[This was written last Thursday] I’ve driven the Bombay-Pune stretch, been driven, ridden a bike (that’s a motorcycle), taken the bus, the train, on numerous occasions.. But I’d never flown. It’s 100 miles by road, a little longer by train. It’s 78 miles as the crow (and most planes, at least on this stretch) flies. Not a distance it was ever necessary to shell out the cash for a flight.
I had a four hour layover coming in from Baroda, so I left Santacruz Airport, after haggling with the rickshawalla (“I’ll pay you more than the meter, just turn it on please!” after a long whiny, “Saab, I’ve been waiting for two hours for custom, just pay what you want.” When my “Well, I’ll pay you five rupees” didn’t work, he turned the meter on, and I gave him ten rupees over it. Why on earth is it assumed that if one is coming from the airport, one is obliged to shell out more rupees? Sheesh … ), and had lunch with a friend who works near Sahar, the international airport.
Precisely at 3:55 pm they started boarding the 4:25 pm flight. On the short bus-ride from the terminal, I smile as two middle-aged Indian American gentlemen (one with wife and kids in tow) discuss living in New Jersey. Oh gosh! I miss hearing an American accent! The plane pushed back on time then slowly trundled towards Rwy 27. I think we were about 15th for take-off. (This time the co-pilot was foreign, a Greek name. Last month, the captain had a thick Eastern European accent. The burgeoning airline industry in Asia is desperately short of pilots and experienced foreign pilots can command a good salary.) Of-course, once close to the runway, I couldn’t tire of watching the planes coming in to land. First two sets of bright landing lights in the grey distance, above the slums. Then a shape appearing, the aircraft rolling and yawing as the pilot maintains the centerline. Then over the threshold in a flash, and touchdown! (It never seems this fast from within the aircraft …).
At 4:53 pm, we were lined up to take off to the east, and then hurtling down the runway, climbing out over the suburbs, followed by a steep bank to the south east, right over Bandra, the spires of Mt. Mary clearly visible, as well as Bandra Fort, Lilavati Hospital and the park at Reclamation. The Bandra-Worli Sealink jutting out into Mahim Bay, still a few years from completion. Gosh, I wish I had my camera (idiot!)! Then diagonally across the city, over the vast eastern lands of the Bombay Port Trust, across the harbor and over the new port on the mainland at Nhava Sheva, and the suburban train tracks of the Belapur line, before disappearing into the clouds.
The aircraft levels out at about 15000 feet? 18000? Couldn’t have been more. A few minutes later, we’re bumping through the clouds again, and the lush green fields on the Deccan Plateau appear (they’re green only ‘cause it’s the monssons!) … there’s the Indrayani River, waters muddy brown, swollen in the recent rains; the Bombay-Pune train line, and the very un-Indian Bombay-Pune Expressway (India’s first controlled accsess Interstate-style highway) curving by. Soon the suburbs of Pimpri-Chinchwad appear. The aircraft does a steep left 360 degree bank, a full-circle, descending rapidly, flaps slowly extending, before lining up to land at Pune’s Lohegaon airport. About 20 feet above the ground, the pilot cuts the thrust. “Woah, here it comes!” I think and … Bam! The plane hits the tarmac hard, yawing sharply to keep the centerline, as the thrust reversers deploy, and the brakes push everyone forward, all that kinetic energy being dissipated with a loud roar and lots of shuddering and shaking. A line of IAF MiGs, cockpits cracked open, whizzes by on the left. Then a left turn towards the terminal, a drab, grey concrete structure, reminiscent of a socialist state where joy and beauty are criminal luxuries of the evil bourgeoisie, having no place in a workers’ paradise. Turns out it’s just under construction.
Total flight time? Eighteen minutes. We literally spent more time on the ground in Bombay, than in the air.
Can you tell I like flying?
[Oh, as one enters the terminal there’s a row of Immigration desks! Well, apparently, there are now a few non-stop flights from Pune to the Gulf, so it’s an international airport! Well, I never.]