Boarding Now: The Tharki Indian Traveller

First Person

Boarding Now: The Tharki Indian Traveller

Illustration: Sushant Ahire


We are just winding up a hectic dinner service that took us almost three hours. The whiny, needy economy passengers seem whinier and needier. Or maybe it’s just that out of all airborne Indians, those travelling on the London sector are my least favourite. They somehow transform into demanding brown sahibs and we become the serfs.  

It is another 30 minutes before the post-dinner activity subsides and passengers descend into a post-prandial daze. The lights can then be dimmed and we can properly sit down for a few minutes. Suddenly there is commotion in the cabin, and I rush to check what is it all about, only to see the young man seated on 24D trying to take a leak in the aisle right next to a very alarmed woman. 24D had been on my radar all evening. The passenger had pressed the call button aggressively, been rude to the purser, and had decided to make up for the price of his flight ticket in complimentary booze alone. I’d served him four rounds of J&B and here he was pouring it all out in the middle of my fucking aisle!

Free alcohol and Indians are a bad combo and I dream of the day booze is outlawed on flights. I call out to my flight purser, who helps me hustle the passenger to the nearest washroom. He manages to put 24D into the toilet, just before he could take his wand out. We pacify the other outraged passengers while waiting for 24D to finish his business. He doesn’t come out for a while and we wait patiently outside, deciding the next course of action, and then we hear a loud crash. 24D has fallen, face-first, on the toilet floor.

Well, that at least makes our job easier, I thought to myself. We drag him outside and let him sink into stupor in the last row of seats. The show is over. The cabin lights are dimmed, but now I’m in a state of fevered excitement. When we land 24D will be handed over to the security personnel and will be threatened with an FIR. At this point, he will come begging to me for forgiveness. Of course I’m not going to give in to his pleas. Give up the chance to teach passengers like 24D a lesson on how to behave themselves on board? No fucking way.  

Most Indians return our greeting with a glare, an indifferent grant, or the occasional grunt. Things only get worse as the flight progresses.

Here’s an indisputable fact about all Indian air hostesses: No matter which airline we fly, our hearts uplift when we see more firangs at the boarding gate. We know it will be a civilised flight. Our arrival is acknowledged with faint smiles and expressions that read, “Oh hello, wow the crew is here already”, compared to the usual hostility and ugly looks from the brothers and sisters of my country that read, “Oh you! You lazy servants are here finally.”

The moment an Indian flier enters an aircraft, his conversion from a logical person to a demanding infant with bladder-control issues is complete. The process begins at the airport itself. They try to jump queues, recklessly leave trolleys at the check-in counter, pick fights with fellow pax over the overhead cabin space, and run their eyes over the bodies of air hostesses, feeling free to stop at critical points of the anatomy.  

Our “Good morning, sir! Welcome on board!” greeting is be returned by “Thank you, how are you?” by foreigner travellers, the odd NRI, and the rare Indian who does not deem it below his dignity to respond to us. Most Indians will return our greeting with a glare, an indifferent grant, or the occasional grunt. Things only get worse as the flight progresses. Their indecisiveness and deafness increases steadily along with the flight’s altitude.

Exhibit A

Me: Sir, would you prefer chicken curry, leg of lamb, or a vegetarian meal?

Indian passenger: Huh?

Me: We have chicken curry, leg of lamb, and a vegetarian meal. What would you like?

Indian passenger: Fish.

Exhibit B

Me: Would you like some tea or coffee?

Indian passenger: Huh?

Me: Some beverage for you, sir?

Indian passenger: Why don’t you have coffee, huh?

A firang will behave differently. He will listen carefully as I offer the menu choices not just to him or the person next to him, but to the passenger seated an entire row ahead of him. By the time I reach the firang, he not only knows his choice but he has also consulted with people travelling with him and is ready with food choices for the whole family. Without me even mentioning the menu to him. I am amazed and thankful at the same time for their efficiency and kindness. He understands that rattling off a menu over 70 times during a flight can drive a person insane.  

I’ve come to terms with the rather rude boarding greetings and mind-numbing meal service, but I will never make my peace with the call button. While we are in between services, Indian passengers will come charging to the galley. “I have been pressing the call button for the last 30 minutes! Give me this, this, and this.” Post this, either they will march back to their seat without taking what they want or launch into a series of complaints about how my airline sucks. Meanwhile, the firang at the galley will be apologetic. “So sorry to disturb you. Is it possible to get this please?” They will then either wait patiently for us to serve them what they’ve asked for, thank us, and return to their seats, or have a polite conversation about how our service is so much better compared to the other airlines.

Of course, by now you are thinking of me as a stereotyping bitch and that there are millions of Indians who know the difference between service and servants. The truth is, in my 15-year-flying-career, I haven’t met many of them. I’m still waiting for the day one of them will smile at me and say thank you when I tell them there’s no fish on the menu.