Mile High Club

'Irresponsible!', 'What an utter disregard to the public's convenience and well being!', 'the appalling apathy is simply stomach churning!' were just some of the muted outbursts I had spewed whenever I had the misfortune of sharing space with infants flying miles high up in the sky. Trapped, errant and irritable were my steps during the slow descent into the combustible and inflammable persona that I remained till well after a few days of the voyage. Kids had no business being in the airspace, except of course during emergencies (which again was reserved to the worst kind, like some one passing on to the unseen worlds, and not reserved to simple ones like loss of limb or property) and even more, parents do not have the right to inflict their young ones upon society for any other reasons than the aforementioned. Holding a kid in a closed vestibule for hours at a time is like catching the lightning in a bottle - it simply cannot be done. Their innate sense of unruliness is in inverse proportion to the size of the containment quarters. That is the reason why they seem like God gifts to mankind when cavorting freely in open spaces and play out like your worse nightmare come to life and take the form of your kid when tied up in seat belts and made to sit hours at a time in the middle seats in the center columns of jet liners. What starts off as an annoying and constant kicking of the seat in front quickly escalates into a full blown tantrum throwing exercise exasperating not just the default sufferers of their offspring's slip in behavior - the parents - but also the unwitting fellow passengers whose only crime was clicking the confirm button on the same itinerary as the brand ambassadors of the devil's abode. 'My kids are the most well behaved in air, in fact, you would want to be seated next to them', I heard some parents brag, not into those exact terms, but in similar spirit. 'You, my friend, are as delusional as they come. How can I convince you that unicorns, free lunches, honest politicians and well behaved kids in air are simply a myth? You merely have gotten used to the chaos and commotion so much that your tolerance levels now run parallel to females' experiencing labor pains. And that is why you convince yourself into believing (and then foolishly) reiterating that your sweat is more aromatic than any deodorant and your kids are the best they are currently in the business! In psycho babble-ese, it is called 'Denial''. In the pithy words of a great comedian, 'your crap is stuff, and others' stuff is crap'! Animals in cages and kids in seat belts are crimes against nature, decry activists. Regardless, humanity continues to entertain the idea of intermingling of age groups at high altitudes and continues to suffer the resultant consequences.

The moment I used to hear the first shrill from the kid nearby, I used to prepare myself for the journey length of abject misery, while simultaneously cursing the parents for their poor judgment - both for conceiving the kid in the first place, and second, allowing him to breathe the same recycled air as the rest of us overweight ones, cramped in ill-fitting seats. And then I had a pint size of my own and had to take to the air for entirely non-emergency reasons, breaking my own codicil with gay abandon. I knew I had a whale of a time ahead of me, for the Gods that ruled the skies don't ever take kindly on violators of self imposed tents of air. Remember Poseidon's, the God of Sea's, curse on Odysseus that made his ten year voyage on sea every bit miserable and eventful for all the wrong reasons? I had heard horror stories of all kinds recanted by scarred parents still reeling with post traumatic stress syndrome with kids of all sizes and ages and so I thought I was prepared for the worst visualizing the pint size crying copiously during his every waking moment. I mean, wasn't that the worst there was and could be?

The female form and I clasped the metal buckles and settled for the long haul with the pint size firmly in tow on her lap. No sooner were the doors shut (figuratively closing down on the last window of opportunity for us to make a dash for it), the hostess made her way toward us and spoke in that fake concerned voice, replete with condescending head tilt - 'Hi, as per Air Traffic Regulations (she might as well had quoted the pertinent Book and Proverb), (we could not have your kid enjoy himself his stay while on board, so as the first step,) it is our responsibility to see that he be tied (uncomfortably) up with the belt extension provided to you, (which could then trigger the series of unfortunate events that would befall upon you) And we cannot take off without every one of our passengers are fastened securely in their belts. Mmkay?' Suddenly I felt the cold gazes and stares of my fellow travellers on my back, even felt the chilly breath of the invisible owner of the airline and his stockholders, for delaying the flight, have it incur fines to nudge further the already struggling airline industry into deep red territory which would prove the final push to the airline already tottering on the brink of financial uncertainty into certain bankruptcy. All this because I couldn't wrap my folly with a belt buckle? Suddenly, the future of the US economy, and thus the world's, rested on my nimble fingers. And thus started the first of many(...and many more to come) coaxing and cajoling, urging and pleading, exhorting and appealing to the pint size's better senses to turn himself in, voluntarily, thus avoiding any unnecessary body count in the process. The pint size didn't like the idea of his freedom being curtailed even one bit and let his protest known in the first of many (...and many more to come) helpless wails. His protest was duly noted and his objection overruled unceremoniously. He thrashed and flopped around like a overexcited fish that found itself on the floor instead of the bowl. It was like threading a needle, catching hold of his puny size and trying the belt around it.

And just as we succeeded in the effort and let ourselves relax for a bit, the Rolls Royce engines of the jet thundered in great fury, as though a bull huffing and puffing and rushing towards the matador, being taunted with a red cloth. And that triggered another panic attack for the pint size, who was only used to being thundered at with great love and affection. Rolls Royce showed no such mercy and the pint size's agony knew no bounds. The decibel levels reached a fever pitch - both of the mechanical and physiological bodies, and the air heated up consequently - both outside and inside the plane. The flailing of the arms soon joined the thrashing and flopping, causing him to appear as an octopus on steroids. Remember the old current amp up contraption from yester years movies, where the villain ties the hero to the chair and increases the current passed to his temples in steps by banking the big red knob more and more to the right? It certainly felt like that as challenges were thrown at us in quick, breathless succession and we were caught unawares on each occasion, unable to anticipate and cope with new issue cropping up around the corner. After the belt and the engine troubles, it was time for physics to taunt us and traumatize the pint size with the equalization of pressures imbroglio, commonly known as, ear popping. He had no idea what was happening in his ear canal as road block kept popping up at unexpected twists and bends, causing the inflow of sound to make wild swings and take unanticipated detours. So what time is it? (Before the early 90s pop music aficionados yell out 'HAMMER TIME') it was WAILING TIME, it was time for his creators to once again declare the next hour or so, pacifying time, where they take turns singing in tired, off-key voices his favorite songs, try to get him to answer to questions that were of existential kind ('who was he ', 'where are we going right now', 'where did his favorite toy go' (to toy dog heaven)), do anything and everything that would distract him from his current distress and digress his mind away to other pleasant and non-crying things.

Time heals all, the wise profess. If only it moved to the healing part a bit quicker...The plane had reached cruising altitude and things started to settle down a bit. For the first time in hours, the female form and I slouched into our back rests pushing it as far back as the ticket fare allowed. The pint size transitioned from loud yelps to gradual sobs to infrequent hiccups (the kind that looks cute on kids, when they both hiccup and head jerk at the same time). Our entire cabin heaved a heavy sigh of relief. So what was it that I was ranting at the beginning? Irresponsible? Apathetic? Self Centered? How about adding 'unfortunate', 'helpless' and 'powerless' to the list? No matter how hard Odysseus tried to steer his ship in the right direction to reach his home fast and see his wife and the son, he hadn't known yet, Poseidon cursed him just as bitter, turning his ship further away into peril...

The lights in the vessel were turned all the way to dim allowing the inmates to doze off on the lack of optimal oxygen. I rested my head back and flashed back on the countless trips I embarked upon as an unfettered soul, spoiled by choices in published and printed word, movies from far flung places and the tireless jaunts I used to take at regular intervals through the empty aisles along the length and breadth of the aircraft when the artificial lighting was switched off, scanning the unknown faces wondering about their lives. And here I was, having not moved an inch since take off, having not cracked open the latest bestseller that I purchased for the exact occasion, having not even diverted my glance away from the pint size, watching over, analyzing his every move and trying to anticipate his next. The bell overhead chimed softly indicating the start of 'in flight service', a euphemism that airlines coined for 'free food'. Ironic, isn't it, that we feel like kings sitting in slightly wider berths in the business class, which are far less comfortable than we are used to at homes, we feel like emperors feasting on free food, which is far below our usual standards and in fractional portions to our usual quotas. Well, that didn't stop us for gorging on it anyway. Nothing of note happened during that period, not more than the usual fits and fussiness that accompanies the feeding of a kid. And when time came around to retire to the sleeping quarters, the big elephant in the room that till then sat silently in the corner finally rampaged through as though in a stampede. How to divvy up a space a little more than a couple of feet between a grown one and a still growing one and be pleased about the arrangement? It is like that project delivery fundamentals lesson - time, quality, money, you can only have two. It is like that story about the man, son and the donkey, where no matter which configuration the donkey was employed to lug those two around - man seated, son on foot, and vice versa, both seated, both on foot - people criticize them for their unwise choice, eventually causing them to carry the donkey tied to a log upside down. Our story pretty much played along similar lines, where, regardless of how we made his bed - to share it with his creator, or his designated carrier, or to have it all for himself - he made us regret our choice of bringing him on board in the first place with his incessant, annoying and grating crying.

I had my wish fulfilled, albeit in a different way, where I caroused through the empty aisles in the stillness of dim lights and simulated night, perusing the blank faces who blissfully lost their battles to the seductive and overpowering charms of the sleep maiden, with the pint size finally making his bed on the strong and broad shoulders of his designated carrier. And anytime I felt I/he had had enough of the walking marathon and I tried setting him down on the seat, he voiced his strong sense of disapproval by clearing out the higher octaves in his throat.

As though we hadn't had enough heartburn with the pint size, the female form and I made it a point to keep the cauldron burning by vociferously arguing, in hushed tones of course, about each strategic decision the other party took that might had contributed to his near crazy behavior - why didn't you pack his favorite blanket, without which he would never sleep, in the check in items, why are both of his socks the same color, even when you knew that he wants his socks strictly in the complimentary-supplementary color combination, why did you add the extra water to his hardened meal, who knows he could had enjoyed chewing chunks of rock hard rice, why didn't you not listen to me and administer that sleep inducing cough medication even if the warning label indicated that it might backfire in some cases and make his system over-cranked. All those arguments had the same conclusion - 'See, that's the reason why he wouldn't stop crying' and even more potent implicit implication - you screwed up, it's all YOUR fault!. In retrospect, there was nothing that we could had done that would had pleased him and made him enjoy his ride. Just like in grownups, there could never be a logical reason why a certain face appeals to us or otherwise chancing upon it for the first time, I guess the same goes with pint sizes. There is no because here, it just is.

Well, that's the story anyway, and there was nothing more to it, there was more OF it, but not TO it. Needless to say that I have (new found) respect, admiration and sympathy for adults who venture out with their little ones on transcontinental flights. The sheer audacity of even entertaining the thought of handling this fragile creature for that long a time in closed confines alone deserves the Congressional medal of Valor. I also amended my tenet of taking the kid out of its sealed packaging for non emergency reasons. For someone has braced himself for enduring hours of uninterrupted, full on, reactive engagement, the rules of civility, courtesy, punctuality, nicety down to the Ten Commandments (Thou shalt not kill your kid) simply do not apply. He is given prosecution immunity, get free from jail card. You may choose to handle your kid, regardless of the world's comfort and  convenience around you, as you see fit.

I made a few more trips after that fateful first transcontinental voyage. I am now used to wearing a harangued face, like a Scarlet Letter, while boarding so that everyone, from the flight crew to the co-travellers, know beforehand that they better buckle up and prepare themselves for the long haul. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.


Anonymous said...

AryA! vimAnamu - anagaa maanam kOlupOvuTa ani oka [vipareeta] ardham. iti.

Anonymous said...

This is the heights of narcissism and self pity. And ofcourse i pity you for being such an asshole.