Have a safe journey

Many years ago, as I was preparing to go to work in the morning, my phone rang. I picked up the phone and said politely ‘hello’ a couple of times.

There was total silence at the other end. It just took a flash of a second to figure out that it was a trunk call as long-distance phones are known. After some time I could hear my friend LP at the other end. He was coming to Kathmandu from the US via Pakistan.

I asked him, “Why Pakistan?”

He didn’t mince his words: “Your bhauju has fallen for a tour guide in Pakistan. We are getting a divorce.” I remember his wife as a nice lady. But there was not much I could say to empathise with him on his divorce, a personal issue. As it is, times were hard with a memorable blockade in place, ostensibly to force King Birendra to give in to democratic forces.

LP wanted to know if I would be in town at the end of September.

I was heading to Singapore for a few days, but I told him I would be back in time to pick him up from the airport.

He wanted to come home for an authentic Newari dinner and talk about our business project. We planned to open an office in the US.

During his earlier trips, we had agreed on the ToR that he would take care of the business and ensure profitability. I had told him that I don’t fancy leaving Nepal to settle elsewhere.

My American friend, Robert, had instilled pride in my roots.

He used to come home for drinks whenever he was in town. Warning me against moving to the US, he would tell me, “You have strong roots here.”

On the day LP was flying in, the sky was overcast and cloudy.

We had some drizzle during the day. The rains had not petered out even though it was the tail end of the monsoon. My assistant gave me the news: “Are you expecting someone? The PIA flight is missing.”

Suddenly an unknown fear seized me. As I waited with butterflies in my stomach, the inevitable news came in shortly.

The flight crashed. A Thai flight mishap barely a month ago had killed 113 passengers. Two international flight accidents in the space of a month. I went home and wept.

What was prescient were my words. Without any thoughts, I had warned LP that he might die in an air accident. He had told me over the long-distance phone: “Don’t worry, man, PIA is one of the best airlines and has never crashed except once, a long time ago.” What words! Since then, I wish everyone a safe journey but not a safe flight.