Singapore was not a place that I planned to visit. May sound unusual. At least, not as a tourist. It sounded quite boring. From all descriptions, it sounds more like an office — neat and organised just right for work. And, a person takes a vacation to get out of office. Right?
But I believe you should never say no. So, I was to visit in the first week of November. For work. I looked up online for places to visit when I got time off work. Most of them centered around food. Specifically, street food. One of them was Makansutra Gluttons Bay. All the others seemed too far from my hotel in the Central Business District, at least considering the time available to me after work. Unsatisfied with my research, I just dropped the idea and decided to walk around in the vicinity of my hotel and try my luck.
After collecting my boarding pass in Bengaluru, I was greeted by a member of Singapore Airlines who guided me to the lounge for Business Class passengers. Nice place. They have a buffet and a couple of live counters running 24×7. My flight was at 11 pm. At that hour, the lounge was packed. Naturally, since a majority of international flights take off at night.
It would be a good idea to have a light dinner and a drink, perhaps, and then go to sleep once the flight takes off. No point eating on a four-hour flight. I had some salad and then opted for a 30-minute foot massage. That would definitely help with falling asleep on the flight.
The Business Class seats are definitely a big leap from Economy. More space. The seat stretches full-length to allow you to sleep. Only disadvantage is that the bed slopes downwards (in the direction of your feet). The crew told me the airline is planning to offer flat-beds in due course.
Once I had settled in, I politely turned down the offer of a welcome drink and water. To avoid further conversation, I pulled out my blanket, covered myself (my friend says I look like a corpse in bed) and tried to sleep. I hate losing sleep. It leaves me feeling sleep-deprived, groggy and un-enthusiastic in the morning. And no, coffee does not set things right for me. Nothing sets things right for me if I lose sleep.
Like in the iconic movie Sholay, Gabbar Singh says: ‘Gabbar ke taap se ek hi aadmi tumhe bacha sakta hai. Aur who hai, khud Gabbar! (There is only one man who can save you from the wrath of Gabbar. And, that is Gabbar!)’
In this case, there is only one thing that can save me from the after-effects of lack of sleep. That is, sleep!
Outright corny? I love to blend melodrama with fact and over-the-top dialogues.
So, there I was attempting to sleep. At some point, I heard the air hostess say Mr Shetty. That drove my sleep away. It’s so embarrassing for me to be addressed that way that I had to tell her to stop. I mean, I was ready to wake up just to stop her from saying Mr Shetty. Mr Shetty.
Next time I fly Business Class, you can be sure I will make a special request that I be addressed by my name, not as a log of wood or some piece of furniture! Or, luggage! The right word is relic!
My waking up had the desired effect. She stopped calling out to me. No fault of hers, really. I should have told her (to allow me to sleep during the flight) before I pulled that blanket over my face.
Once I wake up, usually I can’t go back to sleep again. So, a bad day lay ahead of me. Or, at least, a bad morning. Serves me right for trying to act like a stud! Why couldn’t I just do the right thing and request the crew to allow me to sleep. Instead, like the prima donna that I think I am, I assumed that the crew would assume that I would not like to be disturbed once I covered my entire body in a blanket. Typical bad flyer.
This is what happens to people who think too much of themselves.
But now I knew I had a long way ahead and lots of time to over-analyse my social-skill under-development over the years. While I was immersed in the nightmare of what I knew for sure lay ahead of me, the air hostess came back to offer a choice of meals. The only words I heard were chicken and lamb. I chose lamb.
The appetiser placed before me was heaven.
This was followed by dessert. There is a reason I have not posted a photograph of dessert. I am a dessert fan. The first thing that comes to my mind is to try the dessert. And, I did. Outstanding! One thing led to another and, in a few seconds, the dessert had disappeared. While reliving the taste, I realised that I had not taken a photograph. This happens often with me. But for your information, I was offered a Coconut Jaggery Cheesecake and Coconut Sauce.
The tide, it seemed, was turning in my favour.
But made me wonder why meals on domestic flights are not so tasty.
I then requested a little wine to resume my attempt to fall asleep.
As I was waiting for the wine, I decided to take a photograph of the menu card. While I was doing that, the head of the cabin crew Antony dropped by to say hello. He told me there is no need to take a photograph. I could keep the menu card. It is a special menu card on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the airline.
After he enquired about my meal, I steered the conversation towards Singapore. Seeing that he was an amiable sort, I asked him about street food and places to visit.
We decided to take our budding conversation elsewhere so as to not disturb the passenger sitting next to me. I quickly gulped down the wine and followed Antony to the alcove adjoining the galley.
Antony had spent about three decades in the airline in various roles, travelled to various places around the world and in various aircraft.
Then, he told me something familiar. He is a fan of Amul butter! Whenever he would get the time, he would pick up one large pack. His wife never understood his fascination. We found common ground.
I told him that I needed someone local to guide me around Singapore. He would have volunteered, like he had for several others before me, but he had to take his wife for a doctor’s appointment. Was the tide turning against me now?
He then wrote down the dishes I must try. One of them was Laksa and the other was Chicken Rice Hainanese. The places he suggested were Newton Hawker Centre and Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre.
I felt I could trust Antony to suggest only the best dishes and places. He seemed to know his dishes and places. His wife had been an air hostess in Singapore Airlines and his son is a chef. It could not get better than this. Maybe, the tide was still in my favour.
As we spoke, I began developing an enthusiasm for Singapore. Honestly, my enthusiasm was directed entirely towards the doors of street food that Antony was opening for me. I began to get the feeling that I can get more out of this visit than I had hoped for.
When it comes to research, Google is the Baadshah. But I believe in the human touch. Food is made by people. Food can be described best by people. I had already tried Google, but Antony was what I really needed.
— Dhiraj Shetty