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I believe there are about 40 million people on earth who are descended from Genghis Khan. Every time I have to take an early morning flight, I become convinced that I am one of them. The ferocity with which I want to kick the daylights out of every individual who crosses my path can come only from such an exalted lineage. From the cab driver who gets grunted at; to the fellow passengers in the queue ahead at security who I dream of murdering slowly in their sleep; to the policeman who gets a dirty glare for feeling my butt, all human beings are equally abhorred during these traumatic periods.

However, none gets the brunt of my ire as much as the Despicable Encroacher of the Arm Rest (hereinafter referred to as DEAR). It is he who breaks the sacred gentleman’s unsaid agreement of sharing the armrest fairly and squarely. Like the constitution of the United Kingdom that is unwritten, but robust thanks to centuries of legal precedents, the ‘Covenant of the Economy Class Armrests’ states that the ones with longer arms should stretch their arms out and rest their elbows lightly on the farther half of the armrest while the ones with shorter arms have to snuggle their elbows in closer to the seat. While doing this, all precaution must be taken by both parties to ensure that contact between the two is minimised.

All fine so far. Almost all civilised human beings follow this. However, the DEAR is not civilised by any stretch of imagination. He sits upon the middle seat as if it were the iron throne of the Seven Kingdoms. With his left elbow, he takes full control over the entire territory of his left armrest and with his right elbow, he actually pushes out the unobtrusively placed elbow of the right side passenger by employing the sinister tactic of placing his elbow right at the edge and then proceeding to viciously shove out the co-passengers elbow. Then he looks blankly ahead and picks his nose in a nonchalant fashion.

It was two weeks back that I came across the worst of DEARs. As, prescribed by Murphy’s law, the passengers in the middle and window seats made their appearance well after I (the aisle-seater) had sat down. Being a courteous and well brought-up individual (even though the heir of Genghis), I politely got up and let DEAR and his wife move in. I gave them a full 30 seconds to settle down before plonking down. I sat back, heaved a sigh of contentment and placed the right elbow on the right armrest. Then I slowly started the process of snuggling my left elbow unobtrusively to the rearmost point of the left armrest, preparing the deploy the standard operating procedure of sliding it in further and further till it encountered human flesh. And then… I sat bolt upright!!

The blighter, who was a clear six inches taller than me -and hence possessing longer arms – had occupied the territory. I shook my head in exasperation. Another example that civilisation was falling apart. Resigned to my fate of having to lean my elbows far out – and thereby permanently damaging my arm sockets – I moved my elbow to the farthest reaches of the armrest and slowly lowered it. (civilised behaviour did not permit me to look to my left. Looking directly at the co-passenger is early bad taste.) As my elbow descended, I froze!!

My elbow had yet again encountered human flesh. It struck me with sickening clarity that I was sitting next to a DEAR.

Now I had two options.

  1. To jerk my elbow furiously and dislodge his elbow

OR

  1. Bide my time, assess the opponent’s weaknesses and strike at the appropriate time.

Anyone who has watched Game of Thrones can tell you that option 2 is better. Besides, I was a bit worried that he might also be a descendant of Genghis Khan and that his genes, amplified by his eagerness to impress his wife, might prompt him to get up and pound me mercilessly if I deployed Option 1.

I have gone through many harrowing experiences in my life; but the next couple of hours were as nerve wracking as any I have experienced, as I put my cunning brain to work on DEAR dislodgement. The bulletised version of my process- without going into the details of my tumultuous feelings- is given below to help others who might find themselves in the presence of a DEAR…

  1. Pointedly stretch my arms out and above my head multiple times, trying to subconsciously induce him to do the same, all the time watching the armrest from the corner of my eyes, so that I can make a quick incursion into one half of the disputed territory. (Like the Indian army, which had thrashed the Pakistan army and threw them out of Kargil, but nobly declined to take extra territory, I was determined that I would stop at what was rightfully mine.)
  2. If tactic 1. does not work because morons are immune to subtle subconscious suggestions, get up pointedly and walk in a constrained manner – like one whose bladder is bursting- towards the loo. This is a much stronger suggestion and might make DEAR also get up to go to the loo. The trick then is to sit down, take over disputed territory and then when DEAR returns, try to lose a few kilos of weight and blend into the seat so that one doesn’t have to get up to let DEAR in.
  3. When both these tactics do not work, sit completely still and use the power of your mind. The brain-waves of a determined and focused brain is capable of traveling across even vacuum and also penetrating the thick skulls of DEARs. The trick is to focus your mind on making the armrest uncomfortable for the DEAR. I did this by thinking that a. the armrest was heating up and sizzling, converting DEARs arm into tandoori chicken b. that the armrest had exploded and the DEAR was in deep shock and c. (more creatively) that the armrest had turned into a porcupine, poking the DEARs backside with numerous quills.
  4. When none of the above works in making him withdraw his troops, maintain a deep sulk.

It was during the deep sulk phase that DEARs wife politely asked me in Hindi if she could get out to go to the loo and I instantly saw my opportunity. I went through the motions of getting up and the wife and DEAR both stood up. I quickly shoved in my elbow and pointed out that due to turbulence, the pilot had turned on the fasten seatbelt sign and she was not allowed to get out. She promptly sat down and from the ensuing agitated conversation, I understood that she was about to throw up and moreover, that neither she nor her husband had any clue about the existence of the barf bag. Then realisation dawned on me. The poor guy was no DEAR. He just had not travelled much (if at all) on flights and knew nothing of civilised behaviour on airplanes. I quietly kicked my own backside (that hurt, since the recent bout of weight-loss had left my backside lean and scrawny) for being such a judgy bastard.

I redeemed myself in the next few minutes by quickly going through a well thought-out lesson plan on the usage of barf bags. The fact that I demonstrated how to open one and how to use it- with the necessary sound effects and actions thrown in- ensured that I covered all possible learning styles. The woman and the husband were both eternally grateful.

But what changed really was my attitude. I who had triumphantly and slimily taken over the armrest earlier quickly ceded this territory. After all, how do these small things matter between gurus and shishyas. Surprisingly, the husband also seemed to have learned his lesson and refused to reclaim the territory. The woman was good enough not to barf. We finished the rest of the journey in chummy silence, interspersed with loving sidelong glances at each other (the husband and I exchanged, but I absolutely desisted from returning the wife’s loving glances!)

The thought then crossed my mind – if India and Pakistan can find grounds where we can help each other and feel grateful/content, and both vacate Kashmir and give it breathing space, much like the armrest, all three of us can hug and smooch and exchange sidelong loving glances. This is actually what a fun Game of Thrones should be.

To read my humorous, yet motivational bestseller, click here From Ouch to Oops
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Comments ( 6 )

        • Shubha Ananth says:

          Hilarious! And I so empathise!!!

        • G says:

          RamG : Getting better and better at an insane rate.. Keep it up

        • ramgopal vallath says:

          Hey G,

          Thanks a ton my friend.

        • Lav says:

          lol your article was hilarious but the ending left a sudden bad taste just like one of those surprising pop toffees in harry potter. So you want independent Kashmir? Why?

        • ramgopal vallath says:

          Hey Lav,

          First of all, thanks for the compliment.

          I believe that every people should have a right of self determination. And it should be left to them (both Indian and Pakistan parts of Kashmir) to decide what they want to do. I strongly believe that The whole Kashmir as an independent entity, strongly within India’s circle of influence because of commercial self interest will benefit them- and even more than that- the rest of India. This will also pave the way for better relationship with Pakistan, which can eventually help create a SAARC region as a single economic unit, where India can have huge benefit from.

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