I awoke to the annoying sound of my alarm and tried to open my eyes, but they seemed glued shut. Prying them open with my hands, I peered at the clock on the opposite wall – it was 6:15 in the morning, the time I usually wake up on school days. However, I wasn’t going to school today; I was going to Aizawl, the city my mother is from, for a week. It’s the capital of Mizoram, a state in North-East India and my mother and I travel there almost every year to keep up relations with her side of the family. It’s quite a large hill-station and there really isn’t much for me to do there, but I enjoy spending time in the house with my cousins, my uncle and my grandmother. By now, the alarm was too much for me to bear and I angrily pressed “Dismiss” on my phone’s screen – the sound stopped, much to my relief, and I groggily stumbled out of bed.
By 7:30, I was dressed and had started munching on one and a half apples – my breakfast on school days. The flight was at 10:20 and there was still plenty of time. We left the house at around 8:30 and arrived at the airport in forty minutes. As we stood in line to check in our luggage and get our boarding passes, I suddenly remembered that I had left my backpack in the car – in my hurry to get a trolley for our luggage, I had neglected the very thing that I had placed on the seat next to me. I immediately called my father who had dropped us off and gave him the news. He was back at the gate in ten minutes and my bright orange backpack was now where it belonged – strapped to my back.
We were done with all the pre-boarding activities and had more than an hour to kill. So, we sat down in a relatively empty seating area and looked to our phones for entertainment – my mother was WhatsApp-ing with her friends and family in Aizawl who were all very thrilled about her visit, and I was watching season two of Better Call Saul, a show that I had liked so much that I had introduced it to my grandmother and my cousin who lived with us. Just as I had comfortably nestled myself between the armrest and my backpack with my legs stretched out in front of me, we discovered that the flight had been delayed by an hour due to bad weather in Aizawl. I didn’t really mind much because that just meant more uninterrupted viewing of my current favourite show.
By 11:15 we had boarded the relatively small propeller plane and found out that our seats were in the very first row. That meant no keeping hand luggage near our feet; it would need to be stowed away in the luggage compartment above us – this was a problem because we were carrying quite a lot of hand luggage and fitting it in would be a problem. Lucky for us, someone noticed us struggling and removed his briefcase to make room for our bags.
Soon, we were airborne and when all that could be seen from the window were clouds, I resumed watching the show. That was interrupted by the in-flight meal which was so terrible that I couldn’t take more than a few bites of each item. My mother told me to eat more or else I would soon be very hungry. I assured her that wouldn’t be the case as we would soon be in Aizawl and food would be aplenty in the house.
We were just twenty minutes away from the scheduled landing time when the pilot announced over the P.A. system that we would have to circle the landing strip for a while till the weather cleared up. As soon as I heard this, I remembered the story my father had recounted in the ride to the airport about him being in a similar incident – his flight started circling the then-airport in Tuiriel and when it became abundantly clear that landing was not possible, they turned around and returned to Kolkata. I was praying that I wouldn’t be in the same predicament.
Unfortunately, God wasn’t tuning in to my frequency at the moment and the pilot made a second announcement that we would have to go to Guwahati to refuel. He added that if the weather in Aizawl was better by then, we would make a second attempt at landing. The moment he uttered these words, I could hear the collective groan from all the passengers on-board; clearly, everyone was as exasperated as me.
As soon as we landed in Guwahati, I called my father and my grandmother to let them know what was happening. My mother, meanwhile, was informing the driver who was supposed to pick us up at Lengpuii Airport of the cause of the delay. We waited for what seemed like a decade and I was growing very impatient. Finally the pilot killed the suspense and much to our dismay, told us that landing in Aizawl in the current weather would be impossible. We would thus, have to return to Kolkata.
Everyone was quite disappointed, especially those who had travelled all the way from Bombay as this was a connecting flight which made one stop at Kolkata. My mother started a conversation with a Mizo man seated next to me; the two of them were conversing in Mizo, a language that I have sadly forgotten how to speak when I heard that man mention my late paternal grandfather’s name. I tuned in to the conversation more and discovered that this man worked for the sister-in-law a colleague and friend of my grandfather. My grandfather worked in Mizoram for many years and knew many people, but I was very astonished to find that people who once knew him still remembered him, this many years after his passing away. The man then pointed to a woman behind me and told us that she was the sister-in-law he had mentioned. We exchanged niceties and as my mother cheerfully continued chatting with them, my mind wandered to another thought – when and how were we going to go to Aizawl.
In case Jet Airways wouldn’t place us on another flight to Aizawl, I would have to go and file an insurance claim and get our tickets refunded. My mother said she didn’t know much about this and that she wouldn’t understand anyway, so my father ran me through the process by text message before we departed for Kolkata. Before long, we were going back to where we had come from.
It was now 2:30 in the afternoon and I was ravenous. The airline was courteous enough to give us another meal on the way back which sadly, wasn’t much better than the first, but my hunger overrode my taste-buds on this occasion and I munched down on a sandwich and a slice of cake. By four o’clock we were back in Kolkata and I just thought to myself, “What a waste of a day!” After grabbing our luggage from the conveyor belt, my mother and I headed to a Jet Airways help-desk near the exit. The lady there collected our boarding passes, circled our names in a little register that was placed on the desk and told us to go to the Jet Airways ticket counter on the upper floor.
Now, since we had a ton of luggage with us on a trolley, we couldn’t use the stairs. The only option was to use a small elevator. Even though all that was separating the two floors were two small flights of steps, people without any luggage whatsoever refused to walk their way up. This led to the formation of quite a long line in front of the elevator. Finally, there were just two people in front of us and I was sure that we, along with them, would be the next batch of people to get on. However, the elevator wasn’t descending and after waiting for about three minutes, I realised that the man right in front hadn’t even called it by pressing the button. I angrily brushed past him and pressed it – what do you know, the elevator finally came.
Just after we entered the elevator along with the two in front of us, an elderly Bengali gentleman with an annoyed look on his face and a trolley barely holding the enormous amounts of luggage he was carrying, budged his way in even after everyone inside said that we wouldn’t fit. He didn’t seem to give a damn about what anyone said and came in anyway. As he entered and tried to turn the trolley around, his watch hit me on the hand with a metallic “clang” and instead of apologising, he gave me a stern look as if to say, “How dare you place your hand in the path of my watch?” I was fed up of this man and so was everyone else inside the elevator and one man was outspoken in this matter. He blatantly told him that people like him are the reason our state is going to the dogs. Without giving his adversary a chance to retort, he sped out of the elevator just as the doors opened.
I was glad to be out of that claustrophobic hell hole and rushed towards the ticket counter. I handed the lady there a printout of our tickets and asked her what she would do for us. She told us that instead of refunding the tickets, she would book us on the same flight three days later as all the other flights to Aizawl in the next two days were full. I thought of arguing for a better deal for a moment, but acquiesced and told her to go ahead. After she handed over the new tickets to us, I remembered my father saying that Jet was a full-service airline which meant that in cases of cancellation of a flight, they arrange for transport for passengers and put them up in hotels. Neither my mother nor I wanted to spend the next few nights in a hotel, so I asked the lady to arrange for some transport to take us home. She told us that in cases of bad weather, the airline does not carry out the aforementioned actions. Dismayed, I booked an Ola cab through my phone and told the driver to pick us up at Gate 3A of the Departure level.
After a five-minute wait, I checked my phone to see where the cab was and to my surprise, it showed it right where I was. Confused, I looked around for it, but couldn’t see it. So, I called the driver and asked him where he was. He said he was where I asked him to be and that confounded me even further. I asked him whether he was at the upper level (that’s the departure level) and he gave me a resounding, “Yes!” I was quite sure that he was below us at the Arrivals terminal and thus, told him to drive up to where we were. However, he was adamant that he was at the highest level there was. I was losing my temper in public trying to explain our current location to him and trying to coax him to just drive up. But, he was as stubborn as a donkey and wouldn’t accept what I was saying at all. Finally, my mother and I decided to just take the elevator downstairs instead of prolonging the argument. Just as I was about to enter the elevator, the driver called me and told me was at the upper level, the proper upper level where we asked him to come. We performed a U-turn, spotted the cab, loaded our luggage into the boot and got in.
The driver’s facial expression betrayed his feelings and I could feel his contempt from the back seat. Instead of trying to rub his nose in his mistake, I just typed the drop location in on my phone and asked him to go. That’s when I noticed a small crack in the bottom-left corner of my phone’s screen – I was mortified by the thought that I had managed to crack the screen of the phone one week after it was bought. Even though the phone would be replaced for free by the store from which I bought it, I was still dismayed. I inspected that area closely and a thought occurred to me – what if it’s not the screen that’s broken, but the screen protector. I used my fingernails to chip away at the cracked portion and consequently, miniscule pieces of glass were emerging from it. I was now getting scared that it really was the screen that was damaged, but I couldn’t stop prodding the cracked area. Finally, my fingernails went underneath something and I pulled upwards. I was thanking every God at that moment because the screen protector had taken the brunt of the force and thus, there wasn’t even a sliver of damage done to the screen. I then started wondering how it got damaged in the first place – I never dropped it or banged it against anything. Then it struck me – when I got into the elevator, that angry old man’s watch hit my hand which was holding my phone; his watch must have hit the edge of my screen. I was furious with that man now and thought that had I noticed it when it had happened, I would have given him an earful.
When I walked in through the door of my house, I thought to myself what a terrible day I had had – I had travelled thousands of kilometres in about eight hours and ended up right back where I had started – home. My father tried to cheer me up by saying it wasn’t all a waste – it was still an experience. I agree. It might have been a wasteful day, but it’s one I won’t ever forget.