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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 

Maximum Ceetee

“Coffee, sir?”

“I prefer it strong and black”.

An early morning check-in and he still sounded groggy.

“Ummm, I thought I said no sugar too”.

“Mmmmm… Sir, can I ask you a question ?”

Raised eyebrow, quizzical.

“You asked for the black coffee, and then sent me back to get the sugarless stuff, so you could call me back twice, didn’t you?”

Dancing eyes, unsaid promises of deviltry. He beckoned her closer.

“Sweetheart , I wanted this particular concoction because it is the only thing that blends in colourwise, and masks the smell of, the rum I’m carrying in the hipflask without spoiling the taste.”

She was scandalised. “ Drinking is not permitted on national flights, Sir!”

Aaj kuch toh nasha, aap ki baat ka hai,
Aur thoda nasha, bheeni barsaat ka hai
Humme aap yunhi, sharaabi na kahiye
Yeh dil pe asar, toh mulaaqaat ka hai

He breathed, almost into her ear. To any of the other passengers, she was just a solicitous airhostess removing old newspapers from the bag in front. She shook her head, blushing, and left.

“Sir, SIR !”

He shook himself awake, and saw her terrified face inches away.

“We’re gonna crash! The weather is really bad and we’re losing control and the starboard engine just died and …”

He gave her an unhurried peck on the cheek.

“Mmmmm, if I’d known you were wearing this perfume, I wouldn’t have bothered with the alcohol, Angeleyes.”

He pushed her gently into the seat, and tucked the napkin with scrawled writing into her palm. He made his way into the cockpit. The sky outside was a maelstrom of inky clouds scudding along. He felt that familiar tightness in his temples. The solitary cold drop of sweat along the ridge of the back, each millimeter it moved tingling, making him more alive, more keenly aware of the shrieking dances of a million ghouls outside.

“Who?” The Captain twisted in his seat at this intrusion, and then a streak of lightning lit up the cockpit, and he half rose. The fresh faced kid next to him rose with pinched features, still pulling a brave face. “ Mister, this is out of bounds. Leave NOW”. Like the thin red line in the east that is the precursor to brilliant day, his voice had a dawn of hysteria.

The Captain gestured him into silence, the clutching of a drowning man at a lifebelt.

“Just like old times, Sonny ?”, he said. “Get in and lets us see if you have forgotten what I taught you about flying”. The Captain nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He eased into the still warm seat, and the Captain displaced the rookie at the co-pilot’s controls. He raised an eyebrow, and grimacing, the Captain rose, pulled a wet tissue from the bunch, and jammed it into the detector on the top. He smiled a bleak smile then, and lit up.


“ We know the problem; this hydraulic line is clogged and we dare not cut it. For one, we don’t have anything to patch it up with, and for the second, we cannot lose any more fluid. To top it all, the weather is terrible, zero visibility, buffeting winds”.

Outside, the thunder boomed, a heavenly tom-tom of drums calling the clouds to witness the punishment of these upstarts who dared the heavens.

He reached down to the thin rubber hose and yanking it off, knotted it above the clot. He turned to the rookie. “Go to the Cutesome who called me. Get her case”, he said. The rookie scurried and returned with the relief of contributing. He opened the case, and whistled as he upended it. Frilly wisps fell to the floor, with a compact, brushes and bottles of stuff. He picked up a bottle of varnish and a reel of floss. Pinching the rubber, he opened out the clogged portion and removed the block. “Tell Laura I love her”, he hummed, as he applied a sticky plaster to the cut, splinting it with a broken off plastic spoon. He dipped the floss in the varnish, and still wet, wound it around the splint. “Give it 30 seconds to harden”, he said.

“Now as far as the fluid loss is concerned...” He removed the hip flask and handed it to the Captain. “Never travel without emergency rations”, he said. The Captain poured into the tube, carefully. He undid the knot, plugged it in again and the system’s vein pulsed as it started functioning once more.

He stubbed out the cigarette, and the Captain recited the practiced litany of the landing checkoffs. “Not a dry eye in the house”, he sang, terribly off-key. The landing was tense but uneventful, and he nodded to the rookie as he stood up. “Sing like me, but fly like him”, he said, indicating the Captain, and then he was gone.

The airhostess looked at him wide-eyed. “I thought we were lost”, she said. “Never a doubt, lass”, he said. And he misquoted so smoothly that she took some time to realise it

The art of kissing isn't hard to master;
so many pretty things seem filled with the intent
to be missed, it's a question of who is faster.

He patted her cheek, and said “This city is the final refuge. Never a doubt that I would reach there”. He pointed to the crumpled paper she still kept in her hand. As he reached for his battered case from the rack, she unfurled it, and read the scrawled lines. Even as she looked up in dawning comprehension, he was leaving.

The tears stung her eyes as he walked away, and she furiously blinked through the mist as she called out.

“Sir ?”

He turned, already the puzzled generic nondescript, armoured in obscurity.

“ Namaskaar and thank you for flying Indian. We hope you will be with us again”.

“Don’t let them promise you a Rose Garden, Toothsome”, he winked, and then his visage shuttered as he turned to face the City.


Across barriers of decades, context and culture, the original to which we have paid this tribute has been a beacon of poignant humour. Read it.


Milds, yes, Patrix.




exanti ...
What, no atlas .. how greens ?

(inna mapillai, eppidi keere ?)

pointing a finger @mitty...and injunction to READ IT - overkill we thot. but of coss - who else could it have been BUT!!!

Pex Luthor : Read also the link to the misquoted poem.

Overkill ? We hold strong opinions about said piece.

(And you may not believe it, but yes, I have some across people who haven't read the original.)

In fact, I was sorely tempted to put the link to Thurber at the start of the post, rather than the end.


Patrix, where is the desipundit link, I say?

Ayyo Morning Belle, tis the wrong window you type at.

Desipundit.com, link which says tip off.

Thats where Siamese clans should be clicking.

(Thai kulams, i.e)


Luthor??? who be he? or did u perchance mean lothar: leopard-print leotards??? NEVER ;)

strong opinions @ mitty - we concur.

i married one that hadn't heard of thurber! oh the shame - now that u know - will we ever live it down.

forbearance@link - appreciated.

wots with thai kulams et al.?

PS: the ignorance, re. thurber, modified to informed (not yet knowledgeable tho).

Lex Luthor of course ... super villain in Superman!

And of course you had to marry one who did not know of Thurber. The joys of making a fresher read and watching them discover ... which reminds me, haven't you read the link over misquoted poem yet ?

Of coss i read the link (STAT)....coded messages? i refuse to get em.

BUT - some things are meant NEVER to get lost. A story for some long wide-awake night.

did the firing squad get you...or just lost in your reveries???

Not fired yet ... not fired up either :)

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