Take Off 9
Take Off 921 mins 197 21 mins 197
“Prove it if you love me!” Saahil exclaimed. Ira was taken aback.
“I mean, write a poem on me!” He explained. She gave him a telling look as he smiled mischievously.
“All of them are on you!” She remarked. Saahil was surprised.
“Really? Which one?” He asked curiously. Ira chuckled shyly, looking away. Saahil waited in anticipation.
“Okay, I have written this, the title is Unmad (Ecstasy).” She said.
“Chhupi hai ek kahani (A story is hidden)
Har bol mein (In every word)
Har taal mein (In every beat)
Har jhankar mein (In every tinkle)
Har harkat mein ungli ki (In every movement of the finger)
Pichhe karti baal ki ek lat (Swiping back a strand of hair)
Ankhon ki tirchhi chaal (The sideward gaze of the eyes)
Hothon ke konon par aata jwaar (The upturned corner of the lips as if in a high tide)
Bundon ka ek dusre se pyar jatana (The drops expressing their love for each other)
Sarvasva ka naash (The annihilation of the whole)
Saakshi hai parvat khud par padi silvaton ka (The mountain is witness to the folds it acquired)
Woh parvat tha jo roya tha (It was the mountain which cried)
Jo bunde baheen uske netron se (The drops which flowed through its eyes)
Ja mili vishal dravyata mein (Dissolved in great compassion)
Lipta sagar chattan se (The ocean entwined itself with the rock)
Parvat ki aagosh mein (In the arms of the mountain)
Ithlati bunden (The drops dance)
Jhankrut karti akaash ko (Resounding in space)
Bolti ek dusre se (Communicating with each other)
Bunti ek taal (Weaving a rhythm)
Kahani ki laya mein (In the symphony of life).” She finished. Saahil looked at her quizzically.
“What does that mean?” He asked sheepishly. Ira got irritated.
“That’s why I don’t tell you!” She exclaimed. Saahil held her hand.
“You explain no!” He urged her. She got up and walked towards the window.
“Mountain means ego, or the masculine side, river means the feminine side. When the river flows through the mountain, it seems like the mountain has melted, the ego has melted and is getting dissolved into the ocean of compassion. Each drop of that ocean melting and merging in each other, each being a reflection of the whole, yet separate from it. The drops dance in the ecstasy of being one with the ocean while being in union with each other too, as if offering themselves to the whole while merging in it simultaneously, like merging in their own self. Vibrating in space, communicating through the silence, weaving a rhythm in the symphony of life.” Ira explained. Saahil was awe struck. He paused for a while to absorb everything.
“It’s like a river flowing through itself, to reach itself, while merging in itself to be transformed into the ocean.” She continued.
“Who is the ocean?” Saahil inquired.
“You.” Ira remarked. Saahil smiled as he looked down.
“I am not so big. I am not the ocean.” He uttered.
“But I can reach it through you, no?” Ira replied, looking at him innocently.
“Just like the plane gets enlivened when it splays its wings across the sky. It belongs to the sky.” She said.
“I belong to you.” She uttered. Saahil gazed at her. They stood at some distance from each other.
“I would rather disappear mid air, in the clouds and never be found.” She continued.
“Even I will disappear with you!” Saahil added.
“In you.” She corrected him.
“Uhm, With you.” He reaffirmed. Ira got perplexed.
“In?” She asked.
“Param Prabhu Paramatma!” Saahil quipped.
“You are coming for sky-watching?” Ira asked Saahil over the phone.
“Hmm, you?” He asked.
“Of course, I love to watch the sky! It’s one of my favourite pastimes!” She giggled. Saahil chuckled along.
“You will watch it through the telescope!” He remarked.
“I know!” She exclaimed. Like every year, their school was organizing a night camp for sky lovers, people who would rather spend their lives peeping through the telescope in the hollow of the night sky. Ira was super excited. They would get to spend a whole night under the stars, in the sports ground of their school. Saahil would also be there. Moreover the sky was going to be witness to one of the most amazing and rare planetary conjunctions, that of Saturn and Jupiter. The two biggest planets of the solar system. It occurs only once in 20 years, not only important from the point of view of astronomy but also astrology which studies the geometrical sky of consciousness. Ira started to pack her bag.
Saahil was getting ready for his flight. Ira rushed in to give him his tie. She had sent Naitik to school and Seerat was with Mary.
“I have prepared breakfast, have it and then go!” She uttered in a single breath while going towards the wardrobe and taking out Saahil’s watch.
“You keep forgetting things these days!” She exclaimed while handing it over to him. He quickly wore his tie.
“Ya, so you keep torturing me with your poems all the time, my mind gets dazed!” He retorted. Ira scowled at him. Saahil was startled.
“I mean, you keep reciting those poems, they are so high quality, I get...I mean…” He was falling short of words.
“Shut up! Take this!” She blurted out while thrusting the watch in his palm. Suddenly the cooker whistled in the kitchen. She called out to Manoj, their servant, but he didn’t respond. Mary was busy getting Seerat ready. Vibhuti was on leave, their other servant. She rushed down by herself. It had been a few weeks since Saahil and Ira, along with Naitik and Seerat had shifted to Saahil’s Jor Bagh house. Their Golf Links bungalow was now occupied by Mohit Shrivastava, Pitambar Ji, Param Prabhu Paramatma and Bhadra along with their devotees playing ‘wow-wow’, ‘oh-oh’, ‘huh-huh’ and ‘ego-ego’ with each other to their heart’s content. Sameer stayed there as it was his house and he also wanted to take care of his mother. Saahil didn’t care.
Ira had therefore taken voluntary retirement from journalism and became an author. She also taught yoga and classical music to people of all age groups. Sometimes when Saahil would be free, he would also join her in teaching yoga.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. Ira was going towards the door when Manoj rushed in to open it.
“Ira!” Snehal came in, calling her out loudly. Upen followed her dragging some luggage behind.
“Ira!” She called out when Ira saw her. Ira was stunned to see both of them so early in the morning at her door. It was only 7.
“Ira!” Saahil shouted from upstairs. Just as she was approaching Snehal, she turned towards the staircase while signalling Snehal to sit down.
“What?” Ira exclaimed irritably, still not forgetting his comment on her poetry.
“Ira, my button came off.” He said cheesily. Ira grimaced.
“Couldn't you think of a better idea?” She remarked. He stared at her nonplussed.
“You broke it yourself, now sew it yourself!” She exclaimed and started to turn around.
“Snehal has come, I don’t know why...she has some luggage with her too! Upen has also come!” She blathered as Saahil pulled her back.
“You sew it no! Please! I am getting late!” He made a puppy face.
“You watch a lot of films these days!” She commented while taking the button from Saahil’s hands and getting the thread and the needle. She poked the needle in Saahil’s chest.
“Ouch! Kill me man!” He whimpered. She raised her brows, smiling wickedly.
“Done.” She uttered while snipping the thread with the scissors.
“Okay!” Saahil said in a haste as he gathered his belongings, checked his pockets, looked into the mirror and lifted his bag while marching towards the door of the room. Ira went after him and stopped him. He turned around in puzzlement as she hugged him tightly, nestling her head over his heart, one of her favourite places to rest. He breathed out deeply as his chest expanded and contracted back while his breath softly stroked Ira’s forehead. He held her snugly in his arms and closed his eyes.
As he started to get out of the embrace, she clutched him tighter. He waited for some more time, hugging her again.
“Ira. I have to leave.” He murmured. She spread her arms across his back, pressing him closer to herself. He stood holding her silently.
“Ira?” He whispered. She dug her head even more deeply in his chest.
“Are you okay?” He asked. She uttered a low hmm.
“Okay Ira, then let me go, I am getting late.” He remarked, this time a bit loudly.
“Don’t go.” She said spontaneously. Saahil knitted his brows.
“Why?” He questioned, concerned.
“I don’t know. Don’t go.” She repeated in a mewling voice while pressing her head against his chest.
“Ira, what is this behaviour? Don’t act like a child! Let me go.” He started to set himself free off her clasp. She let go with resistance. He stepped back while waving a bye to her. She glanced at him uneasily. He paused and stepped closer to her and kissed her forehead. Then he inadvertently kissed her on her lips. Ira grabbed his shoulders while brushing her fingers lightly through his hair on the back of his head. He too held her by her waist, lifting her a bit.
She suddenly tore away from the kiss and pushed him lightly. He was perplexed. She felt a certain weakness in her knees. They held each other's hands as she gazed on the floor.
“Bye.” Saahil uttered as he tugged his hand away. She nodded and both of them descended from the stairs. Snehal stood up to wave at Saahil while he greeted her from a distance, stepping out of the main door. Ira shut it from inside.
Everyone who had signed up for the sky-watching program had gathered in the entrance area in front of the auditorium foyer. It was evening. They would see the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction first as it would be visible from 6:30 to 7:30 P.M. and then would go for dinner after which they would gather again in the sports ground to watch the other celestial bodies.
“Hi.” Ira said to Saahil as he entered the main gate of the school. He wore a green half sleeved t-shirt with a khadi trouser.
“Hi Ira.” He replied, giving her a hi-five. Mridul also joined them along with Shalaka and Anshuman. Gayatri had come too though Manvi and Tanusha had not signed up for the program as they were least bothered about what was happening in the sky.
“Where are we going to stay at night?” Ira asked Saahil, he had become part of the student executive till that time. He scrolled through his phone.
“In the auditorium.” He responded while looking through the images in the photo gallery which Shalaka had sent him on whatsapp. They were some snaps of the Leadership Training Program which the school used to organize for those students who became class representatives. An advanced program would be conducted for those who were chosen as members of the executive council. Ira peeked into his phone, Saahil showed it to her. She took the phone itself.
“Tanusha didn’t come?” Mridul inquired. Ira took a keen look at the photos in Saahil’s phone. Shalaka was sticking out her neck in almost all the photos in which Saahil had posed. She scorned.
“No!” She replied to Mridul angrily. Mridul was bemused, he gawked at her. Saahil smirked.
“You will pay for your deeds one day!” Ira retorted as Saahil stared at her wide-eyed.
“Why? What will you do?” He asked mockingly as they walked towards the auditorium.
“I will leave you, get a boyfriend and get married to him. Even have a child with him and then I will update my status with our photos. And you will just watch helplessly!” She exclaimed.
“Ohhh! Bhai saab!” Saahil teased her literally meaning Oh brother! Ira gave him an intent look and walked ahead. Mridul laughed out loud along with Saahil.
“Jealous!” Mridul commented, Saahil chuckled.
“Saahil!” Vidushi ma’am called him. She was the chemistry teacher. Saahil nodded and ran to her while Mridul scurried up to talk to Gayatri.
Naitik was back from school. Snehal was playing with Seerat in the living room. Upen was upstairs in Naitik’s room. Ira was in her room, practicing the raga that she would teach to her students. Manoj rolled some chapatis in the kitchen. Mary was washing Seerat’s clothes. It was 2:30 P.M. Naitik was drenched in sweat when he barged into the house and dropped his bag on the sofa while taking a seat near it.
“Naitik, what happened? You look so tired!” Snehal asked with concern. Naitik furrowed his brows. He turned to look at her.
“Kaki? You are here? Where is Upen?” He asked.
“Upstairs, in your room!” Snehal replied. Naitik got up and dashed to his room.
“Take your bag!” Snehal shouted from behind but he was gone till then.
“Upen!!” Naitik banged the door open while exclaiming excitedly. Upen jumped up from his chair and leaped at Naitik as both of them hugged each other warmly, jumping around in their embrace.
“How come you are here?” Naitik inquired in a tizzy.
“Arrey, mom and dad had a fight! So she packed her bags and mine too! In morning itself we came here! You were gone till then! You had skating practice…” Upen remarked. Naitik smiled at him exuberantly.
“But why did kaka-kaki fight with each other?” Naitik asked.
“Oh man, mom was very irritated with papa and his constant picking and pointing and then even dadi keeps doing Param Prabhu all the time. The whole household is on mom’s shoulders now after you left and dadi keeps forcing her to join JKPM as well. Every other day dadi has her JKPM meetings and guests whom my mom has to look after. When she complained to papa, he told her to manage it. She got unnerved and left in a huff, dragging me along!” Upen narrated the incident. Naitik started to laugh fitfully.
“Anyway we are just ten minutes away from you so it's okay!” Upen added.
“But good, no? Ask Kaki to keep fighting with Kaka, at least you will keep coming here and I will get some company! Otherwise all I have is a babbling baby to look after or I get stuck between mom and papa. Mom keeps writing and torturing me with her stories or papa keeps teaching me yoga!” Naitik grouched about his situation.
“Oh...poor you!” Upen teased him.
“At least you don’t have an elder sister like me!” He exclaimed.
“And my father, he keeps scolding me all the time! Mom anyway remains irritated!” Upen cribbed about his condition.
“At least Saahil chacha doesn’t scold you!” He added.
“Hello! He tortures me with yoga, does some complicated asana and then asks me to contort my body along with him! And he doesn’t scold generally but when he does!” Naitik paused to take some breath.
“He can suck the breath out of a devil!” He remarked.
“Okay, so you both are competing here about whose parents are more torturous?” Snehal stood on the door while they gossiped away to glory. Naitik and Upen looked at Snehal, bug-eyed.
“Lunch is ready! Come down.” Snehal stated and left.
At 11 hours IST the day after. The Air Route Traffic Control Center, the Santa Domingo ACC was buzzing with activities. Air traffic controllers were transmitting messages on the radio channel as well as were in direct contact with various pilots across various flights coming into its Flight Information Region. Rafeal, an air traffic controller, took off his glasses and rubbed his temples. His senior, Amelia, marched up to him. He looked at her tensely.
“Any update on RG667778?” She asked in a hushed voice. He gave her an apprehensive look. She closed her eyes while thinking about the next steps.
“We will have to issue an ALNOT, alert notice. It’s overdue.” She spoke with authority. Rafeal nodded as he started to look into the data of the flight, the flight plan, the last location, last transmission received, number of passengers on board, fuel status and much more.
“Who was the captain?” Amelia asked.
“Captain Saahil Shroff. It was flying from New Delhi to London to Miami. It was a long flight. He had issued an alert regarding component failure. It’s been 10 minutes since then.” He remarked.
“The weather?” Amelia asked.
“The plane did hit an air pocket after which we lost contact.” He answered. Amelia was perplexed, flying through an air pocket is quite normal for international flights.
Everyone was gathered in the sports ground for sky-watching. Murli sir set up the telescope while the students waited impatiently for their turn. It was around 6:20 P.M. The big giants would be visible very soon. The sky was turning pink and orange as the mosquitos had started to prepare for their party. Saahil had already applied his mosquito repellant and also shared it with Ira to save her sensitive skin from getting pricked and damaged.
“Such an eventful camp!” Mridul exclaimed.
“Mosquito repellants being exchanged!” He continued.
“Okay students, it's time now.” Vidushi ma’am announced loudly as everyone became quiet.
“We will all go one by one, we only have three telescopes available and we are 50 in total. Be quick and give others an equal chance.” She remarked. Mridul was the first one to watch the conjunction. He almost squealed in excitement.
“I can see faint rings!” He exclaimed. Saahil kneeled down to have a look. Mridul moved a bit to let Saahil see. Ira watched them in anticipation.
“Any questions?” Murli sir asked sanguinely. The sky had turned a dark blue till now. Students were busy peeping through the little hole into the colossal expanse of the celestial sphere. Murli sir let them enjoy the experience.
“Bhuvan, listen to me carefully, the engines will not survive for long. The approach is still a bit away from us, before the engines catch fire again we have to ditch. That’s the last solution. Prepare the cabin crew.” Saahil informed his lead flight attendant over the intercom as he started to prepare for landing in the ocean.
“But sir how will we be rescued since we have lost communication?” Bhuvan asked in distress. “No, there are chances we will survive longer since I am going to ditch near an island which is showing up in my navigation system, I will make the plane go as close as possible to the shoreline.” Saahil replied. Bhuvan went silent.
“Okay sir.” He responded after a pause.
Saahil and his co-pilot were anxiously thinking about setting the right lights inside the cabin as well as externally since it was night time. Saahil turned down both the engines and turned on the RAT, Ram Air Turbine.
“No, this is too much light!” He exclaimed as F/O Kunal changed the combination of lighting. The gear was up. The slats were completely opened. The power was on.
“Should we dump the fuel?” Kunal asked.
“No, not needed.” Saahil answered. They adjusted the final rate of descent on touchdown.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain Saahil Shroff, since we are faced with an emergency we have to make the plane land on water, we will be landing near the shoreline of a small island. I request you all to cooperate with the cabin crew and follow their instructions carefully. Please tie up all the loose things lying around in the cabin and brace yourself as the impact will be rough.” Saahil switched off the public address system and started to manoeuvre along with Kunal. The plane was descending softly as both the pilots were trying to maintain direction in line with the waves.
“Cabin crew take your seats.” Saahil announced. The whole plane became quiet. Everyone had braced themselves for the impact. The swell was high, there was some considerable amount of crosswind. They would have to use wind correction.
They had bhindi curry, rajma, roti and rice along with raita. Ira was still slurping her last few spoonfuls of the freshly heated bhindi curry. The long lady’s fingers drenched in powdered chickpea and tomato puree melted in her mouth, the hotness and the spices slightly pricking her cheeks from within as the puree burst in all directions of her mouth, the slight aroma of the bhindi tantalised her taste buds while Saahil sat on the opposite bench in front of the canteen, looking at her. The crickets were chirping ebulliently in the background, enjoying their night out. A few leaves ruffled in the overhead trees as a breeze blew by, bringing Ira’s baby hair to the front which rested in an unruly manner on her face and her forehead.
“Ho gaya Ira?” Saahil asked in a mocking manner whether she was done? Ira closed her eyes and swiped the last bite of the curry from her spoon leaving it crystal clean. She breathed in deeply, satiated by the heavenly tastes which had exploded in her mouth.
“Oh god, how much time? We are the only two left here. Everyone else is on the ground!” Saahil exclaimed as he was getting fidgety.
“Shut up! You will understand when you won’t get food at your home just like me!” Ira retorted peevishly.
“You know I don’t get food at home!” She whimpered. Saahil frowned.
“Ya, that’s why you are so skeletal!” He remarked.
“My mom doesn’t know how to cook! All I get is boiled vegetables with extra salt!” She quibbled in a mewling voice. Saahil grimaced.
“At least I have Birju bhaiya. He cooks so well!” He murmured.
“Ya with that paratha that you bring everyday!” Ira mocked him.
“Aie, don’t say anything to my paratha!” Saahil pointed his finger at Ira.
“Bring something else too sometime! I will even get some food!” Ira bleated as she made a begging gesture with her hands. Saahil took out a pack of chocolate from his pocket and put it in her hands while consoling her. She got busy opening it up and bit into it as Saahil dragged her to the brick lane which led to the sports ground. She silently kept biting into the chocolate slab.
“Leave some for me too!” He exclaimed as he pulled her ponytail to stop her from taking the next bite. She bit the chocolate from all sides. He glared at her and took the remaining slab from her hand while stuffing it into his mouth all at once.
“Chal! Chal! Hurrr tch tch tch tch!” Saahil exclaimed as he made Ira walk ahead.
“Am I sheep Saahil? You are calling a woman a sheep?” Ira retorted sharply, glaring at him. He got frightened. He slapped the back of his own head while leaping forward.
“No! I am the sheep!” He exclaimed earnestly. Ira burst into a guffaw.
“Naitik! Pinch my arm!” Ira uttered absentmindedly as she saw the T.V. screen flash the breaking news of the hour. It was 11:15 IST. Naitik pinched her.
“An Indian LEO satellite hovering over the region from where flight RG667778 went missing has captured a massive explosion in the ocean!” The news anchor shouted into the screen. Ira pulled her face back and switched off the television.
“These people just sensationalise everything!” She remarked. Naitik gazed at her meaningfully. She rolled her eyes.
“It is not a dream Ira!” Snehal exclaimed.
“We should contact the airport authorities.” Upen suggested. Snehal got a call from Sameer at the same time.
“No, the plane disappeared around half an hour ago, it had 300 passengers and 18 crew members including Saahil.” He said from the other side. Ira got a call from Meghal, Saahil’s senior in ReadyGo. She picked it up. Naitik looked at the wall clock while fidgeting his fingers.
“Sameer is coming!” Snehal informed as soon as she hung up the phone.
“It was a system failure.” Ira told Snehal as she put down her phone. Seerat was sleeping peacefully.
Night had gotten darker. The sky was clear too. The stars were shining as brightly as possible through the polluted atmosphere. A few bats flew by, getting very low over the heads of the students. Vidushi ma’am called the students to gather together.
“That’s the Ursa Major!” Mridul exclaimed as he peeped through the telescope. Ira looked at Saahil.
“Come see!” Mridul called him. He asked Ira to go first. She stepped forward and leaned down to see through the lens.
“Where?” She asked.
“Look to the North, see the ladle-like shape?” Mridul asked in a hyper excited tone. She got nervous.
“No…what’s a ladle?” She asked in a faint voice, peeping keenly through the lens.
“The spoon with which you have soup.” Saahil remarked while leaning down by her side.
“Try to search for that shape.” He told Ira.
“Oh Ira! How can you not find it?” Mridul exclaimed irritably. Saahil glanced at him admonishingly. Mridul jerked his head in exasperation.
“You Humanities students!” He remarked. Saahil frowned.
“Hey kya Humanities? Even I am in her section!” Gayatri retorted. Mridul was taken aback. Saahil put his hand on Ira’s shoulder and guided her to find the constellation while Gayatri fought with Mridul. Just as Ira was peeping through the lens, a plane passed by the sky. Saahil got up from the ground and started staring at it, holding his breath. Ira too stood up giving the telescope to another student.
“You will make it.” Ira whispered in his ears. He kept staring into the sky with a wonder-struck expression on his face until the plane vanished behind the clouds.
“Saahil sir! Saahil sir!” Bhuvan was shaking Saahil while Jasmine, the other flight attendant, rubbed his hands. Some other crew members were busy making a list of all the passengers who had been rescued. They were at the shore of a smaller island near the western coast of the Grand Bahama Island. A few fumes were still rising from their plane which had exploded after some time of their landing. Saahil opened his eyes, his right thumb hurt.
“How is everyone?” He asked in a faint voice, feeling disoriented. Kunal was sitting by his side.
“Zero fatalities. We are all safe sir!” Bhuvan announced to him jubilantly as he remembered the last moments before he had fainted. They had landed on the receding face of the swell while trying to control the speed and making the plane dock on the shoreline. Somehow the passengers were evacuated by the crew members while Saahil and Kunal held the plane in position amidst crosswinds. Soon enough the fuselage developed a crack and the cabin along with the cockpit got filled up with water. It was not very cold. Kunal got off followed by Saahil when the plane exploded behind them. He fainted afterwards. As Saahil tried to prop himself up he yelped in pain, his thumb hurt sharply. His head was aching too, maybe because of the sudden impact of the explosion.
“I guess it’s a fracture!” Kunal remarked. A few helicopters had started to hover in the sky while they could also see some rescue boats row towards them from a distance. Kunal spontaneously smiled as Saahil also joined him. Bhuvan got a bit teary eyed. The passengers started to cheer and clap, though drenched and fatigued by the long and draining drill. Saahil finally got up and started to clap lightly along with everyone else. The atmosphere was so surreal and overwhelming. He could almost hear his own heartbeat. The waves of the ocean struck against the shore in the background.
In the still of the night, amidst the tizzy of the survivors, the moon got covered with a few clouds overhead. He looked up inadvertently gazing at the passing clouds while the moon appeared and disappeared from behind them. The light sea breeze felt cool against his wet body. He felt a bit feverish as his eyes too were burning a bit.
“Sir, come!” Bhuvan exclaimed as he dashed up to Saahil. He was startled.
“What happened sir?” Bhuvan asked quizzically.
“It’s still some time before we disappear completely.” Saahil whispered as he stepped onto the boat.