Someone should write a ballad and call it Flight 82. (That’s the nonstop Continental flight between Newark and New Delhi.) Much on my mind (and yes we are here!) but some thoughts at the forefront: These nonstop flights are drastically changing the immigrant experience. As a child, India was a destination saved up for, talked about and anticipated every three or four years. Our family of five flew the cheapest way possible to Calcutta – Royal Jordanian and Tarom (THE airline serving Romania) were my thrifty father’s favorites. Sample route: JFK-London-Bucharest-Dubai-Calcutta. And then of course we would have to halt and catch the infrequent flights to Guwahati. (That’s why I so I identified with Kiran Desai’s Biju in “The Inheritance of Loss” as she described his flight as a ‘bus in the sky.’)
In the last year alone, I have been to India three times – and twice on Flight 82.
Some things remain the same: Women will always jam the bathrooms 45 minutes before landing to wash their faces, put on makeup, maybe even wrap a sari in that tiny 2-by-2 space (that should be an Olympic sport). Their Charlie perfume wafts down the aisles just as the ‘fasten seatbelts’ light goes on. That baby you think will not stop crying finally does and goes to sleep. There is never enough space in the overhead bins and you wonder how some frail desi lady in a sari lugged the beast on in the first place. And then there’s the smells: sterile plane bad Indian food body odor perfume baby poop vodka sweat rosewater. When I finally stepped off the plane, it was as if a little of all of that hit me with the scent of India - put aside liberalization, my aging, the faster journey, that scent has not changed.