ANATOMY OF FEAR
“You can’t pull over at 35,000 feet.” Aretha Franklin.
Fear of flying. It’s the irrevocability of it that’s so petrifying. Of getting into that flashy-looking pile of aluminium (all that vroom-vroom and them posh birds in uniform plying hot towels don’t fool me) and allowing a complete stranger who doesn’t know how much of living I’ve still left to do (all the men i haven’t loved, all the shopping I haven’t done) to launch me into nothingness (barring a few silly clouds and some really vicious air-pockets), without having the option of saying, ”Stop, let me off!”.
A typical flight goes something like this. At the departure lounge, the next day’s headlines screaming in my head (“AIRCRASH!”), I check out my co-passengers. First to see if there’s somebody famous. That way, at least when the Big “C” happens (CRASH, if you sadists must have it spelt out), I’d have the posthumous pleasure of derived fame. Then, to see if they’re the kind of people I’d like to share my “C” with. Since this kind of thing is like loosing your virginity. You get only one chance. Once aboard, I listen with catatonic attention to the “Kursi-ki-peti” routine, first in Hindi and then all over again in English. (I’d listen to it in Swahili if necessary, to make sure I’m fully briefed to “saans-lete-rahiye” when there is “hawa mein kami”.) I’m the only one doing so. I’ m also the only one reading the safety instruction leaflet, cover to cover. I glare at the geeks sitting near the emergency exits. They look like irresponsible nerds who’ll bungle the act of whipping the door open and letting me be the one to leap out first. I panic, wondering how to inflate the life-jacket with the oxygen mask strapped across my mouth . Some fear-of-flying friendly airlines have found a neat solution. You now just have to whip out the seat from under you and clutch it to float back to the nearest shark.
We take off and the cabin crew try to lull me into a false sense of security with an unending stream of stuff. But they don’t fool me. (One steward’s cute. I check him out and go back to hyperventilating). I stuff each ear with a kilo of cotton wool, so that, any moment now, when the engines starts spluttering, I won’t hear them. I sit in an aisle seat so that when the engines burst into flames, I won’t see them. We hit the first air pocket. I sink my nails into the metal armrests. In between each wave, I uncross my eyes and make wild promises to God in exchange for this plane landing in one piece. I crane across to see if the wing’s still there. It is. Suspicious whiffs of vapours ooze out of the air-conditioning vents. Smoke. We’re going to go up in flames. We don’t. Call buttons go off all over like a bad rash. Each ting-tung’s a gong of doom, heralding the pilot telling us that we’re going down, down, down. He doesn’t. The aircraft bounces like a happy baby. I clutch the hand of the strange man sitting next to me and see my life flash past me. (That part gets a bit tiresome sometimes. Even “Sholay “ palls after the 85th viewing.). The floor tilts down 60-degrees and my lungs whoosh out of my ears. We’re nose-diving into oblivion. We don’t. There’s a hideous thud-and-crunch from under the floor. As I brace myself for the final blinding flash, an angel’s voice warbles about bahar ka taapman. I realise we’ve landed.
In one piece. I stuff my heart back into my mouth and think, it’s a fluke. It’s going to happen the next time.