Kalidasa had a special affinity for the city of Ujjain, better known for the magnificent Mahakaal temple. The name Mahakaal denotes the big Shivalinga in the Mahakaal temple. This city located on the banks of river Kshipra in the Malwa area of Madhya Pradesh state in Central India is a pilgrimage and tourist centre since more than two thousand years. Many people argue that Kalidasa hailed from Ujjain due to his animated references to this city in his works. There is a strong belief that he was one of the Navamanis (Nine Gems) in the court of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. Of course, many others claim that Kalidasa was from their area as well.
Kalidasa knew that birds and objects flying in the air should naturally go in a straight line since that is the shortest distance between any two given points. Yet, he specifically advises the cloud messenger in his Meghadoota to take a detour (वक्रः पन्था यदपि भवतः - 29th sloka) and fly over Ujjain instead of going in a straight line to its destination in the Himalayas. This is despite his own urgency to send a quick message to his beloved wife living in Alaka Nagari in the Himalayas. He emphasis that there are distinct advantages in taking a detour on certain occasions, like the darshan of Lord Mahakaal and sight-seeing tour of the city of Ujjain.
Joel Garner, recently appointed as the Manager of the West Indies Cricket Team, was a much feared fast bowler in his playing days (1977-1987). Though he was a part of the famous four-pronged West Indian pace attack and was in the company of illustrious names such as Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall, he held his own as a fast bowler. He stood 6 feet 8 inches tall and and the balls he bowled fell like coconuts from a coconut tree. Batsmen facing him would say that it was as if the balls were coming down from the clouds! For this feat he was nicknamed the "Big Bird". While he could bowl only fewer overs due to his being a part of the big attack, he took 259 test wickets in 58 tests with a cheap run rate of 20.97 per wicket. His economy rate in one-day cricket was a miserly 3.09 mainly due to his toe crunching yorkers. The batsmen were more concerned in saving their feet than scoring runs against him. Big Bird - Big Eggs was the popular saying in those days denoting the big wicket hauls he took in the matches he played.
Air Bus A-380 is the biggest bird flying in the sky today. It is bigger than the Boeing-747 and has successfully challenged the Jumbo jet that ruled the sky for nearly three decades. Its physical facts are astounding. Its length is 73 meters (240 feet) and height is 24 meters (79 feet). At 80 meters (262 feet), its wing span is more than one and a half times of a football field (160 feet). Its Zero fuel weight (mere weight of the plane) is 361,000 Kilograms (KGs). It can take off from the runway with a load of 560,000 KGs and its 10 fuel tanks can carry 3,20,000 liters of aviation fuel. Refueling can be done in just 40 minutes. It can fly non-stop for 15000 kilometers or 9,320 miles. Its double decker body can carry 550 to 850 passengers depending on the configuration of first, business and economy classes. Its four Rolls Royce or General Electric engines lift and hold this massive plane for 18 hours and enable it to cruise at a height of up to 43,000 feet. It can provides the luxury of a bar, a gym and a duty free shop in its huge body. It needs a 3 kilometer long runway for takeoff or landing. At 400 million USD, it is the costliest civilian airplane today.
All these are mere statistics unless one flies on a long journey in this huge aircraft. Emirates is the biggest user of Airbus A-380 today with 82 such planes in its big inventory. Its A-380 fleet connects 40 cities on long haul flights extending up to 17 hours non-stop. The Airline has been the winner of "World's Best Airline" recognition this year from "Skytrax World Skyline Awards". Emirates also has won the "Best in-flight entertainment award" for 12 years in succession. It is no surprise that Emirates has been a major tool in the emergence of Dubai as a world tourist and business hub.
A journey on its Dubai-Washington DC (Dulles airport) sector today was a memorable experience. The flight duration was a little over 14 hours. The cabin crew consisted of persons from 20 countries who could speak 18 different languages. The entire lower deck was configured for economy class passengers (First class and Business classes were accommodated in the upper deck) and this provided the luxury of sitting in the first row of a plane in an economy class seat. The flight was wifi-enabled and the seats were very comfortable with lots of room and leg space. The windows were larger than those in other aircrafts and gave a magnificent view of the outside scenery. The three cameras on the plane (bottom, side and the top of the tail) gave a continuous coverage on the individual TV screen for interested passengers. The interior for the early morning take-off was lighted in a special way to give the effect of sitting below a star-studded night sky. It was instrumental in inducing fast sleep to those who wanted to spend a large part of the 14 hours in deep sleep.
All passengers were given a small pouch with eye-blinds, a pair of soft socks and tooth brush and paste. 900 movies on the inflight entertainment in many languages from different parts of the world gave company to movie buffs. Music and news channels engaged interested others. There were movies in all indian languages as well as classics from Hollywood and Bollywood. The distance of 7355 miles (11,367 kilometers) was covered in a little over 14 hours with a cruise at 40,000 feet above sea level. The take off was one of the smoothest such experience. There were very few turbulent moments on such a long flight. Even while losing altitude for landing, there were no jerks. Landing was equally smooth. One could feel fresh and relaxed despite the long legs of transatlantic journey.
It is often a curse to be a vegetarian on long haul flights. But not so on this flight. It was a privilege to be a vegetarian today. A special vegetarian meal was delivered ahead of all others in a tray with a sticker having one's own name on it! You can be enjoying your vegetarian delight when all others are still waiting for their turns.
Emirates has emerged as a preferred airline for passengers the world over. People from India taking transatlantic flights to continental America are using Emirates flights more and more instead of traveling via Europe for various considerations including cost and service.
Kalidasa was indeed right when he advised the cloud to take a detour instead of flying directly in a straight line. There were other flying alternatives but a slight detour on a Airbus A-380 was indeed worth it. A three hour drive to the final destination instead of an alternative of one hour drive did not matter.
Emirates flies A-380 aircrafts to New York and Washington DC on the Atlantic side, and Los Angels and San Francisco to the Pacific coast side of USA. Take a flight on the world's best airline in a big bird flying in the sky. It would be a memorable experience. Vakrah panthaa Yadapi bhavatah ..... Even if it is a slight detour for you.......