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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Close Encounter of the Ayyappan Kind

On 17th Jan 2012, I left New Delhi after a stay of almost two weeks. Good bye to West Inn. Good bye to buffet breakfasts and dinners. Good bye to the suits and neckties and the bitter cold. Good bye to formal, soulless, tiring, hypocritical greetings to all and sundry:  'How are you today' 'I am fine" 'Have a nice day'..


It was a morning flight departing New Delhi at 7.00am. I had originally booked for an Air India flight but changed it to Spice flight as there was a strike threat by Air India staff, which was not unusual. Kingfisher flights were in total disarray.Vijay Mallya was finally succeeding in squandering away completely the immense fortune built up by his father from his liquor business.


The Spice flight, after a stop at Hyderabad, was supposed to reach Kochi. by around 11.00am. Normally, no free  food is served on Spice flights and  I was not expecting any breakfast to be served. So I decided to get some shut-eye to compensate  for the sleep lost due to the hassles of early rising to catch the morning flight.I was in a pleasant REM stage of sleep with the alpha waves swirling around the frontal-central location of the brain indicating a semi-arousal state when the plane touched down at Hyderabad airport.


It was a smooth landing but nevertheless the slight bump when the wheels of the aircraft touched down on the runway brought me to the world of Vaisvanara.. I surveyed the interior of the aircraft through half opened eyes, decided that everything was as it should be and once again surrendered my brain to the soothing, redolent alpha rhythms.


It did not last long  though. I was once again brought to full wakefulness by the penetrating odour of Vibhuti  and sounds as if a wild heard of cape buffaloes were charging towards me. The surmise was not far fetched. The onrushing crowd of Telugu Ayyappans , in their black shirts and dhotis, unkempt hair and beard a-flying and the guttural noises emanating from their mouths did resemble a snorting  herd of wild cape buffaloes. In the cold morning they even had whiffs of condensed water vapour escaping their nostrils. The irumudi kettu covered by black clothes  had a passable resemblance to the flaring horns of the buffaloes. In no time they were all over the plane, wrenching open the overhead lockers, jumping over passengers, pushing aside the air hostesses and flight pursers. When the dust finally settled, or rather the Bhasmam finally settled,  the cabin crew had succeeded through a heroic demonstration of passenger management to strap down all the members of the  unruly crowd to  the available seats from cockpit to the tail.


The Caucasian pilot on loan from one of the CIS countries had a dazed look on his face and hurriedly started taxiing the plane to get it airborne. The cabin crew flopped down on their flight stations unable to fully  fathom the magnitude of the task accomplished or fearfully anticipating the challenges ahead. Finally to the accompaniment of 'swaamiye saranamayyappa' shouted in unison, we were air borne.


After the aircraft was in flight for some time, and the ayyappans had their fill of the  morning sun, the cumulus  clouds, the ground far below etc., they  gave their undivided  attention  to fiddling with the overhead switches. Soon one of them  found out that a touch on one of them made a lamp to light up followed by a 'twim' sound  and what more, brought one of the cabin crew hurrying. Information of the great discovery soon travelled to the ayyappans sitting in the front row to the back row and  lights started lighting up sporadically everywhere accompanied by 'twim' sounds.


In the  'Close Encounter of the Third Kind' an electrician  driving his jeep through a lonely stretch of road sees an UFO. He also hears 'a five-tone musical phrase in a major scale' accompanied by flashing lights. The situation was not much different now. Lights began flashing almost non stop followed by the sound and it was a  'Close Encounter of the Ayyappan Kind' .The flashing lights and sounds soon assumed a fractal pattern. The whole atmosphere became a bit psychedelic.


Meanwhile, one of the ayyappans found out that bottled mineral water is available free of charge. That  speeded up the light-sound show and the cabin crew soon ran out of mineral water bottles stocked for the flight. For a time they tried ignoring the lights and sound summons but soon realised that they were fighting a loosing battle. They had to dip into the stock of mineral water bottles stocked for subsequent flights but still was not able to satiate the never ending demand. The Ayyappans collected and stocked enough drinking water for the arduous climb ahead and more.


It was the Guruswami's turn now. The plethora of 'rudraksha' 'thulasi' 'bead' maalas adorning his neck amply proclaimed his status to the whole world.  If that were not enough, he frequently conversed in English with the flight crew and gave immediate translation in Telugu for the benefit of his flock. He had that smug ' Been there, Done that ' look on his face. He got into action by pulling out a full plastic sack which was thrust under the seat. With the fully laden sack he strode purposefully to the front row and opening the sack invited the ayyappans sitting on the front row to help themselves. A variety of eatables came out of the bag and he proceeded from row to row until he reached the last row near the tail. Even then the bag was only half empty. The cabin crew watched in dismay. Guruswami gave them a meaningful  look which seemed to say: ' Doesn't matter if Spice does not serve any food. We have our own'. In one final act of utmost temerity he invited a passing crew to take a handful from the bag. The girl's face reddened, not out of bashfulness, I suspect.


The plane was finally shouted down at Kochi airport by the Ayappans, not too late. Apparently, they  had decided , no doubt on the omniscient, omnipotent  Guruswami's instructions, to disembark only after the other passengers had left. He was standing near the exit when I slowly manoeuvred my way through the milling cape buffaloes. He looked up when I reached him. 


I could not resist a parting shot; 'Have a nice day' I said and hurried out before he could say 'You too'.

.. 



1 comment:

  1. Yes, these are occasions when we felt that travel by our own KSRTC buses is superior eventhough during the 'Ayyappa' season we can experience adventures of the worst kind.

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