The parting shot

  • Jagdev Mahavir, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jan 22, 2015 13:46 IST

It was a foggy night when I boarded the British Airways flight from New Delhi to Heathrow. The flight had arrived from Dhaka. There was a gentleman seated by the window so I took the aisle seat. Manfred was a German engineer returning home after three years in Bangladesh. It was his birthday and his family was waiting for him in Düsseldorf. He asked me if I lived in India and I said, "Yes, I live in Chandigarh". He had heard of City Beautiful.

Due to poor visibility, the flight was delayed by a few hours and I dozed off. When the airhostess nudged me I thought we were about to land. I looked out to see the London skyline but found that we were still in Delhi. The flight never took off due to the fog that lifted after some time. The captain revved up the engines for pre-flight checks but announced, "One of the motors is not working and will have to be replaced." I enquired how long it would take to replace it and was told half an hour. But to repaint the wing panel and the paint to dry would take another two hours.

I asked the captain, "At 35,000 feet, who will notice if the panel is painted or not?" The captain said, "I will." So much for the stiff upper lip.

After a couple of hours, the captain restarted the engines and revved them up at full throttle but then shut down again. He announced, "Due to delay in take-off, the crew has been up beyond their stipulated working hours. They need to rest for a few hours." It was afternoon when the aircraft finally took off. Our estimated arrival time was 10 pm London time. Manfred was going to miss his connecting flight to Düsseldorf and was depressed about missing out on the birthday celebrations.

The airhostess served coffee and pastries. But Manfred was in no mood to eat anything. I told the airhostess about his predicament. "British Airways has ruined his birthday celebrations due to the delay. How about a cake for him," I asked and she replied, "Dear, just square up four of those pastries and you'll have a cake." She returned with a lovely, makeshift cake and asked Manfred to cut it. "How about a candle," I asked. She took out a lighter and placed it on the cake. "A birthday jig for Manfred?" She obliged with dance steps, sang the happy birthday song and opened a bottle of champagne. Manfred's day was made.

I had informed the captain about Manfred's family waiting for him. As we neared London, he sent a message that the last flight to Düsseldorf would be taking off by the time we landed. I enquired if there was any flight leaving for north Germany after that. Fortunately, there was one for Hamburg just in time. "Please put him on that, he will take a train to Düsseldorf," I requested. At Heathrow, Manfred's parting shot was: "I'll never forget this birthday. By the way, are you sure you're an Indian?" He smiled and was gone.

(The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor.)

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