My recent trip to Afghanistan has been grueling, one of the most taxing I have experienced. The return flight from Kabul to Dubai has been delayed nine hours and we had been caged within the tiny departure hall of the airport without food or refreshments all the time. By the time I reach Dubai, my onward flight to Mumbai is gone and both FlyDubai and Emirates are hard-nosed, unwilling to accommodate me further; I waste three hours at Dubai airport. A three hour flight has now cost me over fifteen horrendous hours. Exhausted, frustrated and disgusted, I buy another ticket and am on Jet Airways aircraft to Mumbai next day. It is an uneventful flight until midway, when a pitiful but hilarious midair tamasha ensues.
There is this middle-aged man sitting in the middle seat, a woman is at the widow seat and I am seated in the aisle. Drinks are served and the man, who later introduced himself as Kwaja, orders a whiskey with Sprite and downs it in one clean gulp, orders one more and exhales disgusting whiskey fumes all around. He orders a third drink during lunch and then promptly nods off to nap, snoring gently. Midway into our flight, Kwaja jerks awake and whispers that he has to urgently go to the bathroom, as if I am interested or care; I let him pass.
Kwaja is all exited when he returns to his seat; face aglow, eyes agitated and wagging his rattail like hair side to side, a generous double chin working overtime.
‘Did you see him?’ he breathes on my face, while I unsuccessfully try to avoid the fumes.
Eh? ‘See who?’ I ask.
‘Aree baba, it’s Ranbeer Kapoor! He is sitting in the seat after ours, on the other side, the one with sunglasses.’
‘Randhir who?’ I ask. The man was not making much sense, must be the whiskey.
‘Aree yaar, where are you from, baba! It’s Ranbeer, not Randhir! Ranbeer, Ranbeer Kapoor, the actor! You know? Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh’s son. The hero. You think he will sign an autograph for my girlfriend? She finds him real cute.’
Number I, since when was I his yaar? Number 2, I couldn’t care an ant’s ass who this guy is; I have absolutely very little interest in spoilt, overpaid, jerky Bollywood brats. I vaguely notice them on the screen when Tasneem and the kids sit watching movies that defy even the most illiterate human intelligence. Number 3, why was he traveling coach? However, it was good to know this ‘hero’ was experiencing the discomfort of cattle class. Curiosity getting the better of me, I crane my neck to look anyway. Yes, it looks like the kid I have seen on the tube, hiding behind dark, awful looking sunglasses.
But it is not only Kwaja who notices this dude, others have now begun clogging the alleyway as well and pretty soon it becomes a fiasco. Men, women, children, especially teenage girls, thrust all kind of paper, napkins included, towards the clearly uncaring hero, demanding autographs. The guys is unmoved, nose buried behind a glossy magazine. But Kwaja still wants an autograph for his girlfriend so I have to get up and let him through again; I hope the look on my face tells him I am not too exited by his behavior. Not that he cares, as he dashes out, stepping on my toes.
The food service crates from the front cannot move back, a white man, Russian, I think, from his accent, losses his patience and loudly demands he be let through; nobody pays him attention. He turns to a very pretty stewardess and demands she do something else he will wet his pants; the poor harassed women turns a deep scarlet and gestures frantically to a colleague at the back, who can’t get through as well. An old woman, leaning on a cane, returning from the bathroom at the back complains she is tired of waiting and must sit; a man vacates his seat nearby and she gratefully collapses into it.
I am getting increasingly alarmed the situation is getting out of control with the congestion, commotion and flaring tempers when the captain turns on the seat belt sign and like a teacher reprimanding unruly children, demands everybody to be seated; anybody not complying face arrest at Mumbai. The aisle gradually clears, albeit reluctantly. Kwaja returns to his seat, mumbling and grumbling, clearly crestfallen, the double chin wobbling like a turkey going to slaughter.
Thankfully, we land without further incident. As soon as the aircraft leaves the active runway, the hero is whisked up by the cabin crew, frayed torn jeans and scruffy tee shirt all, to business class and made to sit in a crew seat. A young girl, a Gujarati no less, no more than twelve perhaps, jumps up from behind and dashes forward screaming ‘Ranbeer, Ranbeer, Jaan…’
‘Aree, Ghadereeni,’ screams her mum, ‘beseeja, beseeja…’
The aircraft brakes, the girls stumbles, hits her head on an armrest and falls flat face on the floor; some people snicker, including our Kwaja. The sari clad mother, almost all her flabby midriff showing and dancing, yanks the stunned girl up, smacks her a tight, sharp slap and drags her back to their seat.
I see the hero again at the baggage belt, woodenly staring at the rotating loop. But he is well protected now, three baton wielding hawaaldars surround him, making sure he is not molested further. Again, I feel some satisfaction these super idols have to wait for their baggage, just like us mortals.