I was heading home for a much awaited weekend. It was a tiring drive to the airport after work and I needed some rest. I waited impatiently to board with a heavy bag in hand. Once I did, I looked for THE seat near the emergency exit for more leg space. This happens in all domestic flights but
The isle seat was occupied by an old man (around 60… at least!) who looked a little like Vijay Mallya. He stood up and made way for me to walk in. He was one of those traveling from
Once the flight was on the runway and the lights were all off, he switched on the light right above my head. I realized what he did and immediately turned and thanked him with my MOST FAKE SMILE! (You gotta see me do it... its on the face. It's like a sadist's smile. But it works when you want to say "I don't like you") But truly, nice of the guy I thought. After a while he started the conversation.
He : So, you live in Hyderabad? :)
Me : Yes, I do. (Nothing more, nothing less. The kind of answer which would end the conversation!)
He : Which class are you in?
I was totally frustrated with this question. It happens to me always. Yes, I'm puny. Yes, I'm tiny. Yes, I'm short. But, Damn it I'm working. I hate it when I'm misunderstood to be an eighth std.
Me : I'm not a student. I'm working.
He : Oh! Where you working?
There he comes! That's the question I was expecting :)
Me : Google Inc.,
He : Ohhh! Google! Hmmm... So do you know Mr.Sundararaman in your HR department?
Me : No sir, I don't.
He : Nice company - Google.
Me : Yeah, I know.
He : I've been to your office. I mean your head quarters. In the U.S.
Me : Oh, you mean in Mountainview?
He : Yes, that one. Nice office. Nice place to work for. Do you know your company has been voted as number 1 company to work for by Forbes magazine?
Me (Proudly) : Yes, I do.
He : Who are those two guys? Your company founders?
I was dumbstruck. I've never heard of anyone call Larry and Sergey - two guys. They are the people who founded the world's number one company.
Me : You mean Larry and Sergey?
He : Yeah, Larry Larry. I met them in a conference in America. I stayed in their guest house after the conference.
Hahahaha! Loser... what do you think huh?!
He : So, do you live in Coimbatore?
Me : Yes, in Tirupur.
He : Oh! Good. So what's your father? An exporter? What's your company's name? Which part of Tirupur?
Whoa whoa whoa man! Hold it!
Me : Yes, he is an exporter. Myco Knitting Mills. And what was your last question?
He : Which part of Tirupur? Rayapuram?
Me : No, not Rayapuram. Kongunagar.
He : Oh ok. Near the Exporters association. good. good.
Me : Eh... (Looked confused and didn't know what to ask)
He : My father in law's house is in Rayapuram.
Me : Oh ok. My uncle lives there.
He : Oh! Which street? 1st or 2nd?
Me : 1st. Why?
He : What was he? An engineer?
Me : Yes. (completely flabber gasted!)
He : Mr.Moorthy?
Me : Yes!
He : My father in law's house is behind your uncle's house. I know them quite well.
Me : Oh! So are you going to your wife's house?
He : Not wife's house. Father in law's house. Wife's house is my house. We are not together. But that does not change anything. It is still my father in law's house.
My mind : Take that "I'm sorry" look off your face Pragi.
Me : Oh. So where are you going now?
He : Do you know Prem Durai? He is one of the biggest exporters in Tirupur?
Me : Yes I do. His son is my friend.
He : I have financed for many people in Tirupur.
Me : Financed? So what are you?
He : I'm a consultant. A financial consultant now. I started my career as an employee in Centurion bank. I was the CEO of Reliance Insurance. I have worked with World Bank, Chennai branch. I'm right now one of the 10 directors of SEBI. I also run the company Religare, a holding company of Ranbaxy which I started from scratch. I have worked for UNICEF. I've been consulting director of NABARD.
My mind to myself : Pragi, it's time you reacted!
Me : Wow!
He : Yeah, I know. I'm right now going home. My mother lives in Coimbatore. Ramnagar. I'm going for a holiday. Just 10 days. My mother lives with my widowed sister. I have my own flat there in Coimbatore. Fully furnished - Western style. I get to enjoy a leisurely 1 hour bath in my jacuzzi only in Coimbatore. It does not happen even in my Delhi or Mumbai residence. I have my own car stationed there. I use it whenever I go there. I don't like having drivers wait on me wherever I go. I drive myself. I go swimming everyday only when I'm in Coimbatore.
Me : Where in Coimbatore? Jenney's club? (Knowing it to be the biggest club i guessed he should be going there only)
He : Cha cha! Not that one! That's dirty. I user Springfields. It's a private club owned and managed by 5 of us. We use it whenever we want to.
This is when I realized that there was something about this man. He is BIG. He is someone. He knows a lot. I also realized that I had used my boarding pass as book mark and closed the book in my hand long back. I decided to talk to this guy. I kept the book aside. He knew I was interested in talking.
He : So what games do you play?
Me : Shuttle badminton. Played till I was in school. Then stuck to volleyball and basketball in college.
He : Shuttle. Good! How far has this game taken you?
Me : Nothing much. District runners up.
He : Where did you do your schooling?
Me : First 5 years in Nazareth convent, Ooty. Then in TEA public school. Then In Satchidananda Jothi Nikethan. I did my under graduation in Ethiraj College, Chennai.
He : I used to have a few estates in Ooty. I sold them all off. None to maintain. And I have already told you I financed many of the exporters from TEA association. Your school Satchidananda... I have met that swamiji in Yogaville. I studied in Madras Christian College. I did my under graduation there.
Me : Ok.
He : Schooling is very important in life. Don't you miss school?
Me : I miss school a lot. I'm in fact going for the Alumni Association of my high school.
He : Oh! Good. So your going to meet all friends, enemies, first crushes??
I was totally surprised about how this man was getting personal all of a sudden.
Me : Friends, yes. First crushes, yes. Enemies, no.
He : Who was your first crush?
Me : Excuse me?
He : You can tell me.
Me : Surely not somebody you know. (I said tauntingly)
He : Hahaha! Good one! You're smart.
I could have said "yeah, I know."
He : Are you career oriented?
Me : Not anymore. I changed my mind.
He : Get married, have kids, live for your family. There's nothing like it.
Me : Meaning?
He : Fall in love, get married. Never settle for an arranged marriage.
Me : I still don't get it.
He : You won't.
Me : Ok.
He : So when you were career oriented, what did you want to become?
Me : A journalist. A reporting journalist. A journalist who did her own cases. A journalist who wanted to shine for hard work and not controversies of cricket or celebrities.
He : Good one again!
He (after he threw the sandwich he bought from the stewardess in the trash untouched) : Is this the only flight that goes to Coimbatore at this time?
Me : I guess so.
He : I usually fly by Kingfisher.
Me : And you look like Mallya.
He : You mean this guy Vijay? That fellow is a very good friend of mine.
Me : Huh?
He : Vijay Mallya is a very good friend of mine. We were good friends even before he could start his airline venture. When I worked for Reliance he called one day and asked me to meet him at his office with my passport. I did so immediately thinking it was an emergency. A manager from his office escorted me to a nearby private aerodrome. He was waiting for me in a helicopter and we were flying to
Me : Wow!
He : See, I have a Kingfisher privilege card. I never fly by Spicejet. This is a card that only the closest circle of Vijay have.
He handed a glossy red card that had the kingfisher bird on it. And it said VIP. Signed by 'Vijay.'
Me : What did you want to become when you were in college?
He : I was lost when I was in college. I never wanted to become something. I lost my father at a very young age. My mother worked for IOB Chennai. I studied hard and got a job in a bank. I got married. We had two sons. I got divorced. I became a CEO for 4 companies. I earned a lot. I still earn a lot. I dine with the finest people. I talk to big people for hours on the phone about their personal matters. I'm what I'm now. I never thought I would be anything. My sons are in the US now. Both married. On their own. I meet them one every year. I'm just a consultant now. But every day I earn in lakhs.
Me : When was the last time you met your sons?
He : I have everything in life. I wear the best of Italian shirts. I drive cars even before they are introduced into the market. I meet the big people everyday. I live in luxury. I travel 160 days in a year. Mostly abroad. I meet different people every year. But happiness - - Missing in my life.
For a minute my heart sank. I felt miserable for the guy. He meant what he said. This time I said "I'm sorry" softly.
Me : What are you going to do in Coimbatore for ten days?
He : I sleep a lot in these ten days. I take my mother to all temples she wants to go to. I spend a lot of time with her. Mothers are so important. Fathers too. The bond of a child and its mother is directly related to her womb. Blood relation. No relation is like what it is with your mother. I love my mother.
I smiled. He was genuine. Yes, a show off. One of its kind. But, a man who had everything in life but inside was screaming for attention and companionship. This guy was lonely, is lonely and has just decided he will remain so. i felt sad for him.
We were about to land.
He : I had to finish the meeting, though I was allowed to leave in between. It was a meeting with the Finance minister, Chidambaram. We've known each other for long, so i didn't feel like walking out.
Me : Oh. Ok!
He : What's service according to you?
Me : Service. I think giving your time and help is service. Money is service, yes. Prayer is not.
He : Any hands on this field madam?
Me : Well, yes Sire!
He : Tell me.
He is a man who is willing to listen.
Me : I belong to a student organization called Team Vision. We organize charity shows and lend hands in all we can. We've done 3 concerts till now. For visually, physically and mentally challenged children. We've raised money for them and given them infrastructural support. We read for visually challenged children every weekend. We record our voices for their MA and BA studies everyday in cassettes so they don't have to depend on us. We spread awareness of the importance of ramps in public places. This is the little we do to make a difference to them.
He : I visit one place near Marudamalai. It's for mentally challenged children. I spend time with them. I play with them and I fund them.
Me : Very nice of you to give away the little time you get with your mother for these children.
He : It's challenging. Managing time, family, friends is all very challenging.
It was a rough landing, earthquake landing I should say. We took our hand luggage and waited till the other hurried passengers could leave. I helped him with his heavy bag. He walked me to the baggage collection counter and made sure my father waved from the arrival lounge.
Me : How do you remember so many poeple?
He : Just like how you do.
Me : How do you remember sooooooo many people?
He : I remember the one who are important and worth it.
Me : So what am I? Worth it?
He : This is one journey I dreaded till the minute you boarded the plane. You are like the unborn daughter I've always wanted. Bold, out-spoken, straight forward. I wish I had a daughter like you.
Silence. I wanted to say something, but didn't.
He : It was very nice meeting you my little girl.
Me : You too sir. Have a nice holiday with your Mother.
He (shook hands) : Wishing you only the best in life.
Me : :)
He handed me his card and I gave him mine.
He : Hi, I'm Anand. Nice meeting you.
Me : I'm Pragathambal.
Anand : Bye
Me : Bye :)
This is one of the conversations that lasted 1 hour and 6 minutes. I thought he was a show off, I realized that was how he lived. I don't blame him. I wish him a happy holiday and a happy time ahead. He is not happy. He has no time to find it. It is these 10 days every year he gets to find some happiness and share some happiness. I was glad I could share something with this guy who called me his unborn daughter. My dad helped me with my luggage and we had dinner. I told him all about Mr.Anand. We reached home and I recited the whole thing all over again to mom. I then slept. Slept well. I was home. :)