Earlier this month, as we began our slow walk from the hell of the work week to the booze-soaked refuge of the weekend, we were blindsided by the warning of a tragedy about to befall us all. Apparently, the Telecom Commission had finally accepted the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s proposal to give passengers on domestic and international flights in-flight access to their mobile phones’ voice and data services. This will start happening some time in the next three to four months.
To say that this is a preposterous proposal would be an understatement. Air travel in this country is already akin to visiting the ninth circle of hell. It is like one of those quests you read about in fantasy novels where the protagonist has to pass a bunch of obstacles to ward off an ancient curse and save the day.
If you manage to pass the ground staff without getting punched in the face, survive the long lines at the counter and the constant flight delays to finally get to your seat in the plane, your quest is just beginning. You have other indignities such as lack of leg room, forced yoga sessions and impromptu Sonu Nigam concerts to look forward to.
Now, they are adding phone calls and data services to the ordeal. Haven’t we suffered enough? Can you imagine being stuck in a large sardine can with a bunch of people who have never been introduced to the concept of using their inside voice while in public? Unless the callers are going to be stepping outside the plane to complete their phone calls, it does not sound like a good idea.
Let us take you a few months into the future to explain why we think so.
Imagine trying to catch a few winks of sleep while the inconsiderate individual next to you continues to babble into his phone. You might reach your destination tired and cranky, but at least being forced to overhear your co-passenger’s phone conversation made you privy to all the latest gossip about every member of the South Kanpur Rotary Club.
Have you ever been a third wheel on an outing with friends who are a couple and they suddenly start arguing in the middle of dinner? Everyone in the restaurant is looking at your table in disdain and all you want to do is run away from those two monsters. You send up a silent prayer asking for a meteor to strike the restaurant because you cannot handle the awkwardness. That is how every passenger in the plane feels like when the over-sharer three seats behind you decides to have a loud tiff over the phone with their significant other. No matter how uneasy you feel, all you can do is exchange tired shrugs with each other.
Then there are the sweet and clueless grandparents, trying to have a conversation with their grandchildren on Skype while using the plane’s WiFi, you end up sitting next to. They are obviously going to look towards you to solve their technology problems because you look youngish to them and they imagine all the young people know everything about technology. So they hand you their device and ask you to fix it. You cannot do anything about it because our mobile networks can barely provide network coverage on the ground and right now you are thousands of feet in the air and the connection is slower than the 14k dial-up modem you used to use in 1997. So you try to explain this to them while handing back their device. They reluctantly take it from you, all the while looking at you in silent disappointment. They had so much hope in you! They were going to reward your effort by showing you pictures of their holiday in Ooty. But you did not come through for them. Why, dear reader. Why would you do that to them?
However, the WiFi connection will not be slow when you are trying to catch up with work before your big meeting and an obnoxious child sitting in the next row is watching re-runs of Shin Chan on his iPad. Without an earphone. And no matter how good your noise cancelling headphones are, you will still hear that grating voice that sounds like a thousand nails being rubbed on a blackboard. You will even hear him during your meeting, and you will fumble your pitch and lose the contract.
Then, as you head back home knowing that you have failed, you get to your seat and all you want is to be left alone to marinate in self-hatred. But that will not happen because as luck would have it, you get to sit next to a social media celebrity who feels the compulsion to broadcast every moment of his flight on Instagram. So you cannot say anything because any outburst will reach thousands of people on the internet and you will turn into a meme before you even land and you will keep getting death threats for the next few days.
So you sit there and wonder how you reached this point. You even become nostalgic for the time you were so outraged at the airlines treating their passengers like cattle. That seems so quaint. Such simple times! It is okay, though. You are in the future, now. And you cannot stop the inevitable march of technology, no matter how much you try.
This is how your life is going to be from now on.
Welcome to your worst nightmare.
Overrated Outcast’s Twitter handle is @over_rated.