Taking off in an airplane

If we spend a few moments thinking about it, most of us will be able to identify at least a few situations in our lives in which we know exactly how our bodies would react - predictable situations with very predictable responses. Not just the highly obvious situations and responses, like raising our voice when we get angry, or shedding a tear when we are sad. But more unique situations. Maybe it will help if I attempt to illustrate with a few examples:

  • The churning that you feel somewhere deep down in the stomach, the heavier breathing and the racing heartbeat, when your name is called out to make a speech in front of a large audience. Some of the world's greatest orators have openly confessed that they have never managed to completely get over those butterflies even after all those magnificent speeches!
  • Going through an election campaign, especially in India, and I dare say not very different in most other places, with a sense of indifference, knowing that regardless of all the claims and punches being thrown around, nothing much is going to change!
  • And this is probably an old and odd one - but I will mention it anyway. Watching "Chitrahaar" on "Doordarshan", knowing fully well that you would only get to watch two songs among a thousand advertisements; and yet waiting with bated breath for the clock to chime eight on Wednesday evenings! (for those with raised eyebrows, a quick search on google will be faster than me trying to explain both terms above!)
  • And, just to balance out the old with the new, watching a Cricket Test match involving India, knowing well that the last two days of play are completely unnecessary and that any Indian score above 100 would be a miracle!
I would like to add one more to the list now.

It is my body's response to a situation, that I have never been able to shake off or even remotely change in the past twenty years. In fact, as you will realise reading on, it is not something that I actually want to change. I love the way my body responds to this particular situation and my effort has really been to get my body to react in a similar way to other situations in life. Though that, I must say, has indeed been a challenge.

The situation is very simple and is also very commonplace. It is the situation that you find yourselves in an airplane, after the crew have been through with their drills on seatbelts, window shades and upright seats, after the pilot has made the final take off announcement, after the plane has taxied on to the runway, after the engines have almost in a matter of seconds amplified several times over in speed and in sound, just after the wheels lift off the ground and you find yourselves along with all the other passengers seated at an angle, leaning back, as the plane climbs up into its flight path.

That is the situation. If you can picture it in your head, please do so now. The question is this: how does your body react in this situation? I imagine there could be many ways of responding and many of us would have our own customized responses. I wouldn't venture at guessing, because ever since I made my first solo flight at the ripe old age of twenty-five (consider this in contrast to our kids who would have done their first solo flights when they are just six or seven!), there has only been one way my body has responded.

My body goes completely at peace. Absolute peace. Tranquillity. Each time. Every time.

I can almost identify that specific moment when the switch over happens. It is when the wheels lift off. It is when you realize that you are no longer in control. You have handed over the control of your life, albeit for the next few hours, to the pilot - to start with, to the one sitting in the cockpit a few yards ahead of you, but in actual fact to Him, who mans that higher cockpit, who controls the overall flight of your life.

Over the years, I have tried to analyse this sense of peace. Most importantly, because I have come to enjoy it so much. What is it that makes the mind so calm? So tranquil? The only satisfactory explanation that I have come to accept is this: it is the fact that when the plane has taken off, there is nothing - absolutely nothing I can do to effect the flight's overall destiny. True, there are some basic things that I can do, in fact things that I should do along the way - buckle up my seat belt, heed the safety instructions and so on. But is there anything that I can do ensure that the flight will touch down at the destination in one piece, with all on board, safe and sound? Absolutely not.

I dare say that when the wheels lift off the ground, a silent prayer goes to many a lip, but I also dare say that on most flights, not much happens beyond that.

Unless of course you happened to be on the flight that I took a month back.

It was a midnight flight, and we were about halfway into the four-hour journey; the crew had served dinner, the lights had been switched off and most people were already asleep. I had dozed off too.

I don't know if it was the screaming that startled me out of my sleep or the sudden jerky free-fall that the plane was thrown into; probably both. But I woke up to an absolute chaos with people screaming loudly and for the next eight minutes, I was to experience one of the worst roller coaster rides that I have ever been on. Though I can't be certain, I am pretty sure that the plane got thrown down by at least a few hundred feet, three times in that space of eight minutes. You could hear different parts of the engine come on and various uncomfortable sounds emanating from all places. The plane kept veering off now and again, seemingly to avoid another air pocket, tilting at almost 45 degree angles at times.

But amidst all that screaming, something happened that gave most of us a great deal of comfort. Right after the first free fall, there came through the flight announcement system, the calm voice of the captain asking all to remain seated and buckled up because there was going to some heavy turbulence; but he assured us that we should be out of it in about ten minutes. His voice was calm because he's probably been through it before, but I am certain, that was the only piece of tangible hope that many of the passengers held on to for the next eight minutes of their lives. That this person seemed confident that he could see us through this seemingly difficult situation. There was not much else to hope for. Other than prayers.

True enough, we were out of that "bumpy stretch" in exactly eight minutes; but this much I can assure you, no one slept for the rest of the flight.

But think about it, is a car journey any different from an airplane journey? But we don't feel the same way. Do we? Why? Isn't it because we feel that the steering is still in our hands and we can control what happens to the car? But are we really in control?

And is any other journey that we undertake in life, really that different? But why don't we feel the same way as we feel when we are in an airborne plane? Isn't it again because at some mental level, we feel that we are in control, and we can handle most of what comes our way?

I sincerely wish that I could start off every car drive feeling the same way, as I feel when I am on board a plane that has just taken off. I wish that I could start off each journey, each task I undertake, feeling the same way, acknowledging that there is someone who is in control.

I can already hear arguments that it is a defeatist attitude to not have control of your own life. That you are weak, if you cannot chart your own path. I am not here to argue. All I can say is that I had been one such person - of the extremely strong-willed kind, of the supremely confident kind, for most of my earlier life, until I came to realize that when I trusted in my own abilities, I fell flat on my face. With nothing but mud, grease and bruises to show for my efforts. But when I accepted, hesitatingly, unwillingly, that there was indeed someone else in control, someone else charting the flight, I have been led to destinations far beyond my wildest imaginations or expectations.

And so it is my prayer and sincere wish that one day and hopefully on most days then on, I will be able to get out of bed ready to start the day, with the same mind-set that I am in when I take off in an airplane; having done the things in my control, but leaving the charting of the overall flight plan to Him, trusting in Him, abiding in Him..

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Comments (12)

Vasanthy S says...

Dinu......these articles are GEMS.....worth publishing as GOLDEN TREASURY of SUBLIME thoughts.......keep writing mone......if the crux of it gets into at least few of the readers , it is a great success........May God bless you........

Jai Shanker Sharma says...

That realization - The early the better

Shibu Augustine says...

...so the introspection sequel continues ... it was nice reading thru .. Dinu .. real enlightenment descends with such introspection .. the real pilot does not sit in the cockpit ..he sits above and your ticket to safety is faith,submission and complete surrender .. keep writing

Merin M says...

Wow. It is such a wonderful piece of writing that made me think at so many levels

Ranju says...

Wow.. Very well said.

Margaret J says...

A very nice one Dinu and I totally agree to your view point ...To add on, when we give Him the control, things always work out the best way rather than the outcome of our own efforts...Life would be a smooth journey if we can practice it in every aspect of our life...

Indro says...

There is peace in faith. Sometimes faith comes only when we have no control

Nitin S says...

Nicely written Dinu. There is only so little we can 'CONTROL' .

Shibu Itty Kuttickal says...

Thanks again for another brilliant piece, Dino, my dear friend and philosopher. The insights that you derive from your personal experiences are worth a lot, certainly more than a read. You have a way with words and perhaps that's just stating the obvious. Please keep these gems of wisdom neatly typed and ready for the press. You could have an anthology worth publishing soon.

Preethi Joseph says...

This reminds me of appu's prayer - pray that the plane will not Crash.... and Appan reach home safely...

Chayan B says...


Markose T says...

Kollaam !!