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The First Flight


Vineet had wanted to be the first in everything. He had been the first from the village to go to the government high school at the district headquarters in Mirzapur. Although
he had not been able to complete high school, he had been the first to ride a tractor in the village, which the family had rented to plough their field. He had been the first in the village to buy
a bicycle and had also driven an old motor car belonging to his friend, Saurav.
He had done everything and, like Alexander the Great. He was about to bemoan the limits of possibilities, when he saw an aeroplane. At that moment, he found a new goal—he would fly.
That evening, he went to his cousin Rohit in Mirzapur.
"I want to travel in an aeroplane," said Vineet, announcing his intentions as soon as he reached Rohit's house.
"Where do you want to go all of a sudden?" asked Rohit. "Is it so urgent that you cannot reach on time by train or bus?"
Vineet shook his head. "I don't know where I want to go, and I don't care as long as I get to travel on the aeroplane."
Rohit looked at Vineet wondering whether he had gone crazy, but he did not say that to his face. Rohit could make out Vineet's intentions. "Let us talk to one of our friends, who is a travel agent," he suggested. "We will try to take a ticket to a nearby city and back, or maybe you can travel to that city by plane and come back by train. And that will help to save money, as the flight ticket is very costly."
Vineet liked the suggestion because all he wanted was to be the first person from the village to travel by air—the less money spent in the effort the better it would be. In his mind he framed the sentences that he would use to describe the flight: "It is simply great, unbelievable. Everything on the ground gets smaller and smaller and then you get into the clouds and then..."
The visit to the travel agent was depressing. There were no short distance flights from Mirzapur. There was only one flight, that too, once a week, to Bombay and the ticket
would cost Rs. 6,000.
Vineet felt cheated; all he had wanted was to be taken up in the air and brought back. He had nothing to do at Bombay for he did not know anyone there. The sum of Rs. 6,000 was not a small amount. If his father heard of his plans, he would be skinned alive; no, he could not afford this flight. He went back dejected to his village. He dreamt of flying but kept his plans close to his heart and did not reveal them to anyone.
It was a discussion with the village carpenter that gave Vineet fresh cause for hope. The carpenter, Bhola, who had been in the Army, was recounting tales of helping the officers practise gliding in the Kangra Valley.
"You mean you can fly on the glider?" asked Vineet with great interest.
"One can fly," answered Bhola diplomatically, "but it does not go up by itself; one can fly for a short distance if one jumps from an elevation."
"That will do!" Vineet almost shouted. "Where can one get a glider?"
Now Bhola gave him the bad news. A glider did not come cheap and was not easily available.
"But you told me that it is made of just canvas and rods, how can it be costly?"
Bhola could not answer that question, but he repeated,
"It is costly."
Vineet had a flash of inspiration. "You must have worked on the glider?" he asked Bhola.
"Many," answered Bhola with pride.
"So why don't you build one for me?" prompted Vineet.
Bhola suddenly had doubts in his own abilities. "I did not really work on the glider," he pleaded. "What I meant
was that I had seen others working on gliders."
However, Vineet was not one to give up easily. "That is sufficient for an expert technician like you."
Bhola made one last bid to escape, "I won't be able to make it according to the exact specifications."
"You need not," encouraged Vineet. "After all, it is me and not you who will be flying the glider."
Bhola knew that he was trapped. "I need a lot of material, it might cost up to a thousand rupees!" he said, hoping that this would dissuade Vineet.
However, this amount seemed reasonable to Vineet who was sure of managing that much from his father on some pretext or the other.
Thus Bhola was commissioned to start work from the next day. In a week, the craft was ready. Bhola had managed to keep it a secret, as he did not want to be held responsible if Vineet were to crash and break his neck.
When Vineet saw it, he too thought that it did not look like any flying machine, but he decided to keep his doubts to himself. A lot of money had already been spent on the 'glider'.
Early next morning, before dawn, Vineet carried the glider to the top of the hillock facing the village. He did not want anyone to spy on his preparations. Of course, he wanted the entire village to be a witness to his feat, but that would be when he would be flying majestically over the village, waving his hands to the people of the village who would stand with their mouths agape. Since Bhola knew about Vineet's plans, he decided to stay indoors, waiting for the fateful news.
Vineet waited on the hillock for a while. When he was sure that the village was awake, he prepared to take off. He climbed on top of a huge boulder and looked down. Half his resolve vanished at the first sight of the steep fall. The glider in his hand looked clumsy and inadequate to protect him from such a steep fall. He felt sorry for himself, for his dreams that were continuously being thwarted. He also knew that if he looked down again, he would never be able to make the
jump. Vineet closed his eyes and jumped.
When he opened his eyes, he had not crashed. The glider was working! The immediate feeling of relief, which he felt, was replaced by frustration when he realized that the glider was not flying towards the village settlement. There was nothing he could do to change the mind of the glider, which was single-mindedly moving towards a clump of trees near the village.
By the time, he came up with some bright idea, the glider crashed on a tree and he found himself hanging by the shirt from the tree. His first impulse was to free his shirt from the branch and he tried to shake himself free, but immediately regretted doing so. His shirt tore away from the branch and before he could get a hold, he had tumbled


from the tree on to the top of a buffalo, pleasantly strolling in the grove.
It was difficult to say which of the two was more terrified. But the buffalo was certainly the first to act. Before Vineet could decide whether or not to alight from the back of the buffalo, the animal had started running at a brisk pace and all that Vineet could do was to hold on tightly to the back of the buffalo.
The buffalo was running towards the village settlement and Vineet felt that the short distance travelled gave him
more experience than what he could have got on ten trips by the aeroplane. The buffalo rushed into the Village Square and came to a sharp stop, throwing Vineet, with a disdainful air, into the compost pit of the village.
All the people, whom Vineet had hoped to wave from the glider, now witnessed his fall. He lay for a while in the compost pit, wondering whether it was worth coming out.
Vineet walked back at the head of a procession to his house with half the village following him. His grandmother refused to allow him to enter the house till he was washed and purified.
It irked Vineet to hear that Bhola had broken two coconuts at the village temple to thank God for bringing back Vineet with his bones intact. From that day, Vineet did not want to be the first in anything. He also did not want to talk about flying, but some of the villagers did discuss among themselves about his foolish venture.
Vineet overheard the village urchins saying: "Did you see him fly straight from the back of the buffalo into the cesspool?" Vineet merely walked past as if he had not heard.

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