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A Bit of Sky

by Kumar Pradhan

part 1 of 2

I was on a Delhi-bound plane and she came close to me through the aisle and smiled at me. I returned the smile earnestly. Initially I did not recognize her. She was the air hostess on that flight.

I suddenly recollected that I had already met her in my office in Mumbai, when she had come there to meet Florence. Florence was my secretary. She had brought her to my cabin and introduced her to me. I only had asked her whether she was off on that day, and she said she was on a long leave and was to rejoin her duties soon. She had told me, she was taking Florence out with her for a few minutes and I had permitted her.

That was all. That was how I met her. In fact I had forgotten her. After about three months I was meeting her that day on the Delhi-bound flight. Had she not smiled at me I would not have placed her.

She asked me, “How is Florence, Mr.Kshirsagar?” and I told her that she was OK.

“Do you fly very often to Delhi, sir?” she asked me.

I informed her, “Not very often, Nilu.” By now I had seen her badge and had observed her name and remembered Florence introducing her to me by that name. I continued, “I keep visiting my Delhi branch every three or four months. Just to keep a tab on their progress. And sometimes I call my Delhi manager to Mumbai.”

Then I enquired after her. I asked, “Are you always on this flight?”

She said she had to be on any flight that she was assigned to. “And I come to know only at the airport which flight I need to be on,” she said and added: “Of course, sometimes they give me an idea earlier in the evening which flight I have to attend.”

I was in an aisle-side seat. Near the window a gentleman was sleeping with his book on his eyes and forehead in a manner that one might feel that he had dozed off while reading. And so it seemed, too.

Nilu and I had a long conversation thereafter. I had an inkling that she had lightly supported herself against the hand-rest of my seat while conversing. I don’t remember how long we were engaged in conversation. She suddenly remembered some of her duties excused herself and went through the aisle to the cabin.

That was the time when my neighbor woke up and said to me, “Mr. Kshirsagar, I am sorry, I overheard you. Who is this Florence?”

“Mr. Bose, Florence is my secretary and she happens to be this air hostess’s friend,” I said.

Mr. Bose was my client in Mumbai, and I had known right from Mumbai that the passenger next to me was he. He had had the book on his head all the time since I first saw him on the flight. He had not bothered even with the coffee and snacks that were served earlier.

Many snobbish air passengers follow this ‘book-on-the-nose’ trick to avoid being disturbed by the next passenger. But thereafter we exchanged pleasantries and the conversation went on intermittently till Delhi. Why Mr. Bose was interested in my conversation with the air hostess, I could not understand.

While I was in conversation with Mr. Bose, Nilu passed by through the aisle several times for her routine on-board duties. Once her spell of duties was over, she came over and she had a long, pleasant, and cordial conversation with me again. She was well-mannered and was dressed in a pale green flowery silk saree, which seemed to be the dress demanded by the airline. The other air hostesses were also in the same saree. Whatever it was, the light and exclusive looking silk saree was making her body contours a little more obvious and prominent. Nilu was cool and collected. She was not particularly beautiful, but I found her to be quite decent, attractive and good to talk to.

Though I knew my neighbour was all ears, I continued talking with her. I asked her: “Nilu, do you get any day of the week off or do you have to fall ill for holidaying every time?”

Suppressing her laughter with deliberate control in response in a lighter vein to my query, she flashed her beautiful teeth and replied, “No, no, Mr. Kshirsagar, my management is not that cruel. We get a day off at certain duty intervals.” She excused herself after some time.

At last, when we were near Delhi she came to me and suggested politely that I should wait on the tarmac for her. Then she went away. Mr. Bose observed that.

Mr. Bose enquired where I was to stay in Delhi. I said was in Nirula’s. In fact, Nirula’s was not a very expensive hotel. It was only a 4-star joint. Mr. Bose was in Ashoka, a 5-star deluxe hotel. He asked me to join him for drinks at his place. I never drank hard drinks. But since he was my client, I could not turn him down. And I was also not very strict about not drinking.

But though I was visiting Delhi and would meet my Delhi staff the next day, Mr. Oberoi, a publication owner, was likely to be waiting for me in the hotel that evening. He was to make a presentation of his magazine called Middle Point, and we were to dine together. Mr. Oberoi wanted to see if the magazine could get its way into the media plans of a few of my clients.

I politely refused Mr. Bose and told him that someone was meeting me at the hotel. I did not feel it necessary to divulge the particulars. Even then Mr. Bose said “Give me a tinkle and inform me if the visitor comes, otherwise see me at 8.30 pm at Hotel Ashoka, Room 302. He also gave me Hotel Ashoka’s telephone number. Cellphones had not yet arrived on the scene then.

I then excused myself and lingered behind, for Nilu was joining me on the tarmac. Mr. Bose, like a good boy, left me but not before reminding me to call on him if my visitor did not turn up. I saw him scurrying through the aisle ahead of me.

As I reached the exit, I saw some other air hostess thanking and bidding the air passengers good-bye. Coming to the top step of the makeshift ladder, I was greeted by a cool zephyr blowing over the expanse of the tarmac. I stepped down, enjoying the pleasant breeze, and landed on the tarmac. The zephyr was making, as it were, a musical noise. I tried to determine if it really matched any musical notes. In my mind I caught up with the basic note “Shadj,” ascended, and lo, I found the notation: “Gandhar, Pancham and Nishad.” I smiled to myself at my discovery.

I looked up the ladder and found Nilu coming down from the aircraft. She had in her right hand a vanity case which, from distance, resembled an olden-days family doctor’s visiting bag. With the left hand she had lifted her saree a little and was descending the stairs of that makeshift ladder. I had five minutes to observe her before she joined me. She made an impression that she had created a special space for herself in her professional world. When she joined me, I found the vanity case was deep blue in colour and went well with her saree.

While going from the tarmac to the airport lobby, we talked a lot. It took an inordinately long time to reach the airport lobby, but Nilu didn’t seem to be in a hurry. All the passengers and even the crew members had disappeared into the airport lobby. Slowly we reached the lobby where we talked casually for nearly fifteen minutes. Just the general things: my business, her duty cycle, her pleasures in her duties and so on. She was from Khar, Mumbai. She was born in Mumbai. Since then she had moved three times locally and settled in Khar.

I had half a mind to ask her to coffee. But I had this meeting with Mr. Oberoi, and we had just had coffee and breakfast on the plane. And I had passed that age when I should stop the clock for a few minutes to extend the sweet company.

I asked her if airline transport was coming for her and she told me, “Generally, sir, it is available if I am to stay for my night halt in a nearby hotel recognized by the airline. But today I have to stay with one of my relatives across Connaught Place. So I am on my own.”

Since I was to go to Hotel Nirula’s, which was at Connaught Place, I offered her a lift in my office car. She thanked and told me that she was to go further down and waved for a rickshaw. In parting, she did not forget to express good feelings about my company. I expressed “Same here,” and we parted. I felt like kissing her goodbye. But I thought that to be too much at our first meeting. Not that... that I expected to meet her again.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Kumar Pradhan

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