Yesterday began, like any other day in the life of an Indian corporate executive, with me taking a flight back home. It was a midday flight, 9W516 departing Bangalore at around 10 in the morning and reaching Calcutta just after noon.
I had been on this flight a number of times and had noticed that it followed a very interesting path. The aircraft goes from Bangalore to Vishakapatnam crosses over to the sea and then follows the Coromandel coast all the way, past Andhra, past Orrissa and then makes landfall at Haldia after which it follows the Hooghly upstream to Calcutta. If you are sitting on the left hand side of the aircraft ( the 'A' seat) and if the weather is clear, you get a brilliant view of the coast, where the deep blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, crash into the gold & brown of the Indian subcontinent through an endless line of white breakers. [ The only better sight that I have seen from the air is the Himalaya's on the flight from Calcutta to Delhi, if you are in the right side, the 'F' seat .. but that is another story ]
The aircraft is normally at an altitude of 30,000 feet but, as I said, if the day is clear, you can see a lot of detail ... and it had always been my ambition to spot the city of Puri and the temple of Lord Jagannath ... but somehow or other this had always eluded me. But this was where yesterday was different ...
I had been allocated a seat on the right but on boarding the aircraft I noted that even when the doors were closed and 'armed', rows 2 to 10 were vacant. Apparently there was a 'trim' issue and the engineers had wanted the craft to be loaded from the rear ... but once airborne, I persuaded the inflight executive to allow me to move to one of the left windows, well forward of the wings ... that gave me a clear view of the port ( left ) side.
I called the airhostess and told her that since we would be flying down the Coromandel coast, would it be possible for the commander to announce when we were in the vicinity of the city of Puri. She gave me a rather vacant look, so I told her that Puri is famous for the temple of Lord Jagannath ( funny, that I had to say this to an Indian !!) and that I wanted to pay my regards ( namashkara ) when we were overflying the temple. She promised to convey my request.
After a while the commander came on the intercom and made a series of announcements regarding altitude, speed and the fact that we would be flying over visha-sha-kha-pat-pat-nam shortly and from his accent I realised that he was expat and perhaps had not understood the significance of Puri and Lord J. Nevertheless, I was patient.
In due course, we crossed the coast and flew along it and there I was eagerly waiting for the sight, the darshan. We passed, and I recognised, the Chilka lake but I realised to my horror that we were too far out to sea !! The coast, which should have been gleaming brightly below me was now a distant line on the horizon !
I once again called the airhostess and reminded her of my request and also mentioned the fact that perhaps the expat commander had not understood the significance of my request, but she re-assured me there was an Indian in the cockpit as well and he would certainly know what I was asking for ... and it was true.
Suddenly, I saw the aircraft veering to the port and before I knew it, the co-pilot was announcing the visibility of the city of Puri and also pointed out the temple of Lord J, gleaming white in the centre !!
I namaskared the Lord and repeated the usual mantra " Jagannatha swami, nayana pathagami, bhabatu mey" a number of times.
We passed Puri and crossed the coast back to the mainland. Had we continued a little more along the coast, we should have been able to spot the Black Pagoda at Konarak, but explaining all that to the commander would have been very difficult.
My dream of praying to Lord J from the air had come true and the rest of trip was uneventful. I reached Calcutta in good time, went to the office and finally reached home in the evening ...
and ? ...
and waiting for me at home was a packet of prasad (sweets ) from Lord J himself. One of our neighbours had just returned from Puri and as is the custom had distributed the prasad to everyone in the neighbourhood.
The cynic would of course call this a co-incidence but the probability of me being able to divert scheduled JetAirways flight to namaskara the Lord on the same day that his prasad arrives at my residence is very, very low.
I would like to believe that this indeed was a very unusual tryst with the Lord .. and who knows I just might me right in this regard!