Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fantasy Flight

When Jet Airways announced the boarding call for the flight from Delhi to Bangalore, I was busy reading Tinkle comics - something that I purchase every time I board a flight. Within seconds the queue had stretched itself into a slithering boa snake. It's beyond me as to why people push and shove to get into the flight considering that it won't take off till the last person has boarded. Guess old habits die hard; we are too used to throwing our hankies and catching the city buses!

Quarter of an hour later I stepped inside the aircraft, returned a fake smile to the airhostess and proceeded to find seat 14B. The air conditioner was in full swing forcing ladies to wrap themselves in their dupattas while men pretended to be machos and continued to read the papers. Personally I prefer a more humid atmosphere in planes so that I don't catch someone else's sneeze.

"Excuse me..." I said, but my tone drifted while I tried to look for any empty window seats. The lady in 14C seemed quite engrossed in her novel and showed a slight sign of annoyance that she had to unbuckle her seat belt and get up to let me in. I murmured 'sorry' for the sake of sorry and slid in to my seat. The guy next to me, in 14A, seemed just three feet from heaven considering and was blissfully snoring. And when the pilot announced 'crew to take-off positions', my watch displayed 9.11pm - a good forty minutes delay and made me think twice about the number 911.

As we climbed to cruise altitude, the lady next to me seemed to have lost interest in her novel. I don't know what she was reading but it had an image of a dragon so I thought it must be some fantasy. Dressed in black pin striped business suit she looked quite in command of herself. Her curls covered a part of her eyes and cheeks while the diamond ring sent a message that she had a special someone in her life. The fact that the ring hugged her finger tightly meant the relationship had been in existence for some time and she was slimmer in her earlier days.

"Fantasy?", I quipped as I looked at her novel and tried to start a conversation.

"Yeah! Not that great though", was the crisp reply. Silence ensued for a full five minutes.

"So what do you do?", my second attempt at engaging in a conversation.

She gave me that nakhra, fully aware of her pretty looks, and said "I work for a garment company as a merchandizer". And since I responded by an IQ level 50 type of blinking looks, she went on to explain "... you know, like getting orders from various vendors and ensuring they maintain a healthy stock of our company's products".

"Ah!" I exclaimed as if my IQ had suddenly shot up to 150 levels and I knew everything there is to know about the garment industry. From there on the conversation kicked in and she seemed to be brimming with topics varying from recession and massive layoff's in their industry, to books, to how bad the food in Jet Airways is, to how impolite the Indigo staff are, to how she finds it amusing how men stare at King Fisher crew, to her love for Sri Lankan technicians, to..." well you get the idea. A good hour passed by, the air hostesses had cleared our trays, before she chanced to ask what it is that I do.

"No wait! Let me guess. You are a techie...?" she beamed as if quite sure that she was right.

"Not really. I am an actor; I act in short movies."

"Really? Wow! So which movies have you acted in?" she asked with all excitement.

"I don't think you would know them".

"Try me. I am pretty much a movie buff".

"Well...hmmm... I actually act in x-rated adult movies".

At that point I think I could clearly make out what was running in her mind as her jaw dropped slowly. She was wishing that the aircraft ripped itself in half so that I flew in one direction and she flew the other way. Or probably she was wishing that she could borrow the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter and make herself disappear. And I was wishing that I could take a photo of her stunned looks - the kind that deers give as a trucks' headlight approaches them.

"Oh!... interesting", was all she could mumble for the next two minutes. She slid away ever so slowly from me to the edge of her seat. She wanted to dust herself off even if my elbow brushed against her coat. In all she wished either I was dead or she was dead or we both were dead.

I picked up the JetLite magazine to hide the snicker that was building up inside me. With some effort she tried to look at me but all the while making it obvious that she was actually fixing her hair. The conversation had evaporated like petrol on hot ground. And when she made her second attempt to look at me I couldn't hold back my laughter. Within seconds she realized I had taken her for a ride at 36,000 feet. She huffed, folded her hands and moments later pinched me on my arm.

"You are an asshole you know that?" she remarked with a smile that showed she was relieved. She re-adjusted herself comfortably in her seat and appeard confused as to continue the conversation or ignore me. But we talked. About my work and how boring it is and if every other careers are equally boring. It was nearing midnight by the time we both got out of the airport. "Be good", she remarked as we parted.

"I usually am! And yeah...I will let you know if my producer needs new garments for the next movie". She smiled, stuck her tongue out and walked away.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Morals vs Economics

Recently when Bangalore jumped in and joined thousands of other cities in celebrating (?) the earth hour, it got me thinking about the great media coverage of this symbolic display of love towards our planet. Symbolic because I really don't think it made a difference to the power consumption - at least not in India. While Bangalore plunged in darkness the pumpsets in the rural villages roared to life given the rare occasion of extra hour of electricity - where 6 hours of power a day is considered luxury.

Let's look at a case of moral dilemma that humans have faced in the past...
In 1807, United Kingdom (or the then Empire) abolished slavery, which had begun in 1562, by passing the Slave Trade Act. The 'trade' was abolished but not slavery itself. It took another 20 years before slavery died out of fashion. While a vociferous group of Quakers and Evangelical Protestants can score a credit in forcing this legislation it was economics that eventually killed slavery. Back in the 17th century, large parts of the population didn't think it was in-human to purchase slaves and enhance their own quality of living. The argument was that, first, they could afford it and secondly they naturally believed it to be natures bounty and that some were condemned to be slaves while others to be masters. It was only a few who viewed at it from the 'moral' angle and looked at humans as humans, regardless of color, race or wealth.

Immediately after passing the law 'The Empire' went on an unprecedented foreign policy campaign asking other nations to pass similar laws. While outwardly the argument that the Empire took was 'it is morally wrong and against the spirit of Christianity', the real reasons were that it believed that its' colonies would become uncompetitive. In fact they enforced duties on other nations that continued to support slave trading.

But by mid 1800's slavery was no longer the 'in' thing. Large slave traders, namely cotton growers and plantation companies, realised that free markets were better and cheaper. The difference in pay between a slave and a free man was not too significant but slaves came at an additional cost. They had to be fed, medically cared, housed and were a burden during recession. As such 'Christian moral superiority' had little to do away with slavery.

Fast forward to 21st century. The last decade has seen more power consumption than all the years put together since electrticity was discovered. Global consumption of natures resources continues to increase at geometric rate and we have the modern day 'Quakers and Christian Evangelists' under the garb of Green Peace, Friends of Earth, Al Gore et al., telling us how it is morally wrong for us to consume more than what we require. Like the 17th century slave consumers, we tend to use water and other natural resources as if it is our right. People in Sadashivnagar consume more water than a dozen villages in rural areas. They don't lose sleep at night nor do they ever worry about the 'moral' aspect of it (now do you realise why slave traders never felt guilt)?

I am no saint. Few years ago my house was lit up using those old incandescent light bulbs before I switched to compact flourescent bulbs. Why? Because it economically made sense. My bills slashed by half. I didn't change the bulbs because I thought it was morally correct. And in another year I will probably shift to LCD bulbs because my bills will be a tenth of what it is today.

What drives the larger population is economics. Not the moral argument. Unless the economics of using and replenishing the resources starts to touch the common man, even a million earth hours will not make a difference.

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