Tuesday, October 6, 2015


JRD in the diamond jubilee edition of 'Namaskar'
When I was an air hostess with Air India in the seventies under JRD Tata (before Morarji Desai thought fit to ‘fire’ him), we were proud to be called Air Indians. Not only was the training rigorous, as I am sure it is for new employees even today, everything spelt class. Our sarees and salwars showcased the best of India. Our caterers put a lot of thought and effort into preparing the menu. The wines and cheeses were carefully selected. On the whole, things ran smoothly for most flights with prompt action being taken by both, the ground staff and cabin crew, to ensure mistakes weren't repeated.

'Quality' was the buzz word, as was loyalty. We were happy and felt privileged to be employees of a mighty corporation. We were aware that benefits and privileges were shared by one and all. We had a medical department to look after every employee. We were secure, and sure our salaries, allowances and bonuses would be paid on time.

JRD was fired in 1978. I remember, most Indians were shocked, angry and upset.

Today, it is no secret that Air India is broke. We've all witnessed the gradual slide, none, more so, than insiders - people who work for the airline. To bring it down to cabin services level, let me give you a small example. Recently, I saw a little square of processed cheese wrapped in foil and accompanied by a single wilted (no exaggeration) lettuce leaf as part of the cheese platter. When we sat our food, wine and cheese tests or did the wet runs (explained as a footnote), I remember we had to know the names of twenty or thirty cheeses. I can only imagine the hot and embarrassed faces of the poor flying staff as they faced first class passengers with the "Air India Cheese Platter". It would have been better not to have served one at all.

Working for Air India under JRD Tata filled me with pride. Who chaired the airline after that? Don’t ask me. I quickly stake my claim to a poor memory. I've always suffered from Poor Memory Syndrome or PMS. BUT, I have no problems recalling the name, ‘JRD Tata’.

Which almost brings me to the point of this post and I hope you've enjoyed the detour.

In those days, a minuscule part of our service was addressing first class passengers by name.

Having a constant flow of passengers, three boarding at Bombay (as it was known then), two getting off at Delhi, but five getting on, it was a constant challenge to remember their names. I solved the problem by having a little scrap of paper concealed behind the bar in the cabin, with names and seat numbers of my passengers. I have no idea what my passengers thought of my frequent detours to the bar.

How is all that connected to an author's name? Today, when I pick up a novel, I still suffer from PMS for most author names. My PMS is worse because, not only am I older, there are far too many author names, some eminently forgettable,  to remember. Everyone has a story to tell and many, without making the effort to learn at least a few basic tools to tell it well.

If I reach a point in a book where I feel I am exactly where I want to be, right there, alongside those very characters, I feel a strong urge to pause and savour the moment. I flip the book over and remind myself of the author’s identity.

Daphne du Maurier
Who is it again, whose words are so wise, so thoughtful, amusing or clever? Whose words break my heart? Whose diabolical plot has me worried for their character’s safety?

Take the first Morris Gleitzman I read, "Two Weeks With The Queen." It had me laughing helplessly even as I felt choked with emotion. I loved what he wrote and especially what he left unsaid. Genius.

For me, that is what’s in an author’s name. It is the one name, out of millions, that is worth remembering.

It is the author whose work evokes enjoyment, appreciation and respect.

Wet Runs - An exciting part of our training when the service on board is emulated in the mockup at training school. Most of us pretended to be passengers. Two trainee airhostesses and two trainee pursers do the entire first class lunch or dinner service with real food and real bottles of wines filled (sadly) with water.

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