One of the most difficult journeys that life can put you through
Like the rest of the world, I was closely following the outcome of the national elections that concluded a few weeks ago. I am fairly indifferent to the bumbler, the muffler or the dazzler, or their respective political parties. I just have a single expectation from the next government — may they kick-start the economy and take it to new heights. There are a lot of reasons why you, dear reader, and I should care about the economy — lower unemployment, stronger trade, higher salaries, better standard of living and so on. But the primary reason I care about it is because as a frequent air traveller, a strong economy will help me avoid the ‘walk of shame’. As I have said in Aisle Be Damned, my treatise on air travel, the walk of shame is the ultimate stigma that any corporate traveller can be exposed to: “The walk of shame refers to the journey that a passenger, usually accustomed to flying business, makes through the business class section when he happens to be flying economy. This phenomenon is typically observed during the years of economic slowdown that follow a sustained period of growth activity. When the economy is booming, corporate executives fly business class. But this is one of the first perks to go once markets turn, and as the economy heads south, so do the executives.”
I have been doing the walk of shame for two governments now. A decade ago, I used to merrily occupy the big-bummed seats in the front section of the plane. Aah business class — food in real crockery, a choice of hot and cold towels, a wide selection of magazines and newspapers, and celebrities and tycoons seated around to keep me entertained. And then GDP growth started slowing, it was year-end appraisal time and the HR department had to justify their existence. So they banned business class travel. And I learned that there is a parallel economy class life, consisting of cramped seats and tinfoil food trays behind that blue curtain.
Now if all HR departments adopted a consistent industry-wide travel policy, it wouldn’t be so bad. Like any good, selfish, dog-in-the-manger Indian, I believe if I am flying economy, so must everyone else. But that’s not the case. The shame of the walk compounds when you run into acquaintances and erstwhile juniors, who are now with other organisations, occupying the front section, while you make your way to the back. “Rishi Sir, what a coincidence to meet you sir on this flight. Where are you seated, sir? I’ll come sit next to you, sir. Oh. Economy? Oh. Have a good flight, Rishi.”
So I have been slinking my way along the business class aisle, mortified at each walk of shame, for many years now. And I now pin all my hopes on the new government. May the Sensex soar, may our GDP boom, and may the HR department consequently reverse its draconian travel policy. Acche din aane wale hain. Hum business class mein jaane wale hain.