The Delhi-Mumbai afternoon flight was almost full. As I put my cell phone on Airplane mode, I felt the loss of regular communication with everyone. It was so sad.

The plane took off from Delhi in time. I was there at the window seat. Two young ladies were sitting beside me. They were talking and giggling all the time, ignoring the modern life’s trappings and they had no time to even look at me.

The snippets of their conversation floated down on my ear and I could know about the music tastes or dance styles or silver bowls. I was dozing off already and ultimately fell asleep. In my dream, the bright lights and the shiny objects in the airport shops lured me into a shop but I didn’t have money to buy all those great stuff.

 I was awakened by a tap on my shoulder,

‘Sorry to disturb you. Sir, would you go for 8 minutes Veg Biryani? It’s hot and really good. You can opt for that’. I saw the young lady sitting beside me on the middle seat looked at me with an apologetic smile. The cabin crew stood bland in front of us with the food cart. I was surprised to notice that the young lady sitting beside me, was so kind to have a chat with a stranger like me about this; it’s effortless,

I was perplexed but managed to smile back. ‘Ok, fine, but what about you?’ ‘I too will go for Biryani but my friend Reena is not well. She will take only chocolate chips. I cannot find a great cappuccino now. So, chai for all three of us. Isn’t it ok?’ Her words in lips added with a flicker of smile.

Not having to explain myself first and my cultural background meant we could just get on with the conversation. It’s a great relief and it went on till she told me ‘Sir, I am Tamil. My name is Suha….Suhashini’ Do you know the meaning of my name?’ She sounded like an indulgent teacher. I kept silent and stuck in a time warp.

Her clothing hung loosely. She wore black kurtas with red border and halve sleeves rolled on. Black clip in oily hair was palpable. A prominent black bindi was there on her forehead.

She smiled again and after a pause she said ‘Sweet Laughter’.
I whispered ‘That’s so sweet’.
She nodded off with a lively expression.
‘By the way, where do you stay?’ I asked.
‘I stay at Powai. My friend is at Boriveli.’
‘I am at Bandra’ I retorted.
‘I love Mumbai so much. Life here is so much more vibrant’
‘What about Chennai?’
‘Chennai is also vibrant but not like Mumbai’. She tied her falling hair with another clip.
‘I hardly go there. I was born and brought up here and now I am working here in Powai. I love the smell of Mumbai. I don’t like Delhi’. Her friend really looked sick with red eyes.

She took a pause, ‘The cultural nuances are so very different. We have some work there and lucky to come back early’. She felt elated and continued chatting. Reena did unwind herself in a book. We talked about slums, rain, fashion and crowd of Mumbai. She was never tired of talking. Light was still there in the sky yet the grey clouds were building up. A bird flew down to the distant green field down under. I was floating somewhere inside and perhaps succumbed to the sound of her voice.

She shouted all on a sudden, leaning on my shoulder and looking at the window, ‘See the stiff cliffs and the Konkan coast. It’s so beautiful. I absolutely love it’. Her shining and attentive eyes were on the late evening shadows downward. It was cloudy outside.

‘Oh My God! See such a dense cloud. You know what, I hate to see clouds while on board. Such a hurdle for the pilots. Honestly I am scared of turbulence’.

‘Nothing will happen. Don’t worry!’ I assured her.

She was silent for a while and then without lifting her eyes, replied ‘You look so cool and calm. How can you be like that?’

I was a bit embarrassed and exhilarated at the same time. Then both of us immersed into sweet laughter.

The plane was descending and the seat belt sign was on. She was drawn to its uplifting core but now became calm and steel. A mellow sun was sinking at the horizon.

Finally, our flight landed safely in Mumbai. I had only one hand luggage with me. Suha had effortlessly collected three bags from the overhead locker. Before moving on, shook hands with me ‘Love to meet you. Goodbye, Sir, Hope we may meet again somewhere’. ‘Best of luck’, I said in a low depressing tone.

She smiled again. Her look was elegant with large eyes, full lips and soft cheekbones. I enjoyed this tiny moment. She lingered for a while before moving on.

It’s sundown time with a faint darkness surrounding the airport. Handrails and banisters along the well-lit stairs of one plane were seen at a distance. Our plane was connected to an aerobridge.  There were announcements where we should go to collect our baggage. It’s all so organized and, believe me, I could not appreciate the detail.

I was walking behind Suha and Reena. I could feel the sadness building as I descended the steps of the escalator. They were walking at a brisk pace and finally so languidly, so swiftly Suha has vanished into the crowd near the conveyor belt that I could not trace her anymore.

I whispered to myself ‘If we ever meet again, I shall never let you, Suha, to go like this’. She got the way she walked and finally got inside my soul. We could not meet again but her fragrance lingers even today.

[Gopal Lahiri]


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