For the Fear of…

Photo: AFP

As our plane makes its final approach in to Chennai Airport, my 7-year-old, who has just recently graduated from flying phobia to the class of thrill seekers, tells me: "Baba, I LOVE rough landings."

Right at that very instant, the Improbability Drive from A Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy kicks into gear. The plane hits a violent jerk, revs up its engines and makes a steep climb as we are pinned to the backs of our seats. The plane then circles the airport several times before finally landing after what seemed the longest 15-minutes of the lives of every passenger on board.

Needless to say, those 15-minutes throw every single passenger into a genuine state of prayers, irrespective of faith, or even a lack of. Many make silent and sincere pledges, "If I ever get out of this in one piece, I PROMISE to never…"

I put on a brave face, so as not to scare off my little broods accompanying me. My 7-year-old, whose wish for a rough landing is about to come true, is now clinging on to me.

My 14-year-old sitting in the window seat, squeals: "Baba! Look!! Fireworks!!!" It is August 11, just a few days away from India's Independence Day, hence aplenty of the pyrotechnics.

There is a collective gasp from the passengers and another barrage of loud prayers. The passengers hadn't quite heard the last word of my daughter's sentence. They started screaming midstream right up to my daughter saying: "Baba! Look!! Fire!!" Her saying "works" remained unheard, having being drowned in their screams.

Of course, as in any crisis, there are self-proclaimed experts. I loudly explain to my daughter, making sure that several around us hear (and are impressed by) my aviation prowess: "It seems that there was another incoming [aircraft] on our [descending] glide path, a rare error by ATC, that is Air Traffic Control." I deliberately use the acronym to boast my total of 1 hour of flying logged on a single engine Cessna 152. I expand on the ATC acronym to ensure that my surroundings perceive me as an aviator while also comprehending the scenario. Akin to the doctor who comes and tells the patient: "Your ACL has a 70 percent laceration warranting an arthroscopic suturing using a hamstring or a cadaver tissue." "Wow! I'm impressed! Now, can you please explain in English?"

Anyway, coming back to the circling A321 (there you go, the non-pilot plain me could have just plain said plane). The plane finally lands. I have the burning desire to lead the clapping symphony, something that is all too familiar on international flights landing in Dhaka (smirked at by the seasoned fliers). Judging by the looks of the flight attendants who suddenly looked so much more fair (er, pale) without any Fair & Lovely, would definitely have joined in on the applause.

As the plane puts on its reverse thrust and exits Runway 32 to taxi (enough, Naveed! Now everyone knows you have merely Googled up these aviation jargons!), the captain, cool as a cucumber, goes on the intercom: "Ladies and gentleman, just want to explain to you what happened. We hit a wind shear and as per standard procedures, we had to increase power, gain altitude, make a few circles for the weather pattern to clear and then make our final approach."

He didn't apologise. He didn't have to, nor did he need to. For, at that moment, he and his first officer, were the local heroes. Now, I am the first to clap, followed by every passenger, INCLUDING the flight attendants. It would have been a standing ovation, had it not been for the plane still taxiing and the seat belt signs still being on.

There is a collective sigh of relief. My 7-year-old finally lets go of my hand, her knuckles white. I joke, "So, didn't you say you like a rough landing?"

She replies, crossed: "Yes, I said I like rough LANDINGS, NOT rough FLYING!!"

Oh, and the pledges made through silent prayers? They are left where they were made and stuck in neatly inside the seat back pocket along with the safety cards, which, by the way, we had all read through carefully, and for many, for the first time in our lives, not too many minutes ago—all for the fear of flying…


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. Email: [email protected]