My summer vacation of the year 1977 was a special one for me. That was the first time I traveled by air.
Every summer vacation my family visited our native place in East U.P. We all, my parents and six of us siblings would travel by train from Delhi to Deoria, changing train at Lucknow. The train journey meant suitcases, holdall, and lot of eatables, not to forget the good old surahi. Very often, a surahi was purchased on the railway station before boarding the train and was filled with water as and when it was empty. Interestingly, that surahi was broken at the end of journey and a new one again purchased at the start of new journey.
In 1977, my father’s office started giving air fare as LTA. Now, the problem was Deoria did not have an airport. The nearest airport was Lucknow. Then we came to know, that Gorakhpur had an air strip which was under control of Indian Air Force and to our good luck it allowed only one commercial flight i.e. Delhi- Gorakhpur. We felt God could not have been kinder.
In those days, Air India operated international flights, Indian Airlines was responsible for domestic flights and Vayudoot took care of remote destinations. (There was no other airline available). Understandable, we had to go by Vayudoot. I still remember Vayudoot being referred to as Yamdoot because of its service. But that could not dent our enthusiasm towards our first air travel.
‘Planning’ for THE air travel started. Although Daddy told us that we will get breakfast on board, we got some munchies. You see, we were smarter than what Daddy thought us to be. We knew that like train journeys, we wont get to see hawkers there. Unlike train journeys, we were dressed in good clothes. On the d-day, my parents and the four of us (by that time two of my elder sisters were married) left for Palam Airport (now Indira Gandhi Airport) in a taxi. Roads appeared to be sooo…. beautiful. Somehow, we felt that the distance from home to airport was too much. I wish to add that except Daddy, all of us were going to the airport for the first time. The airport was a big , neat and an amusing place for us. The whole process of checking in and security check was interesting and amusing. Today, when I look back, that routine procedure also was exciting and thrilling. As compared to today, the airport was not crowded at all and it made us feel upgraded. We were no more traveling by train. We had joined the elite class – or so we felt.
The long wait between security check and boarding was unbearable. Appeared like hours if not days. Finally, boarding was announced. The four of us ran to grab the best (read window) seats. How would we know that the seats were already allocated. How could Daddy be so cruel! He did not opt for window seats for all of us! But what was that! We were entering a bus and not a plane. Daddy read the disappointment on our faces and explained the logic of that bus trip.
We entered the plane. It was a 40 seater Fokker Frointship. On landing at the airport, the backs of all the chairs had bowed down to kiss the seats. We gently lifted the backs and occupied our seats. It was amicably decided that we would take turns at the window seat. Fastening of the seat belt was difficult and amusing. As if we would run away. Now, again a long wait for the aircreaft to fly. Why on earth could it not zoom away!
Finally the doors were closed and the air hostess came with her sweet smile and a sweeter voice. Believe me, she did not appear to be doing her routine job with a plastic smile. Obediently, we listened to her and followed her instructions. We also read the instructions booklet kept in the pocket. And the plane started moving. It appeared the runway was endless and the plane was never going to take off.
Finally it did take off. The rattling of the aircraft (it was an old plane) appeared music to our ears. And then came the air hostess with a tray of sugar candies and toffees that too free. We could take any amount. We did fill our hands with as much as we could. I have a feeling we must have done some stupidity to declare that we were flying for the first time. Otherwise there was no reason for her to give us the remaining sweets at the end of the journey. Soon after, she came with that ‘heavenly’ breakfast. We were confused whether to enjoy the flight, the breakfast or the scene outside! Quietly, we kept the fruits served in the break fast in our hand bags. How else could we tell our cousins about our air travel! I am sure none of us wanted to show off. Other than this, nothing interesting and worth remembering happened during the flight.
We landed at Gorakhpur Air Strip. How small it was!
From there started the ordeal. We had to take a jeep to reach the bus stop. Then we boarded a rickety state transport bus to reach the village. It was still not over. My uncle was waiting with a बैलगाड़ी to take us home. Here we were just out of the aeroplane and now in a bullock cart!
Even after 34 years, and so many air travels, this one stands out in my memory. Never ever has a plane journey been so exciting, so amusing, so wonderful and so memorable.
As pointed by my son, it was Fokker Friendship and not Fokker Frointship.
My younger sister who was with me in this journey pointed out that we flew by Indian Airlines and not Vayudoot.