When miracles happen too often, they cease to be miracles. The opposite is also true. When you start traveling less and less, every travel starts seeming like a miracle. That is why when I kept aside work and decided to make a 3-day trip to Madurai it seemed nothing short of a miracle.
The main objective of the trip was to pay homage to my father on the shores of Trichendur temple, on his fifth death anniversary. There were side plots – meeting school friends in Chennai and also seeing progress of the house we had bought on the IT highway in Chennai.
So, on 31 Sept I was on a Jet Airways flight to Chennai. It was quite uneventful, except for the moment when the young Air Hostess walked up to me and said, “What would you have for breakfast, sir?”
I loved the way, “Sir” rolled off her tongue. There are only a few things that could have rolled off her tongue better. “Please call me Jammy,” I told her.
“What would you have for breakfast, Jammy?”
“I will have whatever you give me, even if it is poison.” I replied with my trademark smile writ large on my face.
“Sir, the rules that apply to you also apply to us. We can’t carry poison on the flight. The closest I have is this crimson colored lipstick, which is only for external use.”
At this point I noticed a tinge of disappointment in her voice maybe because she couldn’t test my love for her by offering me the poison.
To lift her spirits, I agreed to have the chicken sandwich she had and the chocolate brownie that came with it. It was not poison but came close to it. It sure helped, because once she had served me she got on with her job as if nothing had happened. If at all she was disappointed (of which I was sure) she didn’t show it.
While parting ways, I just got unlucky. My favorite air hostess’ supervisor was standing right next to her and saying “Thank you!” which meant even now my girl couldn’t express her love for me. She gave me a curt, “Thanks”
Once at the Chennai Airport, I bought a magazine and sat under a television to wile away two hours of waiting time. The beauty of waiting with a magazine in hand is that people mistake you for an educated gentleman and thus stop by to ask all sorts of questions:
– Sir, where are the washrooms?
– Sir, could you direct me to Gate No 6 please?
– Sir, I am to meet my girlfriend and in movies I have seen that when boyfriend-girlfriend meet at the airport, flowers are exchanged. Please advice me – who gives the flowers to whom?
– Sir, where did you buy this magazine? There are some pretty girls around and I also want to look educated.
– Sir, Mahindra Holidays gifted me a 2-nights vacation for filling up a form in a shopping mall. They said I had to buy my own Air Tickets to reach there, which I did…now I am wondering if I got cheated.
Anyway, it was time to board the flight to Madurai. Once in the van which was to take me to the airplane parked deep inside, on the tarmac, I noticed a 90+ years old, loud lady. Like me she was also headed to Madurai. But unlike me, she was accompanied by her teenager grand-grand son who was too embarrassed to even stand next to her. Looking at the speed at which this van was getting filled, I knew it was going to be a long embarrassing phase in the teenager’s life.
I moved towards the old lady and commented, “”First time on flight, is it?”
“Yes indeed,” she replied. Her smile was evident, so were the presence of out-of-work gums. With no teeth what were her gums supposed to work with?
“You excited?” I tried to humor her. Besides, I had also decided to teach the teenager a lesson – that traveling with an elderly person isn’t a source of embarrassment.
We indulged in small talk, and in a while the van started moving. After a five minute journey (maybe our driver was pissed with his wife for he drove very slow) the van came to a stop in front of the airplane we were to board to reach Madurai.
The moment the van stopped, the old lady exclaimed, “This was so fast! Who would have thought air travel would be so quick!”
At that moment, everybody looked at the lady. And gave me a dry smile suggesting they understood my pain. I so much wanted to shout out, “No no….I am not with her.” But held back.
At this the teenager neared the old lady and on his way whispered into my ears, “Now you know what I mean…don’t you?” Then he turned towards the lady and said, “No grandma, we haven’t reached Madurai yet – we have only reached the airplane which will take us to Madurai.”
At this the old lady got very miffed. The teenager then helped the old lady get up and walk to the airplane. Her displeasure was evident for all to see.
It is always nice to be inside flights travelling to small towns. You have all the wannabe alpha-males who have broken their bonds with small towns but haven’t yet arrived in the big towns. This is what I would call the transition phase. I myself was in this phase sometime back.
Once inside the airplane, I messaged my wife and my mother that I was on my way and put my iPhone in Airplane mode. The guy next to me messaged Dawood. Yes, you read it right. He sent this SMS to Dawood, “In the flight. Hope the car is waiting. All excited to see the small bomb. When is it due?”
I didn’t know what to do. Not just India, but the whole Interpol was looking for Dawood and here I was sitting next to the man who knew his mobile number and was also going to meet him. I had to do something. But had to be careful – what if this man was armed?
I couldn’t call 100. The moment I switched on my mobile, he would know that I knew more than I should and kill me. I couldn’t borrow somebody else’s number and call 100 – what if the mobile lender asked me (that too loudly) why I called the police when I was inside an airplane? It was a moment that we Rajans are made for – a moment that required fortitude and resilience (if you also want to use such high-sounding words Thesaurus is a good book to start with).
My high IQ paid off. I took out the banana inside my pocket and covered it with my kerchief and stuck it into the sides of Dawood-aide’s stomach.
Before he could react, I asked him in a stern voice. The sternness that you generally see teachers use in the classrooms of the world. “How are you connected to Dawood?
He was completely taken by surprise for he asked me, “What is that you are sticking to my sides?”
“That’s a loaded gun you dumbf*&ck!” I shouted at the top of my voice.
Being an Army man’s son, from the very beginning I had been taught that the louder you yell, the scarier you will seem. It is another thing that when Jawahar Lal Nehru & Krishna Menon’s Indian Army fought the Chinese in 1962, loud cries of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ or ‘Har Har Mahadev’ didn’t spell fear in the Chinese hearts. I will attribute it to lack of Hindi speaking & listening skills of the Chinese.
Anyway, my tone & tenor seemed to have the desired effect for the man bundled up and surrendered. “What do you want?” He asked.
I repeated. “How are you related to Dawood?”
The man was surprised at my question. By now a few scared co-passengers had already got up and were staring at us.
In order to not anger me further, the man lied to me: “He is my brother in law. He has married my sister.”
“No, seriously. My sister is pregnant and due to deliver any moment. I am travelling to Madurai to meet her. My brother-in-law Dawood will be picking me up at the airport.”
“What is his second name?” I enquired.
That sealed it. So, Dawood Ibrahim was hiding in Madurai. How intelligent. When the whole world was looking for him in major cities like Mumbai, Lahore and Dubai, the man had been hiding in a small city like Madurai.
I started thinking. What would my father do in such a situation, I asked myself. Within seconds I got the answer – assist the country in arresting Dawood even if it meant dying in the process.
“We reach Madurai in 45 minutes and I don’t want you to move an inch. You move and I shoot.”
The man nodded. But continued: “But he is not the Dawood you are thinking he is.”
I had to be careful. I didn’t have to succumb to his emotional drama that his sister was pregnant. Being somebody who cried in all Karan Johar movies this was going to be difficult but I held the banana stiff and continued to stare at him.
He, on his part didn’t move.
With one hand, I took out my iPhone and messaged Rekha that I was into something really big. The SMS read, “On the verge of arresting Dawood. Pls inform Madurai Airport that Dawood will be coming to pick up his guest. His guest is sitting in seat 23A of the Jet.”
He tried to argue with me for 15 minutes and then went silent. His last words to me were, “What an ass.”
After a tense 45 minutes we landed in Madurai. I made him walk in the front and at all times my banana was sticking him in the back.
I was amazed at the callous attitude of the Police. There was nobody at the Airport to welcome me and also to arrest Dawood. No extra security.
I decided to do it on my own. We both took our baggage and ventured out of the airport. That’s when I saw him. Dawood sure was a clever man – he had dieted and cut down his weight. He had also undergone plastic surgery and now looked like a typical south Indian – dark in complexion.
The moment I neared him, he wished me good morning and asked his wife’s brother, “You never told me that you are coming with a friend.”
The man at the end of the banana didn’t utter a word.
At this Dawood turned towards me and said, “You should come home. We will treat you well.”
Not to be held back by emotions, I just said: “Dawood, you are under arrest.”
A commotion followed. There were at least 12 people surrounding us now and not one of them believed that this man was Dawood. I tried to explain that he had undergone plastic surgeries and complexion changing surgeries but nobody would listen to me. After an hour, in which even my mother who had come to pick me up turned impatient, I gave up.
If the Government wasn’t willing to catch him, why should I be bothered. A very disappointed Rajan got into his white Ambassador and sped towards his home.
On the way home, I called Rekha. “Rekha, can you believe it? The Madurai airport folks didn’t organize for the extra security at all. Such callous attitude.”
“Extra security for what?” Rekha asked, which surprised me.
“You saw my SMS, didn’t you? The one about Dawood?”
“Which SMS? I was cooking dinner and the mobile was in the TV room.”
I banged the phone. What is the use in blaming the Government, when your own aren’t inclined towards making the world a better place to live in.