It was an incident - or two as it turns out - just waiting to happen. For its sheer ignominy the story has been trending far and wide but for anyone who was on a news detox, here is a quick recap.
A business class traveller on an Air India flight from New York-Delhi had one too many to drink, exposed himself while simultaneously covering himself with disgrace and a fellow co-passenger, a 70-year-old elderly woman with his urine.
Two months after the incident, Shankar Mishra has finally been arrested despite his father’s claims that it was a false case as the woman was ‘like a mother’ to his son.
He has been sacked from his corporate job and this public humiliation will not be easy for him or his family to live down. The story though doesn’t end here.
The blasé behaviour of Air India’s crew during the incident is what flight manuals will show as an example never to be followed.
They first asked the distressed lady to sit in one of the seats belonging to the crew and later when they wanted their seat back sent her to the filthy seat that they had hastily covered with sheets.
There were empty seats in first class but the traumatised woman apparently didn’t qualify, the lofty standards of the crew didn’t involve empathy. It is reported that the pilot who was to make the decision was resting and could not be disturbed.
Then the icing on the entire sordid affair, Mishra was allowed to walk out from the flight, he could just as well have been on a stroll after a glass of wine in his living room. As though almost apologetic- to Mishra and not the lady passenger- the airline put him on a 30-day flying ban.
Not part of the deal
The episode took place in November but action was taken by the airline only once the woman filed a complaint. A co-passenger’s two page complaint during the flight never saw the light of day.
Shame came in twos on the high mile frontier and yet again, it was an Air India flight as though hammering in that Tatas may have taken over India’s national airline but changing mindsets both within the airline and of the traveller was not part of the deal.
On a Delhi-Paris route a man urinated on the blanket of a female co-passenger bringing to a flourishing finale this act of the Indian traveller, for now.
There are however many aspiring candidates waiting in the aisle for lead roles in the play starring the ugly traveller. Barely some days earlier passengers on board a flight from Kolkata to Bangkok had a physical altercation and were soon in fisticuffs.
It all began when global procedure met the entitled Indian, a passenger refused to make his seat upright for take-off despite the crew’s pleadings that it was a security issue.
Other passengers tried to make him see sense but it ended up in a senseless free for all between some passengers. On another flight a traveller told off a cabin crew member saying, ‘you are a servant.’
Name, shame and punish
A flight is still taxing on the runway and the Indian shoots upright to grab his overhead luggage, then elbows his way to the front exit as though if he wasn’t quick enough the flight would take off again with him.
Announcements by the hapless crew to remain seated fall on deaf ears. Those who continue to stand in a queue are brave, the Indian does not know or respect the concept of private space. The images not in the mirror are closer than you think.
How did the Indian traveller become so obnoxious? Or is it just an extension of the Indian elsewhere, the man who will urinate against public walls, spit tobacco from a betel leaf out in the open and litter public spaces even when waste disposal is barely steps away.
The same individual who will not drive and drink in a foreign country will come back home and get behind the wheel while his consumed alcohol is way more than the permissible level.
A flight to India has sometimes been referred to as the punishment sector. The fusion of entitlement, affordable air travel and a civic society where civility itself is the missing bone makes for a potent traveller.
Indecent behaviour cannot be covered up like slums in the country before a VIP visit, it shouldn’t be either. Name, shame and punish, that is the only deterrent.