I was young then. My uncle used to stay in Niralanagar, a posh colony of Lucknow that was not very far from my home. He had an adjacent neighbour. Who, happened to be a Flight Lieutenant with the Indian Air Force. His name was Palta. Attached to the transport squadron where he flew Dakotas, and was posted in Bakshi-ka-talab, the defence airport of Lucknow. His chic and suave wife was Rita. Good looking and quite in line with the upbeat image of the armed forces wives.
He often used to pilot the morning flight at 7 a.m. to Guwahati. It used to take him about five to six hours. Because, enroute, he used to off-load cargo at Bagdogra airport in West Bengal. Next day he used to return in the same manner from his sojourn. Where, he normally used to take-off from Guwahati at seven. And, after touching Bagdogra again, he used to reach Lucknow by around 1 P.M.
I often used to go to my uncle’s house those days, to meet my cousins. He had a huge terrace where we used to go and play. And, whilst on it. I often used to notice Rita aunty, sitting in one corner of the adjacent terrace, alone, with her umbrella open, under the hot sun. And, I used to wonder why. But I never bothered to ask.
One day, when the suspense became unbearable. I decided to break it. So I asked, ‘Aunty, why do you come and sit under the hot sun?’ she smiled at me and asked.
‘Who are you?’
‘Well, I am Bina’s cousin. I often come here, to spend time with her. But each time I came here. I saw you sitting in that corner with your umbrella, under the hot sun. So, I thought of asking you.’ She looked at me and smiled and then said.
‘I must say you are very observant beta. I’m waiting for your uncle. He should be coming any moment now.’ And with that she grinned again. I didn’t quite understand what she meant. I began to mull, ‘waiting for uncle and that too on the terrace in the peak of summers.’ It really wasn’t making any sense to me.
‘But is he going to fall from the sky that you’re waiting here aunty?’ I asked a bit loudly. She laughed in amusement.
‘You want to see him coming?’
‘Then just wait here.’
The suspense was beginning to get interesting now. So I decided to wait. Even when it was lunch time and I was hungry. After about ten minutes I could hear the faint sound of an approaching aircraft. Soon, it grew louder. Is when, aunty stood up and closed her umbrella, and started waving at the aircraft that was now descending into the nearby airport and wasn’t very high. I then saw, the pilot had dipped the left wing of the aircraft. And after a little while it vanished behind the tall trees. Skyscrapers had not come up then so the view was clear. After the sound of the aircraft subsided, she looked at me and said. ‘That was your uncle.’ I asked.
‘How do you know Aunty?’
‘Didn’t you see? He dipped the wing of the aircraft until it went behind the trees. That signal was for me.
‘Aunty, but why did he do that?’
She smiled again and said, ‘Beta to announce his arrival. Now I need to go and cook for him.’
‘And what will you cook?
‘That’s a good question. If he dips the left wing, it would mean non-veg. Right would mean veg. And, if he doesn’t dip either, that would mean no lunch. So bye for now as I need to get into the kitchen.’ And with that she went away.
I was dazed for a moment. I too went down for lunch. And after about forty five minutes. I could hear the sound of Mr Palta’s bike.
Many years have passed since then. I don’t even know where Mrs Palta is. But, I could never forget this small and sweet incident that reflects so much about her love and concern for her husband. And, last but not the least. How they learnt to communicate from the sky, with each other—like in semaphores. When, mobile phones were not invented and even landlines had a long wait.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE
ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY
AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD
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