At the international terminal at Bombay airport, once you have gone through the arduous process of getting your bags screened, checking them in and going through emigration clearance, you come to an escalator that takes you to a holding area down below. Across from the escalator is the airport bar, which serves fine and expensive foreign liquor at fine and expensive foreign prices. And since i love making the pretentious wait-staff uncomfortable, every time i drop by i ask for a Gilbey's green label (motto: "smooth as gravel"). When they tell me they only serve scotch whiskey, i mock-recoil in horror, whine and complain, shake my head, and condescend to asking for a laphroaig.
So i was at the airport bar, having performed this annual ritual, when i noticed the guy sitting across from me. He seemed familiar but i could not place him. Then i noticed him surreptitiously pour his drink into a plastic bottle (too bad it would probably not clear security now, what with the ban on liquids and all that), I realized i was looking at generic desi uncle.
Generic desi uncle (and we shall start calling him gdu from now on) and I go back a long way. I have been blessed with his company almost every single time i have flown either to or from desh. He has been my personal bane on all long haul flights across the atlantic, even if i was just visiting london. He is my explanation for why the ancient hindus discouraged the practice of travelling across the seas. Sometimes he changes faces, and minor personal details - one time he was a diamond exporter based out of Amsterdam, the other time he had an "import-export" business (you are free to draw your conclusions). Sometimes he runs a body-shopping firm, although of late he has started venturing into the outsourcing business. But for the most part, I could swear it was the same guy.
GDU is wise in the ways of air-travel. Normally, he holds a British or an American passport, but there was this once when he claimed to be a citizen of Kenya, having been born there. Almost invariably though, he has a thick indian accent. He also has a fascinating story or two to tell. It involves either him or his forefathers leaving the motherland and establishing themselves on foreign soil - East Africa, the UK, the Gulf, America - starting off with nothing, making tons of money in some kind of old world venture. His visit to india is almost invariably about "business". You ask him exactly what his business is, and he comes with answers that you again don't understand. What does the diamond business have to do with legal outsourcing, for instance?
GDU has a thing for alcohol. Like all self-respecting desis he *loves* scotch, although of late i have noticed him develop a taste for red-wine. Before the days when security checks made it difficult, he would always have a bottle tucked away into his hand-baggage, which he would promptly retrieve soon as the seat-belts' sign switched off, and proceed to finish. He also loves to harangue the cabin crew when they come around with the drinks. He will *always* demand more alcohol than they are willing to serve. Occasionally he will also argue with them about the fact that his seat is uncomfortable, or that its too cold or that he did not get the special order of food that he had requested ("Jain-veg"). Polite answers like the fact that he should have ordered 72 hours in advance only serve to increase his agitation. More often than not, he will refuse to let the person in the seat ahead of him recline his/her seat-back.
His love for cellphones knows no bounds. The moment a plane touches down, he flips out his cellphone and calls someone, usually to talk about some 'deal'. At take-off, you can find him using the phone over repeated entreaties from the cabin crew to turn it off. Usually he turns it off only when things are beginning to turn nasty.
A brief digression on obnoxiousness. it is funny only as long as its intentional and is being done by a friend. for instance, someone i know went into the exec class of Jet with a fresh green coconut in his hand-baggage and demanded that the cabin crew cut it open (and as testimony to Jet's quality of service, they *actually* tried, but failed for lack of a suitable implement to do it on board). it was superbly obnoxious, but since it was done on a dare, it was funny. (another friend chose to trump that by changing shirts in the middle of the flight, and powdering his armpits - that, perhaps, was *too* obnoxious.) I have myself thrown a tantrum for chocolate once, but that was only to entertain, horrify and embarass a friend.
Obnoxiousness of the GDU kind is hard to deal with. Which is why I have been trying to throw him off my track for an eternity. I have tried changing airlines. I have flown off-season. I have made connections in cities to which I was sure GDU's global business empire did not extend.
And yet, every time i board a plane, he is always there, with his beer-belly and bloodshot eyes.