The 4th Idiot

“Of course, there can be the rare occasion of someone, not quite aware of aviation safety norms, all of a sudden faced with the need to relieve himself just as the aircraft has been cleared for take-off.”

"Sit down! Sit down!!"

UST like when Usain Bolt and his cohorts dart off at the sound of the pistol, there are at least 10 anxious fellow countrymen of mine making a beeline for the front door at no less an impressive 0 to 60, their sprint triggered by the landing gear of the aircraft making contact with Runway 14 of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. 

What follows is the polite version on the PA system: "Ladies and gentleman [though it's mainly gentlemen], please remain seated till the aircraft has come to a complete standstill." And then, a frantic flight attendant running up the aisle from the aft of the cabin to physically coerce the anxious, homesick passengers to go back to their seats. 

I can relate to these passengers' excitement of returning home after long periods abroad. All is fine.

Now, what we usually don't see is any such restiveness PRIOR to take-off. Of course, there can be the rare occasion of someone, not quite aware of aviation safety norms, all of a sudden faced with the need to relieve himself (again, it's usually a him, the impatient gender) just as the aircraft has been cleared for take-off. 

But, this time, I am that agitated passenger as the Air India flight is taxiing. I jump out of my seat, rush to the front of the aircraft and frantically tell the three flight attendants who are prepared to wrestle down this maniac: "You gotta get me off this plane, now!"

"Calm down sir. What happened?"

"I've left my mobile phone, wallet and laptop at the gate security checkpoint!" And I'm flying off on a two-country trip!

"Do you have your passport?"


"Then, please take your seat, we will notify the captain as soon as we're 

at cruising altitude and he will radio Dhaka Airport about this."

In hindsight, there are two things I could've done in order for the plane to return to the gate and disgorge me. One, tell them I didn't have my passport, or two, be the "4th idiot" and do what one of my fellow engineers did in the movie 3 Idiots – pretend to have a heart attack. And when you're off to two countries with an empty pocket and without the most important electronic devices of the 21st century, you ARE this close to getting a heart attack.

Let's not get into how this all happened, which still remains a mystery. But what I DO promise myself is to never make eye contact with the person who approaches me at the traffic light asking for money to go back to his village from being stranded in Dhaka after getting pickpocketed. I vow to not question that story, whether true or false. What I also vow is to make myself a much better comedian as the only option for survival upon arrival in Kolkata is to perform on the street for dough. 

But there is a happy ending. My items are salvaged, the contents meticulously documented and carefully guarded. When my wife goes to retrieve the items while I'm on my trip, she is interrogated for half an hour so as to establish that she is my lawfully wedded wife – by way of showing multiple photos of us together on Facebook. The verification process continues as the questions are asked by the security lady: 

"Do you know how much money your husband has in his wallet?"

"Ma'am, do YOU know how much money is in the wallet of YOUR husband?"

The lady does her best to suppress her laughter. 

"Does your husband have any photos of yours in his wallet?"

"We have been married for 19 years. If he [still] has any pictures of mine in his wallet, I'll be surprised."

The lady bursts into laughter. This HAS got to be the comedian's wife. The goods are handed over. And I get the good news sitting in Singapore, my next destination, while my hosts in each of these two cities are my local saviours. 

With no mobile phone, no laptop, limited access to information, a near empty pocket (with payments from my two shows in Kolkata and Singapore), I DO exactly what the captain said on the fateful flight – I kick back, relax and enjoy my flight of five untethered days. Best of all, passing through airport security is a breeze – I have no laptop to take out of the backpack, and nothing to empty out of my pockets. 

I may be the true idiot in the form of the 4th idiot, but finally, I give myself my own, long-deserved, un-device-able attention.  

Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and ABC Radio's Good Morning Bangladesh, the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. 

E-mail: [email protected]

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