Years ago, I was told about a boy who lived with his parents atop a hill in the Himalayan region, cut off from the rest of the world. His father often went down to the plains, but the boy normally remained confined to his remote home.
Once, while accompanying his father, the lad had to travel by bus to a railway station for his first ever train journey. Never having seen such a sight, he looked at the crowd on the platform, the coaches and the train with awe.
When the train started rolling out, the boy got scared and tried to jump off it. He had to be restrained.
There are umpteen stories of first-timers having suffered embarrassment. Quite often, people flying for the first time are known to have entertained imaginary fears and let out screams during takeoff and landing. Some choose not to use the washroom during the flight, braving intense pressures.
Some time back, I learned about a first-time flyer, one Prakash, whose simplicity created a difficult situation. He was a shy type of person who did not interact much and remained ignorant about ordinary matters.
Prakash was one of four technicians working for an electronics firm who were to travel to the company's headquarters in a Far East country for short-term training. This man was an experienced rail commuter but had never travelled by air. Quite naturally, he was thrilled by the very thought.
Prakash would quietly make discreet inquiries of trusted friends about the likely hazards he might confront. The poor fellow was understandably upset on learning that he could not carry with him home-cooked food, nor even water. He was told he would receive food and drinks on the plane, but that only added to his worries as he was a vegetarian.
The simple fellow had another worry. In hushed tones, he inquired whether the washroom would be different from those in the railway coaches. On receiving the required information, he decided he had better avoid the washroom during the seven-hour journey.
By then, word about his complete ignorance had spread throughout the office. Some were amused and teased him. However, seeing his nervousness, a sympathetic colleague came to his aid and helped him to pack his baggage according to the regulations.
On the evening of their departure, the group arrived at the airport and went through the usual formalities. Prakash became worried when he discovered that he would only be able to keep one of his suitcases with him in the cabin.
The foursome boarded the aircraft. Inside, Prakash's body language identified him as the odd man out. So, his more experienced colleagues sat on either side of him, like policemen escorting a criminal. Nevertheless, Prakash braved the takeoff like a frequent flyer.
The fact that all four were vegetarians posed a problem at dinner time. In a region where reptiles and dogs are considered a delicacy, the word ‘vegetarian' shocked the stewardess.
Even after disembarking at their destination, the group's travails were not over. All four were rounded up by airport security personnel when the X-ray machine detected a metallic object.
A check and re-check of all the luggage, as well as body searches, failed to reveal anything. There was yet another search. This time, the cat was out of Prakash's bag — a metal chain and padlock that he used to secure his suitcases during railway journeys. He had wanted to do the same on the flight.
Even the grim-faced security men laughed. Prakash remained the butt of jokes long after his return to India.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.