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“Bhagawane! Endu cheyyaana” (O God, what can I do!) From childhood, I was soft-hearted, always moved to tears by tragic stories. I did study journalism but found it was not for me, for it did not offer a ‘Tearjerker Diploma Course’. I learnt a bit of cinematography and then, persuaded by my friend Nandini Reddy, strayed into acting. It was easy becoming a heroine in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam movies, around 35 so far, winning awards and what not. I love emotional roles, always helping the underdogs.
Who would have thought this attitude would lead me into trouble and embarrassment? During a recent Bangalore-Hyderabad flight, I found the two pilots with woebegone expressions, sighing, wiping their tears and so on. Naturally, my sympathies wee aroused, I wanted to help them because they were piloting our aircraft. The pilots recognised me and, while getting my autograph, asked if I could come into the cockpit.
Honest, in all my innocence, I did not know it was forbidden territory. Well, once I was in the cockpit, the pilots began to narrate their tales of woe. You know it was shocking, the ‘Maharaja’ pilots had not been paid for the last six months, their allowances had been slashed and they owed money everywhere. It seems this was AI’s new strategy to save money. I was shocked to learn that hundreds of AI pilots had resigned and opened vegetable shops, shoe-shine stalls and paper delivery outlets to make a living. These people were sad, tears flowed from their eyes and I could not stop my own. The pilots could not even offer me a glass of water because of AI’s economy drive.
You know, they said Air India is now a horror story, and should be named ‘Apakadam’ (hazardous) Airlines. Things were much better on the sets of my first film, The Monkey Who Knew Too Much, made many years back. Want to know more horrors? Almost all profitable routes sold to Jet Airways. A huge number of seats (in thousands) are sold to other foreign airlines every week despite our pending orders for dozens of new aircraft worth billions of dollars. The staff is going to seed too. It’s true that we South Indian female stars are bulky...but you should see the female cabin crew of Air India.
Listening to their talk, time passed quickly. The pilot boys gave me the ‘observer’ seat so that I could observe everything that was going on. Now I hear the two boys have been derostered pending an inquiry for allowing me into the cockpit. But they were not upset. In many earlier cases, pilots had flown with airhostesses seated on their laps. But then with no salaries, no allowances, no food and water, there should be some perks for our maharajas. With so much masala, I think I will talk to our ageing superhero Mohanlal to make a film on ‘Apakadam Airlines’.
The Mumbai-based satirist is the creator of ‘Trishanku’; E-mail your secret diarist: vgangadhar70 AT gmail.com