Friday, August 14, 2009

The case of the desolate dollars.....

It was the last leg of the trip from Hong Kong to Mumbai. One had been up for 36 hours straight, partly packing, chatting with folks you were about to bid goodbye to, and partly due to the lack of decent leg space in the plane, thanks to the economy of class.

The 8 hour stopover wasn't much of a help, as most of it was spent searching and looking for resting lounges and stuff folks said was there, but not obvious to us. We even landed suddenly at a train station in the middle of all this, and promptly returned back , as we didn't want to be out somewhere in the city suddenly, without the immigration formalities etc.

Back on the flight, it also didn't help, that every time you tried to nod off, the prevailing tumultuous atmospheric conditions, would make the captain issue seat belt signs, and the stewardesses would start off on a bunch of sing song announcements in English.Hindi, and Chinese.

Throughout the trip, to and fro , some of the stewardesses were wearing these masks across their mouth and nose.

Just before our flight was boarding a gentleman rushed up to the desk asking about masks, and asked where to get them. Then he rushed back to the shops, and returned, the last man to board, with an entire box of , maybe, 500 masks. Which had me calculating desperately.

I was already carrying a few masks , in single digits, with me, from the US, just to have them on hand. The airport here in Hong Kong, had quoted 5 HK $'s a mask, and the Chinese lady offered me 3 for 10 HK $'s, in her best , possibly, Mumbai bargaining style. In my even better Mumbai bargaining style, I refused.

Suddenly , at 34,000 feet in the sky, something just shattered my onset of sleep for the nth time. There were two grown men, 4 rows ahead of me, glaring at each other, eye to eye. The masks chap had got up, opened the overhead bin, and managed to drop down some longish, bubble wrapped item, belonging the guy sitting behind.

Accusations, mutterings , higher decibel levels, and one of the guys shouted "Get lost" to the other at which point I was shattered into wakefulness instantly.

Suddenly a guy stood up. Looked at the masks chap, eye to eye .

"What did you say ? You need to actually pay for the careless damage. Get lost yourself ."

And they glared.

The masks fellow started down at the other. Took out his wallet. Grabbed a bunch of notes , dollar bills. And disdainfully threw them at the other fellow.

" You want money ? 100 dollars ? Is that it ? Take this. And this."

Green paper wistfully floating down.

Now a supporter of the aggrieved fellow gets up.

"You think you can just throw money ? And get away with it ? You think thats what I want ? Take this yourself. " And he threw wads of bills at the other.

Hundreds of desolate, dollars floating to the floor, 32,000 feet up in the air.

Suddenly a guy from the window side gets up. Kind of stands between both.

Brokering a peace.

"Please. Be seated. You guys need to cool it. There has to be a better way. I saw it all. It was a mistake. But nothing done on purpose. "

They both talk at the same time with this guy. Deliberately ignoring and running down each other. It doesn't help that one of them said something in Hindi which the other did not understand. There are touches of regionalism in this, trying to spice the whole thing up. Lots of soliloquies and muttering on both sides. The peacemaker manages the fight. The stewardess comes by, and gives them a piece of her mind, in a fairly polite school marm manner.

Maybe its the swine flu scare. Maybe the masks chap hails from a place where the swine flu has maximum fatalities. Then there is the obsession of the other about this expensive thing which has fallen, which should have been kept someplace else in the first place.

Maybe, like me, everyone is very tired, and tempers fray easily.

But that money throwing bothers me. The amount of money , converted into local currency, flung around in those few minutes, would have been so useful to someone I know, who has to work four households, to pay her sons' tuition fees, as she is a wife , left to fend on her own, by a drunkard husband.

And here, high up in the air, their noses at similar elevations, drunk on the thickness of their wallets and thinness of their regional skins, with super inflated egos, the two fellows had just shown the young ones in the plane, a fine example of how NOT to behave.

I almost got up. To interfere and tell them off. But fate conspired otherwise. The crush of pillows, blankets, seat belts, reading material and purses , not to mention an unfortunate central enclosed seat, made it impossible.

I should have collected the thrown money and passed a hat around, with extra compulsory contributions from the warring parties. It would have made an excellent contribution to the emergency medical fund for the children at the Orphanage close to where I stay. They use that when special life saving expensive meds and procedures are required for the young children.

Like my late mother used to always say, money is not always about quantity. It has the most value when it has quality.

And these guys were just completely clueless.

I guess some folks never learn.

My plane lands, untypically, in the evening. Most international flights land here at unearthly hours like 3 am. Traffic isn't bad then.

I am in the thick of the traffic, jammed, on the road back home. What takes 20 minutes at 3 am, took me 75 minutes, at 7 pm.

The anger is slowly dissipating. Maybe through the familiar potholes, as we avoid swerving aggressive 3 wheelers.

There is a sense of relief.


And despite the chaos, strangely, peace.

I am home.


  1. Welcome back, Suranga!

    What an astonishing incident! Both these men obviously have far more money than is good for them.

  2. The one time, I am really not proud to be an Indian, is when I travel out of our country . The boorish behaviour of our country men makes me want to bury my head in shame. I wonder what makes us behave this way! Money does not buy class, and that the sad state of the noveau riche.

  3. Flying international is a very painful experience these days. Too bad your was over the top (pun intended)!

  4. How silly ! How boorish and how crass. Its not quite about the 34000 feet. Its the height money can climb to in the human head ! Sigh !

    Such boorish behaviour is not limited to international travel alone. The 'me-first' rushing to grab baggage from the overhead storage area, even as the plane is taxiing, would make you imagine there is a fire or something !

    And the mask business is indeed a roaring business out here right now. I am told there arent any more masks available.

    All the same, glad that you are back, and that the old world familiarity of potholes and Powai are still firmly entrenched to greet you !

    Welcome back !!


  5. Welcome back Suranga. As for the money throwing boors they sure gave a fine demonstration of how not to behave. I heartfelt apology and an equally understanding nod was all that was needed. Someone should have picked up the money and given it away as charity.

  6. Violent interactions like that, even when it's just words and not throwing things, leave me shaking. I hate it when people lose it and hate being near enough to not only have to listen but wonder if I'll be caught up in it accidentally. Scary

  7. I had a friend who after being drunk would tear currency notes, and say 'what is money?'
    I wonder why all this is done when drunk.the real human beings struts out.

  8. A hilarious but thought-provoking read, Suranga. It is amazing how seemingly sane people can make complete fools of themselves in public. As you point out, that money could have been so useful to so many others. Ironic that it is these idiots who should have it.

  9. It must have been frightening to some of the passengers to see two grown men act like spoiled infants. The fear that it might escalate to more than a verbal fight, and it being impossible to get away from it all, would certainly be unsettling.

    There is no excuse for boorishness; tired or not. I'll bet you could have put them in their place, Suranga, if you hadn't been handicapped by so much stuff.

    Sorry your trip home was so stressful.

  10. Suranga, welcome back to the stress and the haggling and the boorishness and the crowds that we call home. With a new addition - mask-mania.

    And I would have given a lot of money (rupees, not dollars, though) to witness you rising majestically from your seat (an aisle one, preferably) and give those two swollen-headed and swollen-walleted idiots a piece of your mind.

  11. R.Ramesh Thank you.

    Manju Yes, its good to be back. And I wished I had clicked a photo of these guys, to let the world know. So called grown ups, behaving worse than fighting children. Happens when money is the only thing important in your life.....

    Radha You know, I dont think we were always like that. At least not in my childhood. I wonder if it is the effect of Bollywood movies and too much money.....

    Ananva I am not a frequent international flyer, or even a frequent domestic flyer. But I sometimes think that folks in our Mumbai suburban trains show better class.

    Kavi Thank you. I wish I was as quick at taking photos as you are. Looking back, maybe I should have taken photos and said I was from the Press or something. That would have generated an eminently bloggable episode, besides teaching the fellows a lesson. And yes, they did do the stuff about rushing to open the overhead bins, even before the engines stopped. We never learn, do we?

    Hip GrandmaCathay Pacific cheated me out of an already allocated aisle seat. That would have actually allowed me to dive and hold some of the floating currency. :-) But I guess everything happens for your own good. Several others would have dived along with me, ensuring a mad scramble, and the initial episode would have been sidetracked. But this surely had everyone disgusted....

    Rain Yes, it is scary. But these guys need to learn a lesson somewhere. The question is how.

    NsIyer I guess modern drunks could chew their credit card. Shades of their Simian past. But waht you say about the real human emerging is so true.

    Vaishali I am normally a fairly pro-active and hands on person. I wish I was sitting elsewhere and could have intervened. But it amazes me to realize that some folks think they are being supersmart behaving like this. Maybe they have exhibitionist tendencies ?Who knows.

    Darlene This trip has had its good and bad moments. More of the good ones. And life in India teaches you to take things in your stride. The inconveniences, the crowds, the difficulties never stress me out. Its this shameful behaviour of two people who should have simply aplogized....

    Sucharita Actually, the "stress and the haggling and the crowds" here doesnt bother me one bit. A person on the street, fighting to survive day after day, with minimal facilities, has a right to react in a very emotional way, which we may sometimes interpret as boorish. But these guys in the plane, grown guys with possibly children and grandchildren, behaving like this after having all the benefits of education and comfortable money and jobs, really needed to be penalised in some way. Maybe the best way would have been to lock all of them up in one of the planes toilets. Would have been an excellent lesson in togethernes and tolerance...:-)

  12. That sounds like the nightmare flight of all time! I've never been able to understand that kind of childish behavior in grown men or women, but then maybe I have no idea of what prompted it in the first place. I'm glad you arrived home safely. Thank you for your lovely birthday wishes! I would have loved to have talked with you! Next time you come to the states let me know so I can send you my phone number.
    Hope you are rested from your journey. Know it must feel good to be home!



  13. Yes that airplane does bring out the worst in some people.. especially the flight attendants.

  14. "Like my late mother used to always say, money is not always about quantity. It has the most value when it has quality"....

    I agree. The late Pramod Navalkar once commented that if you ask anyone 'How much money is there in your pocket/purse?' nobody is able to answer it correct. He commented further that this is how indifferent we are about money.

    Throwing money is certainly the extreme.


  15. you do get to see extremely boorish behaviour on the flights, ...ironical isn't it?

    welcome home!

  16. Welcome home again Suranga. Now that sounds like an 'interesting; flight. I wonder what was in the bubble wrapped package after all that. Let's hope that were jsut tired and overwrought but how embarassing and childish. No wI must catch up with your other posts. Love your music by the way. And I love your mother's saying about money. Wise words.

  17. I'm so sorry that this happened, such arrogance to toss money in the face of another as if it is nothing, akin to an insult.