Sunday, 31 July 2011

Notes on Flying #1

This has been a long time in the making.

Finally, all the the hoops have been jumped through, all the hurdles cleared, and I'm actually in Madhya Pradesh to begin training at 1030 hours tomorrow morning for my private pilot's license. It's still sinking in, despite the fact that I was told quite a while ago that I'd be going. I had wanted to document the whole experience on this blog, and wanted to start much earlier in the process, especially covering the procedural hoops us flight monkeys had to jump through, but I decided to wait till the training actually began. Part of the reason for this was a slight superstition that I might jinx it by talking about it too soon, and part of it was that in case it didn't work out I'd look rather silly having started a blog in anticipation.

They really oughta stop making propellers from rubber :P

Now, though, I can finally start. The way i plan to do this is quick short and frequent updates, if possible with pictures. I will include a few flashback posts to cover some of the things that have already happened, though this will have to be later. At the outset, though, I cannot begin to tell you, dear four and a half readers, how exciting this is. There are very few things I have looked forward to as much as I've looked forward to this. The outcome is by no means certain, but I guess I can pause for a bit of breath here. I kept thinking some obstacle would've taken me out long before this.

Worried looking Karthik entering the shuttle bus at Hyderabad airport

It is also the happiest of coincidences that I start training on my 27th birthday. It's probably the only birthday I've spent with people I barely know yet, but the fact that tomorrow marks the beginning of an awesome gift makes it quite a lot better. We reached Bhopal after two interesting ATR flights on jet airways. We were supposed to be on 737s on both legs, and on both equipment got subbed and we flew ATRs. Prior to this, I've been on an ATR only once, and suddenly i get two in a row. Lucky, i guess, since I'm always eager to fly on types other than the staple Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s.

I instantly fell in love with Bhopal airport.. its nice.

Madhya Pradesh is beautiful in the rain, it is bathed in this intense green colour. Kerala is green too, but it's a darker shade there on average, and the green stays throughout the year. This green lasts a few months after the rains, and then turns brown. But right now it is green, and I love it. We also joked about how the place is rather flat, at least where we are, which means we have quite the pick when it comes to places to make emergency landings in. The mood in the group is optimistic, and over dinner we were all a bit philosophical. It's almost a given that 100% of us clearing the license in one go is not going to happen. DGCA works in mysterious ways, apparently until a year or two ago there wasn't even a defined syllabus for the pilot license exam. All sorts of rumours are doing the rounds, each more worrying than the rest, but i guess we've come to this realization that it's too late to worry now. We're here, so we might as well give it our best shot. There's this subtle pride you can sense in the group, since we all know we've been chosen for this over others, and we've had to struggle to get chosen. I like that, and I'm beginning to like them, and I hope we all have a good time.

Super fancy palace/restaurant we had lunch at. Food more than matched the ambience.

Safety was discussed too, but that warrants a whole post for itself somewhere down the road. Nothing more to report for the day. Apologies in advance if this becomes a whiny diary down the road. I wont have time to focus on the actual pieces, so I'll just be recording my thoughts at the end of the day.

On a more optimistic note, the ladies hostel is right across the road from our bungalow.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Summer story..

Long-winded childhood story again, kindly adjust :)

A walk around the house is customary every time I visit the ancestral home. As I pass the western side, I always look over at the small cottages across the road, in my uncle's property. They used to be tourist accommodation in our little beach town. The tourists never came in the numbers my uncle had hoped for, possibly because our land was a good three quarters of a kilometre from the beach. They have been rented out as one bedroom dwellings for not-so-well-off families. My uncle, like many others, left for the Middle East, and that was that. As I walk, a story from long ago pops up without fail, every time.

For purposes of this story, we'll call him Mark.

I don't remember his name anymore, except that it began with the letter m, and was short. Could have been Mike, but that's not important. Mark was the first white person I had ever met. Sure, tourism brought lots of white folk to our beaches, and I'd seen many of them before, but Mark was the first one I got to know. It was another of those afternoons when grandad, often for no seemingly apparent reason, would get in the car and head to our ancestral home far away from the city. During the vacations, I would pile on, perhaps my brother and a cousin or two as well. This was not a particularly satisfactory arrangement for my mom and aunt, who knew that their father required more supervision than us kids to stay out of trouble. But the peace and quiet of a day without us during summer vacation, when we were otherwise wreaking havoc on their nerves, won the battle in the end and we were all packed off in the car.

This particular time, though, I was alone. Instead of bringing something sensible along to while away time, like a book or some toy cars, I brought a chess set. Who exactly I was going to play with was a question that would cross my mind only after I reached my destination. Our driver didn't know how to play chess, and refused to learn giving the logic that I was going to win all the games today if i played with a beginner like him, and I couldn't refute that. Grandad had some work, so I didn't even bother asking. But all I had for the whole day was a chess set, and finding a partner to play with was my immediate concern. Our driver, Deepu (chettan -omitted hereafter due to laziness and not disrespect), and I set off to find someone to play with. And that took us to my uncle's tourist cottages.

They were newly built then, and had a weird smell to them. The faint smell of cement and paint, mixed with that generic antiseptic smell a lot of hotels have. We heard he had managed to rent out a coupla cottages to tourists, and we were hoping the tourists brought their kids along, and maybe one of the kids would want to play chess. Not having done advanced mathematics back then, I did not know what long, long odds I was shooting for. The cottages seemed deserted, ostensibly because the tourists had all gone to the beach. Looking around, we spotted Mark.

He had one of those faces with character, the sort you remember for a long time. I remember more of his face than his name today. I asked Deepu if he would go ask him if he wants to play chess. He went over and talked to Mark, while I watched from the distance. I was too shy a kid to approach someone as strange as he was. Deepu came back a while later, and I eagerly asked him if a game was on. He had forgotten to mention chess, and I was quite annoyed. Deepu egged me on and said I should go ask him, he seemed a very friendly guy. After much prodding, and a coupla false starts, I was on my way to ask a mystifying creature, a white man, if he wanted to play a game of chess.

I held out my pride and joy, a small magnetic chess set that would also let you play five other games of which i knew only Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, and asked him if he wanted to play chess in a voice that diminished quickly as i realized how much of a giant he was. "Sure," he responded, "but on one condition. We'll play it on my board." Out came an exquisitely carved wooden chess set, and I was smart enough a kid to realize that if he travelled with such a good chess set, he must be really into the game. As the game started, I worried about this misadventure. As kids, there are specific rules on not talking to strangers, rules the kids in my family flagrantly flouted. But this was different, he was a foreigner. Not everyone in a tourist town likes foreigners, and the average attitude of the populace is that they're a necessary evil. Most people not directly involved in the tourism industry would just mind their own business, and avoid interacting with the tourists. The tourists who came to beaches to party had a particularly bad rep, and we would be told about their drinking, drug usage and generally loose morals, and that we should stay clear of them. I wondered for a second what amma would think about me playing chess with a complete stranger from Australia, which I had managed to find out about him by then.

We played chess and traded stories all afternoon. It wasn't a fair trade, I suppose, I had really lame stories back then. But his story changed my life a little bit. It was his second visit to our town. When he came the first time, he had fallen off the beach facing cliffs our town is famous for, after having had too much to drink one night. As I was processing the moral implications of him drinking enough to fall off a cliff, he continued. He lay there dying, in pitch dark, until a local drug dealer found him and took him to the hospital, thereby saving his life. My mind was trying to wrap itself around the concept of a drug dealer, since I had no idea how drugs were dealt. He returned to Australia, and sent his saviour a large and undisclosed sum of money in gratitude. The dealer quit his trade, and started something decent though i forget what, and was getting along fine until the cops caught him. He was accused of getting the money through selling drugs, and was jailed. Getting him out was Mark's mission, and he had come back to stay and fight his case for as long as it took.

For a child's black and white concepts of right and wrong, this was a major revelation. I could not immediately process this new information, and indeed it took me years before I fully understood it. Over one afternoon of chess, where I was fascinated by his stories and elated over my game victories, I was introduced to the concept of grey. I knew the guy was good, only a good guy would fly all the way back to save someone from going to jail, even if that someone did happen to save his life. I knew from being told that drinking and taking drugs was bad, and even though he didnt mention taking drugs, I somehow assumed he did. Having only met people who were easily sorted into 'good' and 'bad' bins until then, I went home stumped, and years later, was grateful.

Almost a decade after he'd gone, and never having amounted to much at chess and thereby having given up the game long ago, I realized he was probably letting me win that day. I put him in the 'good' bin.