thought. People at the terminal were looking in awe at both of us.
The Manager was frantically calling ATC. Suddenly there was an affirmative answer from the other end.
“ ATC , Please stop the take Off of flight No IC______, there is an emergency” The manager shouted on the walkie talkie .
I was made to cross the security check with a quick check. At the gate there was a bus waiting. The Manager came with me in the bus . The aircraft had been stopped just short of the take-off runway. A ladder vehicle was moving in . I saw the air-hostess re-opening the door and the ladder was fixed again. The Manager came close to me patted my shoulder and our eyes exchanged brief glances of ‘gratitude’ from my side and ‘it was my duty’ from his side. As soon as I reached the top, the door was closed . And as I entered the plane I saw my elder sister and brother-in-law sitting on the front row. Seeing me she hugged me and burst out crying.
The plane took off. And I reached home to say final adieu to my father.

PS. Till today, friends whenever I see people lament about inefficiency of our national carrier Indian Airlines I never join the discussion for what gift they gave me – to be able to see my fathers last face, I owe them lifetime of gratitude. When it comes to help . They can and they do it.

Endnote. The funeral was held the same day i.e  18 March 1988 at 1600h. My SSB interview date for entry into IMA , Dehradun was scheduled on 21 March at Bhopal. After the funeral, mymy family, my brave mother and  father’s colleagues motivated me that I must proceed for  my SSB as that would fullfil my father’s dream to see me in uniform. I  boarded the train on 19th and reported to the services selection board on tume. Next 5 days  changed my life as I not only qualified , cleared the medical, got a good position in merit list. I  was wearing the covetted olive green uniform on 01 Jul 1988.




Attari Express

Attari Express
As most of my journeys by train are typified by cockroach and rodent infested coaches, smelly toilets and broken seats, I generally never look forward to any excitement in them.
But this journey was destined to be different.
It was a hastily planned journey for an official errand at Amritsar, and as no train bookings were available in fast/ express trains, I had to settle for a slow and barely known Jabalpur-Attari Express. As expected, it was an old and grimy AC 2-Tier coach with dirty linen and a patchy floor. I was sure that this 22 hour journey was certainly going to be a spiteful one.
As the train pulled out of Saugor station someone pulled the chain and the train came to a halt. Subsequently when it moved, it could best be compared to the speed of a creaking city tempo. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and begged my mind to stay calm as I had no choice in the decision of travelling by this train. To overcome the boredom, I had to distract myself with some activity. So I scanned the co-passengers and made small talk with a family of three adults and two tiny kids but soon found that they were rather keen on sleeping in the afternoon. The couple placed one child each in their lap and pulled a sheet over and slept. Their old mother came and sat next to me on the side lower seat. So be it.
“Mr Mohinder” I said to myself, you have little choice but to fall back on your old friend, a book. Just two days back a friend had gifted me a book , The Sialkot Saga, which I had still not started reading. I pulled it out from the bag and began to read. The first 20 pages of the book gave me enough indication that this was not ‘my type’.
While I was cursing the guy who gifted me the book, suddenly I saw a lady alighting from the seat above me, where I initially thought no one was there. She straightaway rushed to the mobile charging socket. Seeing my mobile being charged, she turned back. Though I was trying to decode the cryptic storyline of the book in my hand, my pseudo concentration was ruptured by an “excuse me”!, I looked up and saw a young lady, clad in a Punjabi suit gesturing me to remove my charger so that she could charge her mobile. As I got up to remove my mobile, I saw a confident smile on her face which was bejewelled by big twinkling eyes.
She responded to my “here you go” with a big smile and a “Thanks”.
Once her mobile was in the charging slot, she got hold of her short tresses and weaved them into a stylish knot and quietly sat on the seat on which the lady with the kid was sleeping. The old lady sitting next to me got up and offered her seat to the big-eyed maiden. Apparently it was her seat. She immediately occupied the seat and without wasting any time took out a book from her bag and started reading it. As I was struggling on the 21st page of my voluminous book, I was struck with curiosity about what she was reading , but I could not see the title. A side glance at her told me she was deeply engrossed in whatever she was reading.
A sudden call on her phone made her leave the book and rush to attend to the call… Thereafter for 10 minutes I could hear continuous chattering in pure Bengali with her mother. So this big-eyed petite lady was actually a Bengali, I inferred.
Till now my perception of a Bengali was that he or she was a ‘super intelligent snob’. So I was now expecting very little company and the rest of the journey was going to be at the mercy of the labyrinthine story weaved by Ashwin Sanghi, I thought. The not-my-type book and with a snobbish co-passenger, it was certainly a double whammy for me.
As she went back to her book I caught the name of the author from the spine of the book – Banerjee. Obviously her interest was justified.
My mind now raced back to the interactions which I had with so many editors in publishing houses in Delhi to whom I had sent the manuscripts of my books for review, and each of them after many heated discussions had rejected my work saying it needed serious editing. All these editors had two things in common, one, all of them were ladies, and second all were Bengali.
Whilst I was distracted from the book I was reading and engrossed in my critical analysis of Bengali females , I heard the sweet voice of my co- passenger. This time she volunteered to put my mobile back for charging as she had removed hers. I was taken aback at this polite gesture from a supposedly snob Bengali. ‘So unlike a Bengali’, I thought. A ‘ thank you’ was all I could mutter amidst the racing thoughts in my mind. As she plugged my charger back into the socket and deftly fixed my mobile on it, she asked me where I was going. I saw a confident and radiant face looking for an answer. “I am going to Amritsar” I answered in as polite language as possible, hiding the crude Punjabi accent, lest she start reacting to me like the other bengali editors had done. In return to the display of good manners, I too asked her where she as going. I quickly received the answer ‘Jalandhar’, with a broad smile. With the initial inhibitions gone, I was a bit emboldened to ask what book was she reading? The answer to this was a five minute monologue which was intertwined with hand gestures and twinkling of her big eyes. Her monologue covered not only the aspects of the book, but also the author, Mr Banerjee, whom I had never heard of. But according to my co-passenger, whom I had named Big Eyed Bengali (BEB) he was the greatest literary giant India had produced. As I kept listening, I really began to admire the language of the orator, and at the end of those five minutes, I decided that I could listen to some more tales. So now I asked her what other books had she read. The answers were equally long and full of enthusiasm. I was mesmerised at her command over the language and gestures. ‘Bengalis are really good at the language ‘ I inferred inwardly. ‘ No wonder they are snobs’
As the discussion on books dried up, I asked what she was doing in Jalandhar. The answer to that made me actually shut my mouth. “I am a Psychologist” pat came the reply. OMG, i was stupefied for a moment and reminded of an old quip, ‘ You utter anything in front of a psychologist and he will start analysing you’. Silence is thy best friend , I thought.
But after almost an hour of her talking of her profession as a ‘child psychologist’, I realised that she was not that typical psychologist, of whom one should be afraid of.
By then I think it dawned on her as to why this gentleman was quietly listening to her all along. So she started to make me talk. She asked me what I did. To which I replied, ‘ I am a writer’. ‘Which language do you write in’? Snap came the second question with raising of an eyebrow and a tone of doubt. “English” I answered tersely. She looked again at me, as if thinking ‘since when had sardars moved into the fiefdom of the Bengalis?’.
“What is the title of your book”? came the third and final question.
To which I replied, ” three, I have authored three books”.
It was her turn now to get a bit awed. Though still not convinced, she deftly took out a piece of paper and very politely asked me to write the names of my books. It was almost as if I was going through a lie-detection test by this BEB. But I was enjoying looking at the changing facial expressions especially her big eyes as she began to scan her mobile. “All books are available on flipkart”, I added. Which I think just partially allayed her doubts about Sardars writing in English. However, after that our discussions went on to analysis of many books which both of us had read in particular and then some issues of life in general. She was so well read inspite of her young age. She was very open about her life too and I was indeed impressed by her indepth knowledge about child psychology. I even took some advice about how to tackle my own children. Before we realised it, it was mid night and almost everyone in the compartment was asleep.
It was time to sleep as the train was to reach her destination in the morning.
Though I thought we had become good literary friends I had not dared to ask the lady her name or contact details as I always thought that it should be left to the lady to decide. She was a married woman and I did not intend to infringe into her privacy. Also I was not sure whether she had actually upgraded me from being a pseudo-writer (with reservations about how a sardar could write in English) or not. Inwardly, I was keen not to end this journey in anonymity, but my deeply embedded values made me exercise admirable restraint on this issue. As always, my mind ruled my heart.
I got up early at 6 am next morning but found her in deep sleep. The train was to reach her station by 9 am. She got up around 8, saw me already up and to my “good morning” I received an equally warm “good morning” with her signature smile. I said ” the train is about to reach your destination”. She quickly packed her bags. I was now sure that this journey would end with strangers being strangers. As the train was entering Jalandhar station, I offered her help with her heavy bag, to which she declined. The Bengali ego at its helm I thought. But as she stood up to leave , she extended her hand and said, ” I am Nivedita Ghosh, and I am going to read all your three books. Can I have your contact number and blog address?.”
I could not believe what I had just heard from this Bengali lady.
“Of course” I said smiling while shaking my hands with her.
And with this I knew that I had been successful in flipping the image of a Punjabi writing in English language.
And what followed was a friendly exchange of views between an avid reader and an amateur writer.