The other day, on my flight to Hyderabad, my neighbour, a gentleman, very generously built, probably in his mid-forties, engaged my attention all of the 55 minutes, right from the time he chose to dump his oversized and unshapely hand baggage into the overhead cabin above my seat.
However much he tried to push it in and shut the door, it wouldn’t close because the cursed thing was protruding by several inches. Even as I feared it may land on my head any moment the air hostess came to his rescue, and mine as well, asking whether she could check it in to which the gentleman reluctantly agreed.
He slumped into his seat with a thud and immediately got busy with the seat belt. He pulled out the part on his right and half turned towards me to find the part adjacent to my seat. It failed to yield to his groping hand and suddenly I noticed him tugging at my seat belt and trying to push the clasp in place. But the ends refused to come anywhere near each other. I felt amused at his plight and told him he had picked up the wrong belt.
He dropped it like a hot brick and without as much as a “Sorry maam”, resumed his search for the right one. He managed to lay his hand on it after some struggle and fastened the belt on his centre forward. No sooner than he felt secure he pulled out the newspaper from the front seat’s rear pocket and started reading loudly, drawing the attention of those around.
Breakfast arrived and I was curious to know what he would do next. He immediately crumpled the newspaper, pushed it back into the seat pocket, pulled out his large handkerchief and spread it over his lap. He picked up the toothpicks and the cotton swabs from the tray and safely deposited them in his shirt pocket. The butter and jam packets made their way into his trouser pocket. He picked up the piece of bun, took a bite and almost the same time I too bit into my piece and both of us winced at its staleness. (I chose to discard it but he consumed the whole of it).
The rest of the breakfast was polished off within minutes and the man was licking each finger at the end, probably to prove how much he relished it, (Hats off to Indian Airlines). Letting out a loud belch, he brought out the toothpick and the cotton swab from his pocket, (the latter was collected along with the chocolates, earlier on the flight). I expected him to use them for the purpose they were meant but never thought he had other ideas for the pair. He tore open the packets with his teeth, took out the cotton and wrapped it around the toothpick and inserted the improvised ‘ear bud’ right into his ear nearest to me, not bothering to realise whether his elbow was resting on the arm of the seat or my arm placed on it. The ‘ear bud’ came out accompanied by a lot of muck which was deposited on the cover of the seat facing him.
A similar ‘cleansing exercise’ of his nostrills was carried out with his right index finger and the resulting ‘scum’ too found a place next to the ‘muck’. Meanwhile, the announcement for the flight’s landing came and I heaved a sigh of relief. The man unfastened his seat belt (this time with less difficulty).
Even as the flight was touching down, he made an attempt to get up but sat down when he noticed nobody else did so.
After collecting my suitcase from the conveyor, I headed for the pre-paid cab outside the airport and took my place in the queue. My eyes fell on a familiar piece of baggage near me. Suddenly recognition dawned and I scooted from there deciding to wait till the baggage and its owner were out of my sight, wondering at the same time what his plans were for the packets of jam, butter and spice safely resting in his trouser and shirt pockets.
Tail piece: High time someone takes the suggestion that bulky passengers should book two seats on the flight seriously in order not to inconvenience fellow passengers.
N Meera Raghavendra Rao