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I wasn’t always scared of flying.
Not too long ago, a flight could mean one or more of several things, none of which entailed fear: the off-chance I spot a hot pilot at the stairway , a good nap, an entertaining chat with a stranger, a good movie I hadn’t had the time to watch.

In fact, in those days, my chutzpah-filled self rarely found anything frightening.

My ebullience mostly led me headfirst into potentially dangerous situations: midnight walks down desolate misty roads, treacherous treks, reckless car drives.

Then the great big cosmic pendulum of karma stepped in and dazed me.

Whacked me with a few life-threatening situations, flung me across unceremoniously and introduced me to the other side.

The side of looming shadows in dangerous, misty, dark alleys. The side where cold dread ramble  slowly  through your limbs. Jangled your nerves. Seeped into your system. Settled in the pit of your stomach. Coiled and ready. To strike.

I was tossed over. From extreme insouciance to total paranoia.

And since then, fear has been a steady, loyal companion.

Through horror movies. On a walk down the streets of Delhi. In an auto rickshaw. And on board an aircraft.

I don’t fly infrequently, so naturally, I have to live the fear fairly oft.

It usually starts a day before departure.

Movies like Final Destination haven’t done me any good. I look for anything that could be an ill omen.

Disasters like MH-370 and the ones that followed have stirred up a maelstrom of horrific possibilities. Aircraft's don’t just crash any more. They are lost without a trace. They’re shot down. They catch fire, after a perfectly safe landing.

When boarding the aircraft, I try and catch a glimpse of the pilot to assess his levels of experience, confidence and normalcy.

When inside the aircraft, I’m judging the cabin crew. Do they look capable enough? Do they look nervous? Will they be able to take control of a tough situation?

And then, I take a look at the passengers. Any possible terrorists or mischief makers? Anyone as terrified as me inside the aircraft?

Taking off is always tense. The aircraft hurtling down the runway, then groaning and shuddering its way into the air. Soon, it’s soaring peacefully in the big blue and white expanse.

Until… turbulence hits.

Outwardly, during a bumpy patch, you’d find me sitting there, gripping the armrests, white-knuckled, eyes squeezed shut, neck straining against the backrest.

Inwardly, I’m asking God to forgive me for my sins.

More importantly, I’m mentally flying the aircraft. Steeling it to brace the bad weather, get through the rough patch.

The rest of the flight involves frequent appeals to the Lord, momentary snatches of quietude and multiple instances of mockery from my husband.

When landing is imminent, I begin to consider the possibility of making it through in one piece.

When the wheels finally touch down, I almost always make an expert comment that analyses and categorizes the landing as smooth and soft, or hard and rough.

When getting out of the aircraft, I’m in high spirits. I beam a smile at the cabin crew, thank the Lord, again, and begin counting down the days to my next journey by air. I certainly enjoy the lemon cocktail to steady my nerves.

When I’m safe and sound on terra firma, the world is suddenly a much better place. The air smells sweet, the people seem sweeter. Each plane journey drains any skepticism, negativity or complacency I may have acquired. And in a strange, inexplicable way, my fear of flying increases my love of living.

592 words
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