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The moment one stands at the counter to check-in with the PIA ‘amla’ at any airport in the world, one gets the’ home coming’ vibes. The check-in may not be as orderly, the flight may be overbooked, delayed, or God knows what unforeseen might happen, but the badnaam-e-zamana PIA carries its own notorious charm–at least to me.
Seven starish chic airlines of the Middle East are too luxurious to exude a raw charm, and the modest, low budgeted Canadian four star carrier is boringly efficient.

So, go  East or West, PIA is the best.

Many of my compatriots living abroad don’t get the weirdness of my preference for PIA.

There’s an  emergency, and with  a short notice of barely a week to reach Karachi–I got a ticket booked on PIA.

Checking in and boarding the plane were uneventful. I took my boarding pass and fetched for my seat no. 25B. Happy that the counter person had obliged me with a seat in one of the front rows. I land on my seat, only  to find that it’s a middle seat with two over sized feudal looking gentlemen well seated on both sides. None of them were willing to give up either the window or the aisle seat to place me at the side. Not that I am a Miss World or Miss Petite etc but imagine a 15  hour journey in that tiny middle seat between the two of them where barely one cannot move one’s elbows beyond 30 degrees.

I threw my bag and jacket in the seat as they scanned unabashedly, the middle aged lady who was going to be their immediate neighbor. What if there was a petite young lass instead, what would be the frequency and wavelength of their X ray eyes, I wondered. ( By the way this scanning is the prerogative of our desi men–considered highly impolite in the rest of the world).

My desiness ( which actually never leaves me) springs into action. I requested the passing-by purser in shusta urdu, giving him reference of the famous ex Hockey Olympian Station Manager of some other city,  and of how he always got us  ‘good’ seats, convincing him to help me here.

He reassured, ‘Baji wait till everyone settles down.”

Finally after few negotiations in a packed flight, he tried,  failed and  gave up. But then again, on my begging, he took  up the challenge,and finally managed to get me a 3 seater shared with another lady.

And thus I got reassured, that despite a couple of years in Canada, my desi nepotism skills remained intact.

The two of us ladies made another deal, desi style. She was tired and the journey was  too long, so we decide we will take turns to stretch full length and  sleep. The other will either walk on the aisle or sit huddled in the corner of the seat. It was first her turn to lie down on the whole seat and sleep. In the meantime, I preferred to walk  on the aisle,  reading a book on Dreams.

After a  good nap of 4 hours, she happily got up and handed  over the seat with the  “ ab ye seat aapki hui’    expression.

Without delay, I wrapped myself up in the blanket and stretched  myself exactly the way we used to stretch ourselves  while sleeping on a train’s berth when kids. Barely half an hour had passed and the announcement called for a doctor on board. Before the desi me could even think of faking sleep and preferring to stay away, the doc in me sprung  up in a reflex action.

I  found myself  standing along with two other docs in front of a middle aged lady–very pale, cold and clammy not responding to our shouts. On pinching, she barely opened her eyes but  fell back unconscious, again. There was no pulse, but her fast breathing gave us a little relief and a hope of life .The BP too was unrecordable. The senior-most of us docs took the lead while the two of us  followed  his orders and managed her with the necessary steps. While she lay down on the aisle,  I knelt down to check her.

Whatever equipment needed was readily made available by the crew. With some first aid and medications, her pulse and BP seemed to return and she became more responsive, though was still extremely dizzy, sweating and anxious.

The Captain called one of us to to brief him of the situation,  and  asked  if there was the need to make an emergency landing  for her care. But the passenger being stable, now,  and unaccompanied–the consensus was reached that we, doctors,  will monitor her every  half hourly for the remaining  7 hours and act according  to her condition. Being the same gender as hers, I got the  responsibility to monitor her closely for the rest of the journey.

I offered  my 3 seater bed for her to lie down.
And so for sure was gone my turn to enjoy the luxurious PIA bed nap.

Jee haan, ab kaisa sona, kahan ki neend. I was officially on duty.

How much had I thought before embarking on the journey, of  a carefree  8 hour sleep on board, which I barely get any day at home. God must have definitely laughed at me  on my plans, then.

Well no regrets. It was for a noble cause.

As I settled down on a seated adjacent to my patient , many a souls came inquiring about her well being. I must have repeated the same description a dozen times in 30 min. There is no pun in it–this is the beauty and simplicity of our people–no matter how much our circumstances have made us ‘beyhiss’ (apathetic), we shed all our shells and cocoons when in such situations.

As the half hourly monitoring went on, so did the networking with the fellow passengers who trickled one by one to inquire about her well being.

A lady who runs a chain of 5 up-class Desi restaurants and banquet halls in Mississauga, offered her card and gave a life long offer of discounts in her outlets. Another with a boutique and who was traveling to Pakistan for getting the latest stock, offered her dresses at the minimum profit.

Yet another, a very simple lady, came up hesitantly with the presumption that being a doc I must be having some good contacts, and that she was  on a look out for some ‘really’ good girls for rishta for her ‘extremely ‘ good looking sharif son.

A gentleman came up to ask for measuring his BP and though I was not qualified to start a clinic in the air, the medico in me did not have the will to say no. And then two more asked for the same in exchange of their visiting cards and offered  their services in Canada.

Another elderly frail lady requested me to give her the insulin injection before her meals. To my fears for any ‘reaction’ she retorted, “So what ? I f it is written to die, I will die. Why will you be blamed?”

Respecting the strength in her conviction, I had no choice but to oblige, knowing very well that if any unforeseen happened, my degree would be at stake.

And the passing pursers–unfailingly gave each time  “Dr sahiba kuch lengee?”   offers.

The best hot and well brewed chai I ever had on any air travel was that day–from the stock of tea that the crew makes for itself during such long travels. Not once but maybe half a dozen times did I gulp that delicious tea down my ‘networking’ throat.

God knows how but an environment of concern built up in the flight.

It looked as if wave of empathy had spread faster than the wild fire of Tasmania. Everyone was so enthusiastic to help, not only the unwell lady, but any one who was in need.

I noticed many a neighbors offering  to carry the crying babies and strolled  them on the aisle while their moms got some some respite and some nap.

With regular monitoring and First-aid, as her pulse and BP rosee slowly and steadily, she became well enough to speak and respond to questions.

The whole plane wore smiles when she sat  up to take some sips of fluids. And thankfully the need to make an emergency landing vaned.  The crew members beamed in triumph and the message of her wellness was flashed to the Captain. And the Captain responded back with an  the announcement amidst cheers.

As I got ready to pack up for arrival at KHI  and bid farewell to the patient–she shoved her visiting card and asked for mine,  to invite to her sons wedding some months later in Canada and with a promise of a life long friendship..

Where else but PIA would one enjoy this desi networking? By that time I was  richer by at least a dozen and a half contacts and their visiting cards.

Every minute on board was packed with desi  thrill.

We all looked like a family–no one questioned anyone’s faith or sect or province, while helping or talking. I even saw some other fellow passengers exchanging their contact details. with the

How I wish, and I can only wish,  we embark on a similiar journey in Pakistan too where everyone helps everyone else without worrying about his faith or allegiance.

The plane landed at Karachi,  and we all departed with hugs, khuda hafizs and promises from some to stay in touch.

I walk down with speed across the placards at the exit of the tube. As I walked  past them to reach the immigration queue, a lady passenger came up to inform that there was a placard with my name too.

Yes, my PR gifted husband had used his desi ‘right ‘ connections at the airport to expedite my exit–in a true desi style. As if I had to catch a train in next few minutes.

The escort not only asked for my passport but also offered to carry my hand luggage, much to my embarrassment. More so because there, more than half the crowd’s glaring eyes were watching what was going on.

Finally in a typical desi style I was  whisked through the immigration at a supersonic speed , getting  the baggage form the belt, rushing  past the custom officers without any check even of the luggage tags.

I was really embarrassed and guilt ridden , but then there is a desi thrill in this VIP act too. And within minutes I was at the exit gates.

Before the exit, I turned back to find  a few hands waving Khuda Hafiz from far behind.

While I reciprocated to their waving with as much enthusiasm, I remembered  the take away message , a lecturer in  one of the social business  gave some years ago:

In order to be successful in this field one needs to be ‘people rich’ rather than money rich or mind rich.

His lesson seemed to make sense now.


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