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Tricolour dessert as a starter

An Indian Airlines flight left Delhi for Lahore burdened with luggage of the Indian team ? and an incalculable weight of expectation, writes Avirook Sen.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2004 20:54 IST

Indian Airlines Flight IC-1845 left Delhi for Lahore en route to Karachi shortly after one in the afternoon on Wednesday burdened with 90 pieces of luggage belonging to the Indian cricket team — and an incalculable weight of expectation.

The specially chartered 146-seat Airbus A320 ("just 12 years old", the crew helpfully pointed out, when, after a few disconcerting Alliance Air-like noises at the start, its engines settled into a confident whirr) eventually had about 40 seats to spare. The captain, A.K. Malhotra, wasted no time in pointing out that he was proud to be flying Team India on a historic tour.

This seemed a pretty normal flight. (If you forgot for a moment that some 15 of India's most-recognised faces were on it. And that the tour itself was made possible by good sense and diplomacy at the highest level, given that stupidity and intrigue down the line had almost scuttled it.) The players trooped in a few minutes before departure; Sachin got his favoured front row seat; and hardworking hacks took notes.

Once things settled, Mohammad Kaif came out to chat with friends. Rahul Dravid took some pictures of the media contingent.

IA had made a few subtle changes for the flight. First, there was place for the whole team in the business class. (On Tuesday's flight out of Kolkata, poor Parthiv Patel was nodding off in economy when he was woken by the question "Are you sleeping?" and then handed an autograph book to sign.)

IA's other changes were, well, subtle: a crew of 8 instead of five; cans of coke instead of bottles (seriously); a tricolour soufflé as dessert; and a bar service — which people were just thinking of using when the plane touched down at Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport.

From there, the no-risk doctrine of the Pakistani security set-up took over. The reception was warm, but subdued.

There were no major welcome signs on the way to the city either. And Wednesday's Dawn had the news of the Indians' arrival only at the bottom of its sports pages.

Lahore has been subdued (the pun is unintentional).

First Published: Mar 11, 2004 00:51 IST