Paneer panic

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on December 22, 2017

On board our recent flight back to Delhi from the US, a couple across the aisle from us starts to have a meltdown. We’re sitting in the rear of the plane, on a packed flight. Everyone else has been served and now only the final two rows remain.

Bins and I are in a great mood. We have three seats all to ourselves: one window, one aisle, one empty. Perfect! It was Bins’s clever calculation. “First, we choose the last row on the side — because no one wants to sit at the rear. Second, I take the aisle, you take the window and we leave a space empty between us. No one likes to be the bone between two kebabs! So other passengers will not select the seat when they do their last minute on-line check-in at midnight.”

That’s exactly what happens. There’s no luxury so sweet as an extra space that’s been cunningly planned for. So we’re rocketing along feeling like first-class passengers who have paid third-class fare when, as I said, a tense situation begins to develop. We have already been served our meals and so have the rest of the last row. This couple is in the second last row, across the aisle from us. Their snouts should be deep in their spicy chicken with pasta or else their vegetarian mushroom bake. Instead? They’re behaving like a pair of murderous Rottweilers who have been tied up without food and water in the desert for a week.

“Where is my special meal?” the woman roars. “I paid for a special meal. Now I MUST GET my special meal or I will starve to death!” The senior flight attendant is literally wringing her hands while two junior ladies jitter about alongside her, practically in tears. “But madame,” the senior lady says, “we get a list of special meals to serve on the flight. And your name was not on our list! So please: you tell me, what can I do?”

Now the man gets into the act. “Excuse me, that is not OUR PROBLEM. It is YOUR PROBLEM. Is it not clear that my wife cannot eat mushrooms? She will get galloping heart failure and terminal rabies if she sees even the shadow of a mushroom on her plate! Have some sense! And also give me your complaints form so that I can write a 10-page FIR about the racism and torture we have faced on board your cruel airline!”

For the next 15 minutes the couple are plied with bread rolls, bowls of salad and extra dessert, while they continue to snarl and growl. Eventually they get one complete business-class meal to themselves, with extra wine thrown in. Calm finally descends. Bins has been watching the drama while polishing off his spicy chicken. “Lucky for them,” he mutters, “they’re not flying Bins Air Express.” When I ask why, he says, “I’d lock them into the toilet and flush them out at sea!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on December 22, 2017
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