This journey took place few years ago as I travelled from Khunjerab to Islamabad and then from Karachi to London via Doha. It was this journey that brought me the discovery of finding an immortal friend who will remain with me for the rest of my life. It is this journey where I found myself and became a butterfly!
I was the last one to board Qatar Airways flight due to my late arrival as I had been travelling from Khunjerab to Islamabad across the Karakorum highway for many days. It were all those places, Passu, Gulmit, Gilgit, Chillas, Bisham, Skardau, Abbottabad, and all the other places I had been wandering for quite some time ..I must say the breakfast was great in Abbottabad, the final stop over point before reaching Islamabad. The breakfast filled me in with all the necessary ingredients and I did not feel the need to eat again during flight from Islamabad to Karachi.
Now having got my boarding pass at Karachi airport, I decided to disappear to the restaurants upstairs with few friends. Despite several announcements on the PA system, I had not taken any notice…eventually; around 7ish when turned up, the flight was due to take-off.Boy did they create a scene? They were right and so was I in my justifications.Questions like “where was I”, “do I have any regards for others” and stuff like that was fired away in my direction. I basically told them that they should not have waited for me”…this reply did not go well with them……anyway, it was funny to see so many passengers alert in their seats ready to look at their murderer. Found it so funny that I could not resist the temptation to introduce myself to several passengers. They did not know what to make out of me.Anyway the flight resumed…all belted up and plane took off…I sat by the window and had a last look at Karachi through the window,,,,the sun shone brightly over the city and it looked beautiful….and I was just too tired and ready to sleep..But there was one problem…the passenger who sat right next to me…he was going to Doha to meet up with his brother. But there was this smell oozing out of him.the kind of smell one notices from the dead cattle…I just could not bear the thought sitting next to him…I don’t know whether he realized it or not but I had to have a word with the airhostess…told her to that I needed to go somewhere else…she asked me why and I told her the reason…she had obviously noticed herself but unfortunately they were not carrying any deodorants or any vaporizers…she went at the back to chat to someone else and few minutes later I had moved to the back of the plane…no more smell and time to sleep…she brought me a glass of an orange juice before I nodded off…. within an hour and half we were at Doha International airport, to step into the excruciating heat and scorching sun. There they all bundled us off in this bus towards the terminal building. The tarmac shone brightly as the kala kola hairstyles in those ads with its deep intensity of heat and oil in the background. The journey had just begun.
The prospects of waiting there for good four hours was daunting in itself.First, I confirmed my arrival and had to take the boarding ticket for London flight. I had made a request for the upgrade seat at Karachi and I was quite happy on getting one. Then I was given a breakfast voucher. So I went upstairs to the restaurant to get something to eat. I wanted orange juice but it was not on their list. Anyway in the end I told them that don’t worry as the need was not there. Lighted up a cigarette and made my way downstairs to the lounge.
Having seen what Doha International really was (I don’t know why they call it International…it is smaller than Gilgit’s airport), I decided to see what their duty free looked like.it was disappointing to see three shops selling shampoos and mustard oil…managed to buy three cartons of B/H cigarettes and then went downstairs to wait for another three hours to get the next flight..Half an hour later, first time I saw so many Sri Lankan women coming out of one flight and en-route to another..The place was filled with them. I think they all were going back to Sri Lanka on holidays after working in Doha. Not a single man on that flight. They all queued up to get their boarding tickets. They were all wearing rather bright colours – too bright to be there in that hour of the day….they all whispered. I think they talked about their husbands, boyfriends and families. but they whispered a lot…one of the most whispering nations I have ever come across…..then they all stood up as they were about to sing their national anthem, went upstairs with their breakfast vouchers. Having had their breakfast, they came downstairs to sit down and wait for their flight back home. It was funny watching them. Some of them sat down, with their hands underneath their hips, some holding their chins as if they had seen something really evil, some playing with their dark hair, and some even slouched upon those sofas as if they were to be painted…I am sure Gauguin would have made a good painting out of them….and they carried on whispering…I think one of them did point to another, that this person (me) with his head-phones on was constantly staring at them….so within minutes, their head-mistress came charging towards me and spoke to me in broken English that I should mind my own business…I was minding my own business I told her but I cannot help staring at you guys since you happen to be straight in front of me and secondly you appear to me as a very interesting subject. I am a writer and for me observation is the key part to my art. ..I don’t think she understood what I meant, shook her head and walked back with heavy steps. I think to my knowledge the rest of the team were not too pleased with her performance and some of them within their groups had whispered that when they are in Sri Lanka they should have a new election for the new headmistress…I don’t know how it got along but they presented an interesting observation and insight into their lives, full of toil and so beautiful……work had consumed them totally and what a price to pay for ale and bread…the old forsaken beauty of the Lankan islands..
FEW minutes later came the flight from Nepal. It was full of Gorkha students. They performed better than those Sri Lankan women. They queued up, no whispers. Just stared…all of them in one direction.few sat beside me.I wanted to speak to them but they would not understand what I was saying and I could not make any sense of what they uttered I think most of them were Buddhists but few seemed as they belonged to Hinduism…the one who sat right next to me watched me with great interest as if I had landed from some another planet with constant smile upon his face…so I gave him the headphones, inviting him to listen to Sting’s “Desert Rose”..He seemed pleased when he heard the music and then with thanks in their language he returned it back to me.but it was brilliant to see the whole platoon swaying in discipline, momentary glances to check their coordinates and following up a mode of life which determined all the outcomes resulting from this behavior and attitude.
There were few other incidences as well….especially there was this really fat police woman Airport police equivalent of ASF. She would walk around the lounge and then get back to her little room to powder herself up and then to come out again. She kept doing her routine after every twenty minutes. every time she would walk her whole body shook…it was so hot but she was wearing almost three layers of clothes……..and her face covered….she walked in the middle of the lounge…raised an eyebrow every now and then just to make sure that there were no suspicious characters hanging around. I could not help laughing.I don’t think she noticed that I noticed her every move…but it was strange the way she would go into her little room, put some makeup, take a light puff on her silk cuts, and then come out again…..Her male counterpart meanwhile just sat on a stool, and snored most of the time…..I don’t think he would have noticed an earthquake the way he slept and that constant noise coming out from his nostrils. The word “mannerism” was as alien to that person on the stool as UFO’s are to the rest of the world. But he was still a character of his surroundings and enough to start off a whole chapter on him.
Apart from that, there were few other people as well from all over the world…A Philippine sat on my right for most of the time, she looked beautiful from the side but older when facing towards you.she constantly chewed a gum for good three hours and every now and then scratch her neck with her left hand…..and then rummage through her purse..i don’t know what she was carrying but she gave an impression that she was up to something..But the fat lady, the policewoman I don’t think she noticed her…..she had a beautiful nose and clip of her ear though…….
Then in the middle of the lounge where Sri Lankan women sat for good two hours, had taken over by Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis…they all seemed tired and most of them were asleep…..some lying on their stomachs, some in strange positions, with their hands underneath their heads, mouth wide open, and snoring…I noticed one of them, quite keen at this Lebanese woman, who stood not far from him..she was very pretty indeed and the guy kept up his gaze straight at her as she would disappear if her were to change his stance…I don’t think the policewoman noticed that either…she was far too busy doing her rounds with make up and layers of cloth and laden with gold…..I m sure if there ever were to be famine, drought in that part of the land, she be the one they look for….as there lied the answer to most of their questions if not all.
And then after observing literally every one around there for good three hours, I lighted up a cigarette and made my way to the departure lounge. We took the bus and then stairs to board Qatar airways international flight. As I made my way to the seat I was promised, I saw someone else sitting over there..Moments later, an air-hostess approached me with the name “Dippika” and told me in her apologetic tone that they decided to give that seat to a man who wanted his wife seated right next to him and I in turn got theirs right at the back…I was fuming as they not informed me and since I was the first one to ask for that seat..anyway she tried her best to put me at ease by promising I will get extra food and the rest…I told her that this promise of extra food is not going to work with me but eventually she almost broke down that it was not her fault..at this point I made my way to the back of the plane…she brought me orange juice immediately…I put my walkman on and went to sleep…..I don’t think I was disturbed again as I slept during most of the flight only to be waken up when we were due to land at Heathrow……and landed we did amidst rain and heavy storm…..
Few days later, I woke up and found myself that the transformation had taken place through this journey, turbulent in its nature and of its surrounding characters which had accumulated around me and found the voice within me to bring into an existence; a friendship of a lifetime. This journey is indeed an old debt with revised words and expressions in labyrinth of time and its space to that friend, strangely enough in me, for all its years and for all its space.