I was flying back to India after a short stay with my brothers-in-law in the city of Gold that is Dubai.
I seldom travel by aeroplane. May be two or three times a year to gulf. One of my brothers-in-law sponsors me and the remaining duo treats me. No, I never seriously thought of doing any thing serious there.
I was upgraded to the business class. And I literally felt on clouds nine. After the take off and the usual instructions, I was about to settle nicely in the twin seat that was fully mine. I looked around. The cubicle was meant to accommodate twenty odd passengers. There were only two passengers. And one of them was I. I was not claustrophobic yet I felt like one totally suffocated. Closing my eyes, I started taking deep breaths. In no time I had gained my rhythm. I opened my eyes. Viola!
There was this young man sitting by my side. I felt like telling him to go and sit elsewhere but the Business class stopped me from doing so. Had it been our local train from Virar to Churchgate...the thought remained as it was because the man greeted me with a smile. Now, smile perhaps is everybody’s weak point. And when I reciprocated, he smiled again and said, “I was waiting for you to wake up Sir, you see I do not like to disturb anybody specially if he is sleeping.”
For a stranger, he talked a lot. I did get irritated albeit a little. He seemed to have noticed my irritation because next moment he was apologizing in a true Indian way.
‘But I was not sleeping.’ I said with utmost politeness.
“I am sorry Sir, if I have offended you. But there is hardly anyone in here and at least three hours to Mumbai.” His folded hands and the way of apologizing had calmed me down.
‘Yes, young man you are right. Two is company….’ “…and three is crowd.” he finished as the airhostess approached.
I took a tin of beer while he had whisky and surprisingly no soda. “Whisky is good on the rocks. No adulteration. Pure. You see Sir,” he took one sip and said, “I too like freedom like this: pure and unadulterated. Otherwise there is no way you can enjoy life.” Saying so he skillfully removed the double Windsor of his silken tie.
My initial disliking for the youth evaporated in thin air. And yes, he was talking sense. I looked at him through the corner of my eyes. He was really enjoying his freedom. And in spite of the beer can in my hand, I envied him. I was watching him. He opened his eyes and said, “Oh, so sorry. I was so much free with myself that I forgot…”
‘Its all right.’ I just said.
“You see, Sir, I have been here since last five years.” He said and called the hostess again for more whisky.
‘Then you must have made lot of money.’ I asked and then realized the stupidity of my question.
He answered in the affirmative but said that he had made so much money that it had lost its importance. “You know, he said, “one must not earn lot of money otherwise it makes no sense.” The guy was really talking sense but the whisky on the rocks was doing its job. After all it was pure and unadulterated. He further added that on one side he was earning money but on the other side he was losing freedom so much so that whenever he wanted some he would just fly back to India, his free country, to enjoy the freedom and then go back to the disciplined air-conditioned cellar in the gulf. Where there was no freedom: of expression, of property and above all of individuality.
I had my own idea of freedom. The leaders (of my country) of pre-independence era and post independence era had their idea of freedom. The British had theirs. And for that matter even the fellow that pulls the cart for his bread has his own idea of freedom.
Mean time food had come and gone. My friend had none. But now he was talking to me in a slightly slurred and unsteady voice. The ‘whisky on the rocks’ naturally had had its effect. Still, his talk revolved around the idea of freedom. After a while he slept.
I thought the youth was obsessed with freedom. The definition of freedom too has evolved and changed along with the environments, circumstances and times. But I felt for this youth who I thought was lost somewhere. I looked at him. He was snoring; perhaps with freedom. I laughed at myself and then decided that I should help somebody like him. He showed a lot of promise.
I too dozed off. The beer had the desired effect on me. When I woke up I saw the young chap to be as chirpy as the morning bird.
“Good Morning, we are about to land Sir.’ He said smilingly. I looked at my watch and then out of the window. It was almost dawn. I got fresh in a jiffy ready to welcome fresh air.
The airhostesses were standing at the door and smiling with their famousNamaste pose. Wishing them good-bye, we both started walking down the stairs of the trolley. The Mumbai airport, at the stroke of dawn, looked a bit hazy.
Reaching down, I extended my visiting card and said to him, ‘so, young man, Free at last!’
He nodded and then with a whoosh spat a mouthful of watery gutkha right at his feet. “This is what I call real freedom, Sir,” he said with joy.
I looked at his grotesque face, kept my visiting card back in my pocket and started walking the other way.