Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Opinion | How to lift the national spirit one ‘Jai Hind’ at a time

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And in Air India’s case, they make the most of every chance to wax patriotic

As it so happens when things become too complicated for me to understand, I meet my friend who lives on the 21st floor. It was my old friend, the late Behram Contractor, who had introduced me to him. I have fond memories of our first meeting. It was more than 20 years ago, at Sacru Menezes’s restaurant City Kitchen in Ballard Pier, where Behram, who was also known as Busybee, had taken me. Behram asked for feni, while I had ordered prawn balchao, and his friend who lived on the 21st floor wanted vegetable xacuti because he was a vegetarian.

“Come, come, I have been waiting for you, Jai Hind," my friend said, as I entered the Air India cafeteria where we were to meet, to sample their new cuisine. My friend on the 21st floor is a member of the board of Air India.

“Will you have some tea, Jai Hind?" he asked, while sipping his nimbu pani.

“That would be nice," I said.

“I will have vegetable korma with naan, with dhokla on the side, and my friend here will have the same, Jai Hind," he told the woman who was a trainee crew member. She smiled politely and went away.

“What is this Jai Hind, Jai Hind?" I asked my friend.

“Oh, we decided that at the Air India board meeting yesterday, Jai Hind. The nation, you know, is going through a major crisis, Jai Hind. We are surrounded by hostile powers, Jai Hind. Pakistan is attacking, China is producing everything, America is not listening, Bangladesh is not cooperating, Sri Lanka is ignoring, it is not at all a good thing, Jai Hind. So at the board meeting, we were discussing how to lift the national spirit and decided that after each public announcement, the flight pursers should say, with some fervour, Jai Hind at the end of the sentence, Jai Hind. You know, fervour, which means josh, Jai Hind."

“But just now only in one of your sentences you said Jai Hind twice. Is that allowed I mean," I asked.

“Naturally it is allowed, Jai Hind. Jai Hind is the innermost thought of all Indians, Jai Hind. Can you think of two words which are more powerful than Jai Hind, Jai Hind?" he asked impatiently.

“I don’t know. What about Vande Mataram or Inquilab Zindabad?" I asked.

“We will play Vande Mataram on the public address system when the plane takes off, Jai Hind. And this other thing you said, isn’t that a foreign phrase, Jai Hind?" he asked.

“No, it is what Bhagat Singh said. It is a slogan from the freedom struggle," I said gently.

“But it has foreign words, no, Jai Hind?" he asked.

“Actually, even Hind is a foreign word, you see, it is from Arabic…" I explained.

“You ask too many questions," he said, irritably.

“You forgot Jai Hind this time," I said.

Jai Hind," he said, his tone rising.

“Can I ask one more question? How will this help the airline?" I asked, sipping the chai.

“Oh, the benefits are many, Jai Hind. All the people whose Twitter accounts are blessed to be followed by Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji will now start flying only with Air India, Jai Hind," he said, sprinkling coriander on his vegetable korma while I tried to open the little sachet of lime pickle, which remained fiendishly difficult.

“But if more people are flying, it means you will need to buy more planes," I said.

“We have thought of that, Jai Hind. We have floated a global tender to buy wide-bodied aircraft and Airbus is delighted because its factory in Toulouse will make more A380s, Jai Hind. After Emirates cancelled the order, they were going to stop making those planes, but now thanks to New India, jobs will be created, Jai Hind," he said.

“In France," I said.

He ignored me.

“You are reading the wrong newspapers and seeing the wrong channels which are anti-national, Jai Hind. After our captains and stewards start saying Jai Hind, business will boom, Jai Hind. We have other, bigger national priorities too, Jai Hind," he said, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin.

“I expect no less," I said.

Beaming, he said, “At the time of boarding, we will ask passengers to shout back Jai Hind, with great fervour, Jai Hind. Those who don’t cooperate will have their boarding passes cancelled and made to sit in the middle seats, Jai Hind. Their carry-on bags will be screened and weighed again, and they will be charged an extra services fee, Jai Hind. There will be additional GST on it, of course, Jai Hind. That can’t be helped, as you can understand, Jai Hind. Rules are rules, Jai Hind," he said.

“Yes, of course," I said, while trying to get the toothpick out of the plastic bag. “But won’t this delay the flight?" I asked.

“Our flights are delayed so often that we thought if we keep passengers busy like this, it would pass their time and we can get our planes ready, Jai Hind," he said, smiling.

“That’s clever," I said.

He handed over his tray to the trainee stewardess and I asked her for more tea.

“But we still have one minor problem, Jai Hind," he said.

“And what is that?" I asked.

“We would like everyone to sing the national anthem once they’re on board, Jai Hind. But getting everyone to stand up during a flight may create safety problems, Jai Hind. Also, if there is turbulence, what to do, we don’t know, Jai Hind," he said.

“So, do you have a solution?" I asked, sipping the tea she had brought.

“Well, we don’t have an answer from Boeing or Airbus yet," he said, “but we have an idea what can be done when there is turbulence, Jai Hind."

“Naturally," I said.

“That is when the pilot will say Jai Shri Ram," he said triumphantly.

Jai Hind," I said, and I got up.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Read Salil’s previous Mint columns