I took a late evening flight into Calcutta sometime ago. Thanks to a delay, it was well past 11 PM by the time the aircraft started its descent. The flight was half empty and most of the passengers-a motley group of Marwari businessmen, Bengali travellers and a few foreigners had spent the two hour flight dozing. The pre-landing announcements rudely interrupted this siesta. We pulled back our seats, closed the tray tables and opened the window shades. The lights were dimmed as we awaited landing.
It was then that we saw a sight most of us see. We had been flying over pitch darkness for all this time but as the plane broke through the clouds and turned left we could suddenly see tiny pinpricks of light. Flashes of lightning lit up the clouds around us. A few thousand feet below us, the broad band of the Ganges was visible as it snaked its way through the towns of South Bengal. The carpet of lights below was separated by the broad span of the river as it executed a series of tortuous loops. As Calcutta grew closer, the lights kept growing in intensity till we could see the river reflected in their glow. I suddenly realised that everybody in the plane was looking at the same thing. Nobody spoke a word, not even the children. It was again dark as the plane turned north over the East Calcutta wetlands, extended its flaps, lowered its landing gear, shuddered a bit in the monsoon winds and came in to land with a great roar.
The moment was over. People scrambled over each other to leave as numerous mobile phones beeped with missed calls, messages and whatsapp updates. But for a few minutes, some three thousand feet over the Bengali countryside, we had all been just awestruck humans-surprised at the unexpected beauty of a muddy, polluted river from the far off Himalayas running its course through tiny lighted spots of human life at the edge of a bustling metropolis.