I have never made a secret of my partiality towards pretty co-passengers on a flight. They are the ultimate objects of fantasy in mid-air and I find their company immensely energizing especially on a long-haul. I enjoy talking to interesting fellow travellers of either sex. I don’t mind even a crass politician next to me. But, somehow, I am not one of those who get starry eyed with a tinsel town celebrity on the plane. You may call it some kind of an inverse snobbery. But the truth is, I find most of them (and, I have met a few) – intellectually challenged, outright boring and suffocating. A majority can’t even make decent conversation and I am usually overcome by pity at their strained attempt to behave ‘normal’ in an acutely synthetic and self-conscious way. Only a few can really drop their airs. But, why should they? After all, they have worked hard to reach where they have and it all comes as a part of the accoutrement of stardom.
Part offended, part be-friended
So once – while flying back from Bangalore to Mumbai, I part surprised and part offended Sharmila Tagore by moving over to a free set across the aisle. She was flummoxed. I had to think of an excuse on the fly and told her, I didn’t wish to disturb her with my snoring, which she acknowledged with an understanding smile – looking somewhat re-assured. On another occasion – about which my boss can’t stop teasing me – I had a nubile Bollywood starlet seated n
ext to me. Her Mom - a “has been” Bengali Bombshell (in more ways than one) and herself the daughter of a legendary Bengali actress was on the row behind us. When I gallantly offered her my seat (which I declared was an act of "supreme sacrifice" on my part only to allow mother daughter bonding in the skies) she looked at me with utter disbelief and said with a knowing smile – “you must be a married man and afraid of your wife – otherwise how could you give up such an opportunity ?”. "No !!", I retorted, " it's just that I am travelling with my Boss (who was a few seats away)".
Kafka on the plane
Occasionally one is surprised tho’ .. like on a recent trip to Calcutta on one of the budget airlines, I met this very sharp-looking young girl – reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I initially mistook her as a college kid going home for her vacation and tried to strike a conversation about her taste in literature. But, she turned out to be one of the latest imports of “Tollywood”. Daughter of a Bihari IAS officer and a Punjabi mother – who’s acts in Hindi TV serials, she wants to take up acting as a career and was cutting her teeth in Bengali films.
But, most of them make a sad spectacle. For example, very often on the Saturday morning Kingfisher flight from Calcutta to Mumbai, I travel with a faded and aged matinee idol of the 70s and 80s. Though he has done some very meaningful roles lately (both in art films and main-stream cinema) – nowadays, he now appears frequently as judge on TV "reality shows". I am bemused to see him desperately seeking attention – in his black denim jacket and jeans with ankle high suede boots and Ray-ban shades. And, how his shriveled up skin picks up a faint glow of delight - every time someone walks up to him for an autograph or a request to pose before a mobile-phone camera for a photograph with their accompanying son or daughter.
Then there are the mousy looking "item girls" and emaciated models. But, the good part is – since they mostly lead nocturnal lives – on flights they immediately curl-up under blankets and go to sleep putting on their eye-pads.
Even they are barely tolerable… but now we have a new crop of celebrities taking over the front section of the aircraft. They are the TV anchors – who fancy themselves as being the ‘thinking men’s stars’. Instant recognition and intellectual pretensions make a heady combination – as one of them recently wrote in her own blog (
Cricketers are a different lot altogether. Frankly, even they leave me a trifle cold – not that I have met too many of them. Some come across as supremely arrogant – though I am told, the best of them are unmistakably cerebral and decidedly modest. I believe, Sourav Ganguly – who was labeled as Bengal’s only testosterone hero after Subhash Bose –falls somewhere in-between. But, last evening – on an official call of duty - I got to spend quite some time with Mahi ( M S Dhoni) and was completely bowled over by his disarming candour and genuine warmth. With his feet and head exactly where they ought to be (firmly on the ground and the shoulder - respectively), I feel confident that the Indian team is safe in his keeper’s hands – notwithstanding the controversies cooked up by the media and fuelled by the machiavellian shenanigans of the BCCI politicos.