TRAVEL TRAVAILS by Maya Chandrasekaran

You know what I’ve always wished scientists would invent? - a molecular transference machine, something like they have in ‘Star Trek’. You know, where, if you want to travel from place to another, you just say, "Beam me up, Scottie," and bingo, one minute you’re in Bangalore, and the next you’re in Melbourne. Yes, that’s my kind of travel, where you don’t have to stand in long queues and be barked at by short - tempered customs officials; or sit in a stuffy airport lounge, waiting for a plane that’s only five hours late.

But, grouches apart, air travel does throw up (pun intended) some unusual situations. I must tell you about this one : We were all sitting in a lounge waiting to board the plane, when the entire flight crew, smartly dressed, and very supercilious looking, marched past us to the gate that lead to the plane. They did not deign to look at any of us, and we, in our turn, gazed in awe at these superior beings. Then, five minutes later, they walked back with considerably less bounce in their strides, and decidedly sheepish looks on their faces - it appeared that no one had told them that the plane they were to be crewing hadn’t even arrived yet!

Another phenomenon that I’ve noticed is that the moment it is announced that passengers can board the plane, everyone rushes forward frantically. I mean, what’s the rush? It’s not like the person who goes first gets the best seat. Linked to this is the phenomenon that occurs when the plane lands. Even before the wheels touch the ground, people are jumping up with their hand - luggage and elbowing their way to the plane doors. How they expect to get out when the steps haven’t arrived, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll jump?!

There’s nothing that pains an Indian more than travelling under his travel allowance. He’s given a travel allowance of say, twenty kgs. And he’s determined to get his money’s worth. Consequently, you’ll see any number of people travelling with packages of assorted shapes and sizes.

And air travel brings you in contact with some of the nicest people like : the little kid behind you, who alternately kicks your seat and throws food at you; or the man in front of you, who’s drunk on complimentary booze one hour into the flight; or the couple next to you who insist on keeping the overhead lights on all night! And don’t you just hate it when you’ve been travelling all night (and let me tell you, no matter what they say in all those airline ads, those seats were made with anything but comfort in mind), you’re grimy and achy, the kid behind you chatted for five hours, non - stop, and the flight attendant passes by and says brightly, "Good morning!" Good?! What’s so good about it?

OK, you don’t fancy air travel, but travelling by train isn’t such a good idea, unless of course, you enjoy arriving late all the time. The Railway Board should be sued for misrepresentation. "Express," indeed! And then of course, there are chances that the tracks may be under water, railway workers may be on strike, or the train may be derailed, or a plane might fall on the train!

But, I must admit, train travel has one advantage over plane travel - you get to see some decent scenery along the way.

Finally, there’s bus travel. Let’s see, you have a choice between hard, lumpy seats, harder, lumpier seats and hardest, lumpiest seats. Don’t be fooled by names, either. Whoever called them luxury buses had a sick sense of humour. One other delight of bus travel is that you get to watch loud, violent, gory movies to your hearts delight (courtesy of the ‘VCR Bus’). And hey, if the print is back, or the picture shakes a lot, don’t worry, the bus also shakes in perfect sync with the movie.

So, have you finally decided how you’re going to travel on your next holiday? Hey! That’s a good idea - let’s all just stay home!