When Lufthansa started their flights from Bangalore to Frankfurt some eight years ago, it was with three flights a week. Due to increase in traffic from Bangalore, the airline increased the number of flights to five every week. I remember vividly that in 2005 we were to fly from Chennai to Frankfurt as there was no flight from Bangalore on the day we were to travel. The number of flights were increased after our booking but before the actual day of travel on 6th June 2005. We were, therefore, allowed to fly from Bangalore to Frankfurt directly and avoid the trip via Chennai. Within a few months, there were daily flights from Bangalore to Frankfurt. All these flights were with medium sized aircraft and the flights were always full. In view of the increase in the demand for more seats from Bangalore, the airline now operates a Boeing-747 aircraft, popularly known as "Jumbo Jet". Despite this the flights are always fully booked and the airline may even consider a second flight from Bangalore! This is despite the downturn in the world economy and bloodbath on US and Europe stock markets.
The Boeing-747 is no doubt the biggest passenger aircraft in operation now (except a few Airbus A-380 introduced recently) but the space available for the passengers is lesser than in other aircraft. Remember the "Cattle Class" comment by Shri Shashi Tharoor and the resultant furore. With the configuration of 3-4-3 seats to accommodate maximum passengers, the person in the middle seat is actually sandwiched between his two co-passengers. His plight is all the more difficult if the persons on either side are huge enough to not only fill their own seats but also spill over the neighbors seat and the 9-hour long flight could be a real test of endurance. On the flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore last Sunday I was in such a situation and I was praying for a lean person on my right (aisle) side, when I took my seat. My prayers were partly answered as the person who came in search of that seat did not spill over to my seat though occupied her own seat quite fully. We smiled at each other and kept a dignified silence for the first three hours. She had a friend traveling with her and sitting on the seat next to her across the aisle. When lunch was being served, her water cup slipped and a small quantity of water fell on her table. I handed over paper napkins immediately and the spilled water broke the ice between us. Thereafter it was a enjoyable exchange of thoughts and experiences for the next six hours.
She was a Danish lady who lives in a place some two hundred miles from Copenhagen and was coming to India to go to Puttaparthy. She was working in the Denmark customs department and now retired from service. Her two grown up sons are employed in Denmark. I asked her whether she was visiting India for the first time or she had been there earlier. She said she had visited India many times and after a count said that this was her 15th visit to India! She was fascinated by the cultural diversity of our country and has been visiting various places in India almost every alternate year. Her first visit was in 1980 to see Taj Mahal and she has visited various places around our country. She had also traveled to many countries in Europe and America. But her first preferred destination is India. "I just love India!", she declared enthusiastically.
I was glad to sit next to someone who has come to our country from Europe for as many as 15 times. She is not a professional or business traveler but one who comes here to enjoy the cultural diversity of our country and its spiritual lineage. She did have her share of troubles like a pick pocket once and a missing bag on another trip. She was not bitter about them and attributed these as hazards of international travel. One of her visits was a week after "Sunami" hit our east coast and resulted in an enormous damage to property and loss of lives. Her group was booked in a Hotel in Mahabalipuram and when they went to check-in, they found that the entire ground floor was filled with sand and they were allotted rooms on the first floor . When her friends were reluctant to check-in, she told them that "Sunami" is not going to visit them again within a week and they should not worry about it!
She described her visit to Mysore at length and even recalled the paintings in the Mysore Palace in detail. When I asked her about Belur-Halebid temples, she explained about the "Dhwaja Sthamba" (the tall stone pillar, in her words) and various other carvings. " I just love the Elephant carvings there", she said. She also explained in detail her visits to the Hospitals and other institutions run by the Sathya Sai Trust. "Baba is no more with us, but his memory is there", she said and appeared to have been perfectly in peace with the changes. She also had fond memories of the "Art of Living" campus. The discussion moved to the Danish Cows in the Hesaraghatta Indo-Danish Dairy Farm and one of her thrills in India was to see worshiping of Cows. She was able to recall minute details of her trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh.
As the final descent to Bengaluru International Airport was announced, she enquired about the exchange rate between Danish Kroner, Euro, Dollar and Rupee. She was happy she had not converted her money into Euro and escaped the loss. Next moment her sense of humor was back. "Look at me, I am talking as if I am carrying a fortune with me!", she burst out laughing.
Thank you Dear visitor from Denmark. May your tribe increase!