'Are you sure?' Vijay said. 'Just for one day - flying in the morning and then back late night? It will get really hectic for you.'
'I'm sure!' I said, 'It's Sanjay's FIRST poetry reading ever.' Sanjay is a very dear friend, who lives in Hyderabad. 'I want to be able to surprise him. I'll just show up and be like...SURPRISE! It will be wonderful.'
'Alright then,' Vijay said, sounding amused.
'Yeah.' I said, 'Besides, Peanut is coming too!'
'Really? ...but she has exams!'
'Oh, that's okay. She says she's got the exam thing under control. Really wants to come, she wants to see Sanjay perform too - and besides, the event is called Queer-e-mehfil! This is surely a better education than studying for an exam.'
'I see.' Vijay knew better than to argue. He did anyway, 'But...'
'Look here.' I snapped. 'Peanut is a teenager now, and she needs to get exposure to different environments. It will be a great bonding trip for us too. And I can take decisions for myself, I'm an adult and a parent here too. So please stop trying to get in the way.'
'I'm not!' Vijay protested. 'I won't. Fine, you go.'
'Good.' I fumed, and then waited a few seconds to make it respectable. 'So can you book our tickets?'
One week passes, Anouk and I are really excited about our trip.
The twins are less than thrilled about being left out, however.
They start with
'You love her more than me' ....
moving on to -
'I've never even BEEN to Gujarat! ' ('It's Hyderabad, STUPID,' yells Peanut and I admonish her.)
settling down eventually with a sulky 'Bring back a Chicken dum biryani...my friend in school said it's good...although it sounds like its for dum people.'
A couple of days before the trip, I start to worry. It's all very well to land up and surprise Sanjay, but this is India and you don't land up empty-handed. I assume. It's really not often that I land up at people's homes. But what to buy for him? When my kids used to get invited to birthday parties, I would simply insist on getting their friends books, no matter that they said their friends didn't like to read. I had a book dealer on speed dial, 'Yo, Amit, what's up, can you wrap up a few books for an 8 year old boy who likes football and hates reading. Football almanacs? Great, whatever.' Eventually, the problem got solved as over time people stopped inviting my children over for parties. But I wondered - what does one buy for an adult who actually already reads a lot?
I also worried - what if I surprise him so hard that he has a heart attack or something? How can I just leap out at him on a Sunday morning, what if he slips and falls? But he's in good shape, I tell myself. My kids often leap out at me from darkened corridors and I turned out just fine. Just a little blood pressure issue sometimes, occasional dizziness, no big deal. No heart attacks. Yet.
Eventually, I assuaged myself by deciding that Sanjay is quite young, in his late twenties, and so would be fine. Also, being young, he might like the same things that my children like. So I purchased a few Toblerones and some Walker's Shortbread biscuits, extravagantly throwing in a Lindt Dark Chocolate with Chilli flavoring ( I wanted to try a piece).
Vijay was travelling and returning to our home in Goa only on the day that Anouk and I were to leave for Hyderabad ourselves. It had been a very hectic week for him and he was looking forward to coming home and getting some rest. 'So you all set?'
'Easy peasy.' I said. 'Nothing much to do but land up on time. Should be fine.'
'Well, good. I am turning in early. So should you.' He said, sounding exhausted. 'Have a good trip.'
'Hey,' I said, and my voice became low and sultry. 'How about that web check in, eh?'
I knew the only real challenge would be to get Peanut up on time. The previous day, I had attempted seventeen times to wake her up. She believes that on weekends, she should sleep till 2 p.m. and hence resists any and all attempts to rouse her earlier. But we had made a deal that she would get up immediately. Like me, she too hates being late for flights, and the rush it entails.
At 5 a.m. I went to her room, and shook her gently and lovingly. 'Peanut.' I whispered. 'It's 5 a.m.'
To my surprise, her eyes snapped open and she looked at me. It was kind of scary because she looked half crazed, like a possessed kid out of a poltergeist type movie - but I was impressed and pleased. Although in the next second, I realized that for the last four years, I'd been played by her while trying to wake her. This was not the time for arguments.
I turned away, and she kicked me on my butt.
This was unacceptable, even though perhaps she thought she was being funny. I whirled around to tell her off, but her eyes were now darting around the room in a highly creepy fashion. I retreated quickly to get ready. This was not the time for arguments.
We were well on time, even though for some reason there was a traffic jam up ahead. The driver Mukesh, a mild mannered quiet sort waited very patiently. A little too patiently. After about fifteen minutes of just crawling along, I felt there was something wrong. The cops were diverting traffic from the bridge leading us to the airport and I called out to one - 'Bhai sahib ...flight!'
'The bridge is closed at this time - has been announced in the papers last week,' he said, 'Your driver should have known.' My driver looked hurt and flabbergasted at this. For once in my life, I wished that I read the papers. Of course, this was all Vijay's fault for travelling to Jaipur at a time like this - after all, he ordered and read the papers. He might have known.
'What?' I glanced at the time. 'How do we get to the airport?'
'Circle around from Ponda.' The guy was already turning away.
'But how long will that take?'
'When is your flight?'
'Yes.' He nodded with a look of satisfaction. 'You will definitely miss it.'
We raced to the airport via Ponda anyway. I was NOT going to miss this chance to see Sanjay do his poetry reading. He was a friend. This was Peanut's education. I had bought Toblerone, dammit.
It was of course a fool's errand, but a friend of mine who was helping coordinate informed me there was a 10.05 a.m. Spicejet flight that was not listed online. What a GENIUS, I thought, as the car hurtled around the country roads, even as I tried valiantly to speak to a Spicejet Bot who was useless, eventually finding a human being who was equally useless and could give me no information other than that the flight was on time, and that she had made a 'note of my request to hold the doors.'
Peanut and I, who both hate rushing through airports, reached the departure gates, looked around wildly, ran in the wrong direction for a few seconds, ran the other way, and then shot towards security check, pleading with the guards to hurry up.
At Security Check, our tray came through and then got stuck as the belt stopped. I asked Peanut to reach out and get them- she stretched out her long upper body, practically lying down on the conveyer belt, and strained, reaching out her long spidery arm towards it- only to find it was 2 centimeters short, exactly when the belt started to move again. She muttered something about never having been so humiliated in her life, but I hurried her towards the boarding gates. 'Which Gate!' 'I don't KNOW, just any gate! I mean, look for the Spicejet person.'
We did find a Spicejet person. One short, thin lady with an air of cool confidence that you might expect from the pilot of the airplane. She looked up with a raised eyebrow at us as we skidded to a halt three feet away from her, dishevelled and panting 'Spice Jet! Hyderabad! Bridge closure! Please let us get on it.'
'The flight has departed,' she informed us nonchalantly, looking down again.
For some reason, I repeated 'But can you let us on it?'
And then it registered.
But all hope was not lost. 'I believe.' I said with authority. 'You have an unlisted flight at 10.05 a.m to Hyderabad. How about you get us on that one?' I checked my message from my reliable genius friend. 'Flight 3735.'
'That's a night flight 10.05 p.m.' she said without any emotion. 'Would you like that?'
Perhaps all hope was lost after all.
Given that I had a return booked an hour prior to that time, I realized that particular flight option wouldn't work.
After about an hour of wandering around the airport to check with every airline whether we could somehow get to Hyderabad in time for the show, we gave up. It took another half an hour for us to be allowed out of the airport. Apparently, if you miss a flight, you need to be accompanied by a staff member of the airline in order to leave the premises.
The staff was very thin in more ways than one. The one skeletal woman we met accompanied us off the first floor onto the ground floor, and then disappeared into air even thinner than herself. We were once again stuck at the main gate where the security was adamant.
'Please let us LEAVE' I begged the official after thirty minutes of trying to locate any Spicejet staff member. This was ridiculous. I imagined I knew what poor dead souls might feel upon finding the Pearly Gates closed in their faces, being left to wander forever as ghouls in some in-between world.
'You must let us LEAVE!' In desperation, I pointed at my daughter 'My daughter is UNWELL.' My daughter looked surprised and tried to appear unwell.
'What to do, Madam.' The official said. 'The airline should staff properly no? We are also trying to reach them...they only have to sign you out...'
Our reserves of good humour were fast disappearing as sleep, hunger and disappointment hit us and the foolish euphoria and hope about the trip vanished. I told my daughter that I loved her, and that violence was never to be condoned, but she was about to see me get into a fistfight with an airport guard. Luckily at this point, I spotted the skinny lady in red strolling around with two similar skinny ladies in red.
'Hey!' I yelled, waving as though greeting an old friend, let's say, Sanjay. 'HEY! It's US. You have to let us OUT again.'
Unperturbed, she broke away from her friends, and accompanied us to the door, signing in the register our names ( she remembered and I glanced at the register - Yahohara and Anouksa, writing something unintelligible in the column next to our names, which I imagined might be 'Idiots') At this point, I could only take comfort in the fact that our names weren't the only ones on that list. Some other poor suckers had missed their flights too. Stupid Bridge.
'That bridge closure.' I said conversationally to skinny lady 'Bet many people missed their flight because of it today.'
'A few,' she admitted, adding unnecessarily 'Everyone else for the Hyderabad flight made it though. You two were the only ones who missed it.' I decided I hated her and would never speak to her again.
The 1.5 hour journey back was more sombre. After a while, I decided to call Sanjay. I texted him to check if he could get on a video call.
'Hi Yash.' his text read 'Sorry for the delay. It's such a lazy Sunday morning, I just woke up!'
I almost hated him too in that second and reminded myself it wasn't his fault. 'Whenever you're ready.' I texted back.
'Calling.' he replied.
In the next moment, we had his bright shining face beaming at us. 'Hi ! Where are you, Yash? Is that Anoushka? Hiiii.'
'Hello.' I said sardonically. 'We were going to surprise you today. But the bridge was closed, so we missed our flight.' I smiled bravely at him. 'Guess you're not the only one surprised then!'
Peanut corrected me in a whisper 'We didn't get to surprise him.' I gave her the evil eye and turned back to Sanjay.
'Oh Noooooo!' He was delighted and upset at once, of course. 'That's so wonderful! But I feel so bad! But So sweet of you! But ...Oh noooo!'
I felt a little better after speaking to him, and warmly wished him the very best. We promised to surprise each other soon, although we probably ruined it by discussing the options too much.
Very tired by now, I turned to my daughter and told her, with complete honesty 'You know, if I had been through this myself today, I really would have been in a sada hua mood. But somehow, it was almost fun. I'm so happy you were with me. And still being calm and cheerful as much as possible. You're such a great kid.'
'Thanks.' she said expressionless. 'You really humiliated me with the conveyer belt thing.'
We consoled ourselves by eating Sanjay's Toblerone on the way. At least, I did.
Peanut refused, saying matter of factly 'I hate Toblerone. You know that.'
We reach home, and I tell the driver to park some distance from the house. 'Let's surprise Pickle-Papad! Maybe we'll catch them playing a computer game instead of studying!' I am determined to surprise SOMEONE today.
We sneak past their room into the back garden. We end up looking like fools because they are just eating breakfast innocently and have no reaction beyond mild bemusement when they spot us creeping around the lawn, and greet us with 'Hey, you're back. What happened?'
I give up. We tumble into the house, saying simultaneously 'We missed our flight.'
I tell Peanut 'Get some sleep please.' and start to crawl upstairs to my room. I decide I still have a lot to be thankful for. A great home. A bed. Three wonderful kids especially a pretty cool, mature teenager who clearly knows how to deal with a minor crisis and the little inevitable disappointments of life. I hear my kids talking -
'How do you miss a FLIGHT? Duh!'
'We miss it when a BRIDGE is closed, STUPID! Don't even TALK to me, okay?'
I continue to crawl upstairs, clutching my bag closer. The Shortbread and Lindt are still in there. Good for me.