Flight Friends

Flight Friends

4 mins 55 4 mins 55

Seconds before the stewardess announced 'boarding complete', she walked in with her handbag, looking for her seat. The airhostess guided her to the unoccupied window seat adjacent to mine. I was disappointed, is to say the least! I was contemplating seizing it once the flight took off, and before other passengers made a beeline for it. So I reconciled being wedged between hubby and this middle aged lady, looking befuddled, struggling with her seat belt, and in the process elbowing me out from the joint hand rest. 

With passenger's attention focused on eyeing the stewardess's stockinged legs instead of listening to the safety rules drill, I offered to help with fixing her seat belt. She meekly accepted, smiling in acknowledgement, settling down with her handbag clutched to her chest, as the aircraft picked up speed, lifting it's pregnant belly off the tarmac. I opened the flagged page of my kindle to continue reading Ruskin Bond's short stories, transporting me to the Mussorie hills.  

As the aircraft gained height, the stewardess started rolling down the food trolleys. It was then she spoke to me in Hindi requesting me to select a vegetarian menu for her, adding she couldn't speak in English. In my faulty Hindi (always make a mess with the gender) I assured her not to worry. Meal over, Ambika, introduced herself and shared her life story, without any prodding from my side. And her compelling story had me engaged right till we landed at Bangalore Airport.  

And her story goes like this.  Belonging to a small village of Rajasthan, she was home schooled till she was married off on reaching the age of sixteen to a widow twice her age. She was welcomed into her ready made family, mother to seven children from his first marriage. The oldest at fourteen merely two years younger than her, the youngest a toddler of two. Did she find it strange? "No" she said emphatically. She walked in as new bride and new mother to her seven step children. Dual role all in one life event.  

Seeing the questioning look on my face, she stopped with raised eyebrows. "How did you feel having a son, two years younger than you?", I asked. "O ... we became friends and he helped with a continuing education, teaching me, as he moved from class to class. By the time he was eighteen, he left home with his wife to seek a job in Jaipur. I had by that time given birth to my first child, a girl. My husband and I decided to stop at that"...she proffered the information a tad shy.  

Seeing her warming up, I went a step further to ask how was her relationship with her husband. Her response was instant " he's incredibly kind loving and treats me like his most valued possession. He's sitting a few rows behind us, you must meet him...' she insisted. And after the food trolleys were docked, I saw an elderly gentleman walking up to her, speaking to her in Rajasthani dialect. She introduced him as Pankaj her husband. A kindly face, Pankaj spoke to us in English. They were visiting their two older sons, running the marble business in Bangalore, he smilingly shared the reason for their travel so far away from home.

Not having had the privilege of a formal education, Ambika had seen to it that all her children were not denied this  including her biological daughter. Her four sons were graduates and her two daughters were married only after graduation. 'And what about your own daughter?' I asked unable to contain my curiosity.

I saw a flash of pride crossing her eyes. She went on to share her daughter's achievement, securing a rank in the board exams and then going on to train as a Pilot. For her internship she was sent to Spain.

This was an eye opener for me. A village girl, with all the odds pitched against her, had overcome all the hurdles and got her children settled in life and still too young to be a grandmother of six. Wow! Wow! went on in my mind, till she had me stumped with her last comment, just as I was ready to disembark.

I saw her still seated and asked her was she waiting for her husband to help her with her cabin baggage. I offered to help. She declined, smiled and said..

'No..no.. you see after all the passengers have got off, my daughter will come and accompany us out. She is flying this plane, and cannot leave the Pilot's cabin till the last passenger is out".

It was their daughter's maiden commercial flight she said with immense pride.

A coming of age story of a village belle of Rajasthan.  

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