Motherland Magazine

Trends, issues & ideas that shape contemporary Indian culture

We Are Like This Only!

A fine line separates freedom from anarchy – on a bangalore to delhi flight, our correspondent struggles to see the line at all.



I've never known a people to value freedom more than the Indians. Freedom from queues, freedom from seat belts, freedom from placing their seat backs and tray tables into the full upright position, freedom from listening to any warning about remaining in the seat during takeoff and landing, about not using the toilet at a certain time, freedom from obeying any luggage restrictions or warnings about using mobile phones.

Yeah, the mobile phones: I dreamt of a new kind of warning. Instead of the clearly too subtle, "using mobile phones may interfere with the plane's equipment," I heard the PA system issue the unequivocal notice: "If you use your mobile phone to make that one last call there's a high chance that it'll scramble the pilot's controls and we'll all plummet into the ground and die a horrible burning death and it will be all your fault." Personally, I'm yet to be convinced of precisely what mobile phones actually do to the plane's controls but as far as I'm concerned:

1) The warning exists.2) Someone has seen fit to bring it into existence. 3) These people clearly have a reason to do so and...4) It doesn't hurt to obey it.

But this is the difference between me and the average Indian. It seems to genuinely hurt them to obey the rules, as if their liberty is being trampled on from a great height. It hurts to obey the rules which in all likelihood are there to make everyone's life easier . These Indians just can't seem to help themselves.

Of course I've known about all this for a long time now, but it hit me like an epiphany on an early morning flight from Bangalore to Delhi. Maybe it was the lack of sleep and the very early start which reduced my tolerance, but every single person around me seemed to be pathologically incapable of doing what they were told.

So it started in the departure lounge. Highly educated, urbane, technologically adept young men sporting mobile phone headsets and carrying laptops, elegant and no doubt morally upright women, mothers, fathers, children, brothers, wives, sons, sisters, aunts and uncles, human beings – all transforming into desperados before my eyes, desperate to get that one inch closer to the departure gate when the flight was announced, bringing out their well trained and sharpened elbows to wedge into that mythical spot just ahead, some vague and opaque and presumably ancient fear blossoming in their collective minds that told them against all reason and logic that maybe if they don't get on the plane RIGHT NOW, even though it has only just been announced for boarding and isn't going anywhere for at least another forty-five minutes, then the plane might leave them behind and they will be stranded. Once the initial scramble to get to the front dies down and some sort of line system forms, the next stage of pushing begins, the war of attrition, where shuffled little steps and slow shoulder and elbow work are employed to guarantee that at least no one gets past you. It's a full-time job. Maybe they should make it a national sport.

Once on board, the crew stresses repeatedly that passengers should sit in the seats assigned to them. There' s a kind of forlorn look on their faces now. It seems clear that no one, and I mean no one, should tell these people where they ought to sit. I couldn't help laughing when two men, doctor types, who were probably used to the 'best', demanded to speak to the manager when they didn't like their seats.


Published: Jan, 2011

Illustrations: Venki