Cloud crocodiles

I remember my first flight from Calcutta to Manipur in 1992. It was magical. For us who had till then travelled only in long distance trains, the clean corridors of the airport, the almost sterile smells and the change from informal to formal dressing by co-passengers-everything was different. The hullabaloo had a different flavor. There was none of the loud conversations in large groups, no one squatting or sleeping on the polished floors of the airport, no garbage lying around and no intolerable odours from the restrooms. Instead neatly dressed men in trousers and shirts or tees and elegant women with make up lined up and talked in polite whispers at the counters. It was a source of great mystery to me..where had all the ordinary Indians gone? A place with no street food, beggars, a dog or two and flies seemed an alien planet and rather unsafe.
A small Kodak camera purchased exclusively for that occasion travelled with us but the sights and sounds were so overwhelming that I never remembered to take it out from the hand luggage bag and to say the truth was a bit intimidated too by the security checks, feeling something like a fugitive when they requested our suitcases to be opened and displayed. Mom’s wisdom saved the day. I still remember the relief of seeing neatly pressed, arranged clothes, books and other items when the luggage was examined by airport staff ( it was mandatory then because of the tensions in Manipur).
The red lips of the air hostesses in the flight smiled broadly at us from behind their respectful palms folded in a ‘namaste’ but on the side their conversations with their collegues continued without batting an eye. It was my first encounter with an alien, impersonal, indifferent type of warmth and courtesy which left me feeling like a dust mite.
Who knew then that air would become the only medium of travel for me and that I would be filming the clouds leisurely, not sitting with clenched fists hoping the pilot had not bunked his classes and praying he knew how to land the thing and even thanking the hostesses instead of gaping at their lovely mascara as I did once long ago.
©Reena Prasad

cloud crocs
sunrise from the plane

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