Business beckoned again – this time to the United Kingdom. The travel gurus at my company used a very complicated algorithm to find me the least expensive “business class” route which would get me to London in time to attend a critical (or so they said) meeting. And the software declared that the most timely, lowest fare,plushest option from chennai to London was through Frankfurt! I suspect this software was developed/used by sub-prime selling financial Mughals in an earlier life- but I had my ticket and a prospective 5 days of fun, so off I went with a smile on my face (actually a yawn as I had been working long, long hours for a week) and a hastily prepared suitcase.

The chennai airport welcomed me with all it’s bustle and I picked “the best of Ruskin Bond” as my companion for the trip from the wonderful little (higginbothams, one of our oldest bookstore chains) airport shop. I was halfway through the first half of the book before getting my immigration cleared – all countries typically have long ( and often serpentine) queues for those aspiring to get into their shores; are we the only ones who make it very difficult to leave too? Incredible India indeed!

And so I found myself somewhere in the late night/ very early day in a much crowded airport lounge. I also discovered I was hungry – and so began the story of my many broken fasts. As I walked to the buffet table, I wondered if they would serve me dinner (like our roadside dhabbas did to appease the hungers of the trucker population) or breakfast (like the temple towns did to prepare the faithful for meeting with their lord). The answer it turned out was that it was like our Indian team – it had a bit of everything but nothing end-end. There was curd rice (definitely dinner), cornflakes (breakfast) and “all time” snacks (veg rolls and salads). I had a bit of everything and like the Indian team (they are becoming our role models huh!), slept my way through most of the journey. I woke to the aromatic smells of some nice crossients – and to my chagrin, found my spectacles missing! Being very tired the previous night, I had put them in a little sleeve and left them in my shirt (and not in the mag rack like I usually did) – and now the shirt was there, but the spectacles most definitely weren’t. I looked hither and I looked thither – trying to look inconspicuous all the while – I didn’t want guiness to crown me ”the first de-bespectacled person” on an airplane. But hither they were not, nor were they thither. I was worried – how do you organize a “spectacles” hunt on airplane without making a spectacle of yourself? This needed a fresh perspective – so I washed my face and downed a few coffees – no breakthrough resulted though. By this time, I had made a few of my fellow passengers a bit curious I am sure – they must have been wondering what I was doing peeking into the numerous cubicles (and believe me this flight had plenty). Deviously, I picked the flight magazine from the rack ahead of me and tried to appear nonchalant. And blow me down – the first thing I saw was a map of the spectacle holder provided on all seats – which required one to open the hand rest and navigate to the left most end and then feel around until you found it. Could it be there – no reason not to try. And lo, there it was. Grabbing the missing specs and placing them back where they belonged, I studied my neighbour’s face. It was inscrutable.And as far as I knew, my specs did not understand maps nor had locomotive power – so it must have been a kind stewardess – thank you mam..

The Frankfurt airport exuded efficiency as always. There were the 10 odd lcd screens each with 50 odd entries you had to look through to identify your flight from. This makes for excellent eye exercise, even better than searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Flight found, I trudged to the lounge, downed a coffee, read a few more interesting stories from Bond (this Bond unlike his namesake specialises not in gadgetry and vodkas, but in rustic locations and wholesome stories) and in an hour found myself on another flight bound for London. This flight had a business class section, but all the seats across all the aisles were the same (no acrobatic seats with spectacle holders on this one) – and the way they differentiated between classes was deceptively simple – for the business class sections, the middle seat was left empty and therefore the seat was priced 50% more – cool huh?

There was only one little problem – for some reason the flight wasn’t taking off. The captain demystified this for us in German and English shortly – there was some technical issue and we were to be grounded for at least 2 hours while they figured how to expedite things. An hour later, the captain had found a way to ease his wait – the crew had been here very long, so they were going off – a replacement crew was shortly coming in to take their place – while we continued to wait! And he was a nice man, this guy – he wished us a good day ahead!

The new crew came, and they were certainly nicer – for one thing they served us breakfast. I got my Asian vegetarian meal – which consisted of a bread product, some cut fruits and a special vegetarian dish. What this last dish was I could never ascertain – maybe I hadn’t been introduced to the species thus far, or it had vegetated so long, that it had lost its essence (kind of like asing when an apple loses its “appleness” what remains?) or something – but I just couldn’t say what it was. The cut fruits though were awesome – some kiwi fruit, strawberries, mango (yes mango!) -man, this was exotic stuff. You make me happy Lufthansa…

The flight landed at Heathrow a few hours late, but to good weather. I found myself a taxicab and was off to the hotel. These London taxicabs are really cool – they look like the ones Sherlock Holmes rode in, but are powered well, have all the latest gadgetry and tons of space. A perfect blend of tradition and technology these. As we drove through the homely yet strangely aloof streets, one couldn’t help feeling like a school boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his mother. A stern mother yes, but a mother all the same.

The taxi dropped me at the Corus Hotel – one of those white large hotels that cater to business travelers. They checked me in quickly and I found myself in one of those lifts which claims it can transport only take 13 people – leaving you to wonder how you could fit in 13 people into its very small interiors in the first place. Ruminating thus I walked to my room on the 9th floor, slipped in the card (electronic cards instead of keys are a giveaway that the hotel is a business hotel) and stood mesmerized. This was the smallest hotel room I had ever seen – but boy was it loaded. In a room that was perhaps a little bigger than the aforementioned lift placed sideways, the room had a bed, a tv, a kettle (and choices of green tea or decaffienated coffee), funky lights (about 10 of them!), a safe, a motorized iron stand and machine, a wardrobe, a full bath, a concave and convex mirror (presumably to help you make faces at yourself and pass the time of the day), two telephones and an excellent free wifi connection (I told you this was a business hotel).The only thing it didn’t have (but should have had) is a placard which said “great things come in the smallest packages,”. So began another précis travel…

To be continued…..

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