I suppose this is the jet age.
Yesterday morning, barely 24 hours back, less if you take the time difference into account, I was having an Anglo-Chinese breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, plaice, marshmellows, hash browns, kanji and jasmine tea at the Hong Kong Hilton.
A few hours later, I was wearing a disposable white plastic raincoat and boarding a Cathay Pacific Lokheed Super Tristar.
The journey back was smooth, the aircraft cruising 32,000 feet above the typhoon-tossed South China Sea, only occasionally buckling into an air pocket. The voice of the captain, coming across the public address system, was also Anglo-Chinese and very reassuring. Hong Kong has this unique advantage of Oriental brains and Western expertise, a combination that has made its airline among the safest and most charming in the world.
Down below, beyond the fleecy white clouds, I could picture the Viet Nam coastline, then Laos, the Gulf of Thailand. On board, the Cathay air hostesses, dressed unfussily in working clothes, were giving a demonstration of their combined linguistic talents-English, Cantonese, Korean, Thai Hindi, a language for each passenger on board, first or economy. Out of Bombay and on way to Dubai, Korean would be replaced by Arabic.
I am a nervous air traveller, or think I am a nervous air traveller, so I consume a lot of on board liquor. Carlsburg Beer, Dewar's Whisky, Bordeaux Wine, Martell Congnac, with the evening snacks of smoked salmon and artichoke, and later with the dinner.
Outside, an hour had been gained and the green neatly-squared rice fields of Thailand were rising at great speed towards the aircraft. All Thailand is green and flat and criss-crossed with waterways, a perfect aerial view of the rice-bowl of Asia.
Bangkok came with a perfect three point landing, one again a triumph of Anglo-Chinese navigational abilities. The transit lounge sold jade and displayed the first Arabs of the Far East. The Arabs, as such, are a timid race, they do not venture far from home territory. So far, an Arab holiday was only up to Bombay, now they have moved a little farther, to Bangkok.
It was night by the time, we left Bankok, and moving westward it was going to be a long night. The aircraft moved through a continuous twilight a hundred miles south of Rangoon, then over the Bay of Bengal, entering India at Vizagapatnam, travelling between Hyderabad and Nagpur, across the Deccan Plateau, to Bombay.
All cities look pretty from the air, Bombay looks no less; rows of lights walking into the sea. "Thank you for flaying Cathay Pacific," says the air hostess.
It was after I had landed that somebody told me that among the Pan Am dead was the charming air hostess daughter of my good friend and esteemed colleague, Harish Bhanot of the Hindustan Times. only six months ago she had joined Pan Am and already she had been promoted as chief air hostess. Then death at the hands of assassins. That too, I suppose, is a part of the jet-age.