This morning, an Air-India official was defending his airline: "You press-wallas are free with your criticism. You have no idea of the difficult conditions we work in."
"I am sorry," I said. "What are these difficult conditions?"
"Well, passengers canceling their flights at the last moment, for instance. They book but they do not turn up," the official said.
"Other airlines also have this problem, I am sure," I said.
"Not to this extent," said the official. "For instance, there is one passenger at Southland-On-Sea right now, somebody called Sukh Ram or Dukh Ram, travelling London-Delhi, he must have booked his seat and cancelled a down times by now."
"That's being inconsiderate," I said.
"Yes, it is driving us mad. He books his seat, even announces in the papers that he has booked. Then, last minute, he postpones his flight. There are so many British tourists wanting to visit India to see the Taj Mahal and shop at Janpath, we have to deny them seats because we are full up. Last minute, we cannot get them back."
"Why don't you tell this Sukh Ram or Dukh Ram that this would not do? That the airline is losing money because of him?"
"How do we tell him, he is never available," the official said. "The Indian high commission books his ticket and his son-in-law cancels it."
"The man must be ill or something, medically advised not to travel, you know," I said.
"I know, we all know," the official said. "But then why does he insist ion travelling, he should stay put in London till he has fully months and years it may take. He should not book till he is fully fit."
"Well, he may be wanting to return to India and not being allowed to by the doctors. It happens all the time, we think we are well, or will be in the next three days, and then find we are not," I said.
"Air-India should not be made to suffer because of that," the official said. "The last we heard, he wanted to travel with his doctor and nurse, and Air-India was asked to make all medical arrangements in the event of there being an emergency. You press-walls think Air-India has got nothing else to do."
"I admit, the press has been unfair," I said. "But that is because we did not know the situation. Why don't you give this passenger an ultimatum, tell him, if he cancels his flight one more, you won't book him again."
"We can't do that, there is pressure from Delhi to book him. We cannot then refuse to fly him," the official said.
"I wonder why there is pressure from Delhi," I said.
"I don't know," the official said. "But it is being mentioned that he has been the biggest fund collector for the Congress and the party is keen to get him back on the job."