Don’t lose twice – a flight story

I was on the Air India flight from Singapore to India on Wednesday night. Thanks to the flight being full, I had been bumped to Business class and I’d settled down in my seat on the aisle. Soon, my co-passenger for the window seat turned up, put his bag away in a hurry and sat down.

He seemed the restless sort as he was moving a fair bit at first, and he gradually settled down. The air hostess came to us with the customary check of whether we would like to have juice to refresh ourselves. His reply to her was dipped with every kind of sarcasm possible (in my view atleast)- ‘Water, if you can manage it’. The air hostess smiled and got him what he wanted.

To Air India’s bad luck, there was one malfunctioning TV on the flight, and that happened to be his. He alerted them and they immediately responded by heading over to their central console and resetting it. Given they were attending to a full flight, they proceeded with their other duties. When they came next with their juice, the exchange went like this –

‘The TV is not working, just like everything else on Air India’ – he said with a condescending tone
‘Sir, I just reset it on our system. Would you please try switching it on? The button is on the seat.’
‘I know how to do it – thanks. Can’t you get anything right?’
‘Sir, I’m sorry. If it was any other flight, I would have changed your seat but the flight is full’
‘It’s ok’ – he said gruffly and looked away.

Well, I felt for him. He’d paid for business class (presumably) and he couldn’t watch TV. Now, I didn’t have TV watching on my agenda so –

‘I’m not going to be watching TV. Would you like to swap with me?’ – I offered
The air hostess caught on ‘Yes sir, please do feel free to swap if you would like to watch it’
‘NO, I WANT MY WINDOW SEAT’ he snapped and looked away.

Let’s forget for a moment that this was a night flight and as the flight had already taken off, 50% of all you could see from your window seat was already over. And let’s also forget for a moment that it was unfortunate that the TV in the seat he had paid for was not working. Moreover, the air hostess, to her credit, handled the situation very well and was very nice to him throughout despite his behavior.

To me, he chose to lose twice. The TV was not working. And his reaction was to get upset and ruin his own flight. What was worse to me is that this was his choice anyway. If you pay for a ticket to fly on Air India, you are generally prepared for a few delays, for a few things not working etc – if you would like everything to be perfect, buy a ticket on Singapore Airlines for goodness sake.

In all fairness, he must have had a bad day but it’s funny how we are programmed to only behave worse when we have a bad day, thus making the day worse instead of trying to behave better and get better, step by step.

All the analysis aside, my empathy had turned into a wide grin by now. As a friend says, life is all about stories from what we see and experience. And this one was worth re-telling and learning from. Most importantly, this was ‘alearningaday’ material and that’s always good news! :)


Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. I came across the word when I was reading a very insightful article on ‘The Hindu‘ in Chennai. The article is here and is a take on ‘India as the land of opportunity’ from the eyes of someone who has resided in the US for the past 21 years.

The article and the insight aside, I often ask myself as to why it is the case that Schadenfreude is so prevalent. A friend of mine once reasoned that he felt that humans hadn’t evolved enough from monkeys and it would probably be natural for monkeys to laugh at one that’s slipped and fallen.

I often wonder if that is the case. Sometimes I feel this is a disease that’s prevalent ONLY among human beings!

In my case, I’ve had a tough time fighting the beast – which is generally the root of envy and jealousy. Given my huge insecurities while in my teenage, I found it VERY hard to digest a friend’s success. Any known person’s success seemed to speak to me and challenge my own abilities. I felt everything I knew (those were the days when I though I knew a lot of course..haha) or had should be kept within myself/not be shared. This was not helped by break neck competition in all the schools I studied at, of course.

And it was in the beginning of last year that I decided I was going to fight this! It already promised to be a testing period with the end-of-student-life job hunt threatening to expose these insecurities and bring them to the fore. Having been inspired by Covey’s suggestion to adopt an ‘Abundance mentality’ i.e. where you genuinely believe there is enough out there for anybody, I decided I’d finally get to working on this beast.

I did – I started giving more, complimenting people around me more, sharing job resources with friends, making an effort to add value to people and tried to look at it as my own duty to make others successful. And I guess it is testimony to that when a close friend wrote in said he appreciated the constant giving without expectation.

Well, it feels great now – a good 1 year later. That’s not to say I’m completely ‘cured’. There are still those times when I find myself stuck in self doubt for a few moments when I hear of an unexpected success from elsewhere. But, this time, I do know that that’s how long it will last – a few moments, that’s all.

Now it’s over to other battles like learning to be positive and energetic every single day.

We are makers of our own destiny after all.

Remembering Timon and Pumba..

The last 4 days have been a blur of activity. They’ve had more difficult conversations than I think I’ve had for the whole of the past year, there’s been lots of change and lots of hard work and sleep-walking thanks to a messed up body clock and general lack of sleep. It’s one of those times when events happen so much in a blur that it often takes days, weeks and even months to digest what really happened.

And as I’m heading back home for a couple of days today, I am reminded of Timon and Pumba’s conversation with Simba (from ‘The Lion King‘ – (I don’t remember which one of them says it)

………….the way I see it. You can run from it or learn from it

And that’s amazingly true as well. Even in a time of intense activity (read crisis), there is always opportunity for unprecedented growth, perhaps more than ever. And it’s up to us to grab that opportunity.

And what’s more, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

And if you don’t see it yet, it’s probably just that the tunnel is longer than you thought!

The Tip – An airport story from yesterday

I was just walking out of Chennai’s Anna International airport when I realized I needed a taxi to get home. I quickly got myself a receipt from the state owned (and hence cheap) taxi service and walked into the open area. Right there, stood a short worker dressed in the ‘Public Taxi service‘ uniform who took the receipt from my hand, gestured to me that he would take care of my bag and took it.

Firstly, I wasn’t aware that this was the system. I was used to walking all the way to the taxi parking lot as I’d done so before. Anyway, our man took my bag and just before he began walking ahead of me, turned back and flashed a warm smile. I smiled right back and felt ‘Welcome’. I followed him as he hustled his way through the crowd intensely focused on getting me to the parking lot quickly.

At the parking lot, there was a crowd around the desk where our man took the receipt. The next step was to allot a driver. It turned out that the crowd around the desk were all joking, laughing, talking (in true Indian style – I am saddened to add) and goofing off on their job. Our man persistently stood till the guy in-charge put in a taxi number. This was a tricky issue as a driver got upset that he wasn’t being chosen, and screamed till he got his way. Our man still stood patiently, and once the driver had been chosen, hustled to the taxi nearby and put my suitcase in the trunk.

As his job was done, he was now all set to go. At this point, I took out a 10 rupee note as I was determined to give him a small tip. I generally HATE giving tips especially if it is ‘culture‘ and not deserved. But this man thoroughly deserved it for his outstanding dedication to his job. I gave him the money and patted his shoulder.

Just then, he said his thanks, or tried to do so would be more like it. It struck me right then that his speech was impaired. And I was struck dumb as I stood still grasping this fact. As I was kicking myself for not having taken out a bigger amount, I could make our friend out in the distance, walking briskly to serve his next lucky customer. I considered chasing him but I didn’t want him to feel I was doing so out of pity, and most importantly, I didn’t want to stop him from doing his job..

I realized that this situation is a microcosm of the biggest challenge India will have to face if it has hopes of ‘making it‘ as a nation. Our people will have to stop talking and get to some doing. It’s only a pity that people like our friend our few and far between..

I’m still grasping the learnings from this incident. Clearly, there is so much for us to learn!