Girls want to have fun. Boys want to have fun. Wags say the bureaucracy has fun by stopping others from having fun. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) suspending five young Jet Airways airhostesses for allowing popular singer Sonu Nigam to use the Public Announcement System (PAS) to croon is one such example. The complainant was offended that the crew cheered Nigam from the aisles. An ‘inquiry’ is pending. An inquiry for what? No crime was committed. They didn’t invite hijackers to capture the system. They didn’t crack dirty jokes. They didn’t abuse the passengers. When flyers on the plane requested Nigam, who was travelling by the same flight, to sing for them, he sportingly agreed. The girls, presumably starry-eyed and expecting a break from the dreary, tiresome, ankle-busting job of serving with a fake smile rude passengers, crying babies and appeasing drunken bullies, just wanted to have some fun. The irony here is that the job of airline stewardesses—one of the hardest in the world—is to make passengers happy, accommodate their requests, and make the flight comfortable. The passengers wanted music. The stewardesses didn’t. But they, and Nigam, turned out to be more sporting than the rule-glued aviation body. Nigam is one of the highest paid Bollywood singers, who reportedly charges `10-15 lakh for playback per movie. This time, high in the clouds, he sang for free.
The girls are facing the music for breaking aviation rules. It is an accepted fact that while governments enforce the law, rules are set by the bureaucracy. By nature, babudom is sadistic, exulting in the arcane power of long-forgotten gazettes and rulebooks like administrative magi who graduated from some Kafkasque edifice of a nightmare Hogwarts. This is a rusted knot which the Narendra Modi government is trying to cut. On a commercial flight, the rules forbid anyone singing on the PAS. But the girls did not break the law. Indeed, they violated the guidelines, but the response, based on the complaint by a single passenger, who did admit on television that other travellers didn’t mind the music in the least, should have been lighter. A reprimand would have been enough.
For a law to come into force, it has to be passed by Parliament. A society cannot exist without rules, or else it would lead to utter anarchy. But rules change according to the times. Indians generally feel that breaking rules is their birthright. They spit on the road, overtake from the left, and ignore lane driving. They spew plumes of paan on walls, urinate in public, encroach public space by extending their houses and shops. It is this uncivilised behaviour which needs to be checked, not punishing an airline crew for allowing passengers to enjoy Nigam. The singer’s response was appropriate—the girls were suspended for “spreading happiness on the flight”. Contrary to perception, inflight crew does not lead glamorous lives. In the US, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has a regular programme to examine and evaluate them for infectious diseases, mould and the cosmic radiation that affects every flight—they fly more than the passengers.
India needs to take a chill pill. It is today an entertainment-oriented society, thanks to the television revolution, glitzy malls, private concerts, food festivals and package holidays. The DGCA shouldn’t make a song and dance about the incident. A slap on the wrist would do. After all, just like the bureaucracy, the air hostesses serve India, too.