The captain boasts of taking advantage of the tail wind, the earth’s rotation and the earth’s curvature, but the fact remains that Los Angeles (LAX) to the airline’s hub city takes no less than 16 hours.
The departure is late. Add 16 hours of agony in anticipation of missing my connecting flight to Dhaka.
After 16 agonising, body-contorting, sleep-depriving and feet-bloating hours, the plane lands and then taxis endlessly towards the boarding ramp at the farthest end of the airport. What ramps up though is Murphy’s Law: “Ladies and gentleman, due to our late arrival, we have to wait 10 minutes for the boarding gate to free up.”
Bring it on. If I can’t stop the barrage of bad news, I might as well enjoy it…
After a mini marathon with a loaded backpack, with hurdles in between of stripping at another security checkpoint (don’t you trust LAX’s TSA guys, or did we acquire something nefarious from thin air, literally, at 40,000 feet?) and frustrated “excuse me!”’s to standing passengers blocking the travellators), I reach my gate number zillion, which, luck has it, is on the other side of the airport.
Considering that we queue up to board before the pilots leave their homes/hotels, the sight here of most of the Dhaka bound passengers sleeping tells me that not only have I made it to my connecting flight, but we surely (thankfully) have been delayed.
I catch my breath.
Finally, the pre-boarding announcement: “Business class passengers, passengers with children, passengers needing extra time, gold members, silver members, platinum members, bronze members, rust members, Chapai-Nawabganj-Debidwar Friendship Society members…will pre-board. Others, please remain seated.”
Needless to say, everyone lines up in panic lest the plane leaves.
We board a bus. I forget, this is a Dhaka bound flight. So, all gold, silver, platinum…Chapai-Debidwar are all in three buses. The journey by bus is as long as my very recent journey by plane, to the point where I almost expected to be dropped off at Gulistan.
We finally stop at another far end of the airport. All business, gold, silver,…,Chapai-Debidwar fist fight our way out only to queue up again on the tarmac.
And then, deja vu! My eyes rest on the christened name of an aircraft nearby that is lucky to be attached to a boarding gate. It is the one that brought me from LAX. So, I wait, run, strip, get frisked, clothe, run again, shout, huff, puff, pant, queue up, bus and queue up again, only to end up where I had started!
I board, take my seat, plane takes off, I fall asleep only to be woken up for the customs forms being distributed. I get my paper work done and prepare to fall asleep, only to be asked by the homebound remittance earner sitting next to me to fill out his form. Though dying to sleep, I have no heart to say no. I had better answer the questions on the form correctly, which in turn means asking the gentleman a ton of questions and explaining things clearly, otherwise he will be in a soup on top of being in a soup under suspicious eyes upon coming home after three years.
Finally, I am done. I look up not only to a pair of grateful eyes, but to a whole army of others on my left, right, front, back and yes, on top looking down.
News travels fast. Half the plane’s passengers pay pilgrimage to my seat. I almost expect the captain to come and have me endorse his flight plan.
My “toil” of the last 20 hours pales into insignificance as I fill out each customs form which speak of unique stories of toil and tears so as to foil the toil and tears of the loved ones they are going back to after so many years. The least I can do is sleep a little less to fill out a few pieces of paper for those without whom, I dare not imagine, how we would boast a tiger economy. Upon arrival, they will not be greeted with garlands, or smiles, but will be eyed as spawning hilsas.
Here are a few of the very millions for whom we have “allocated” one particular day—May Day. Considering their very dire straits that we ignore during the remaining 364, may just require an aviator’s dreaded distress call, “Mayday, Mayday!”
Naveed Mahbub is a former engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, the former CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla’s The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed’s Comedy Club. E-mail: Naveed@NaveedMahbub.com