Arnab Dutta, 29, looked at his watch. It was 8.30am on Wednesday. He was one of the first to arrive at the Behala Flying Club as one of the lucky 45 to take a flight with a bird's-eye view of Calcutta on Dashami. The contest, Seagram's Royal Stag presents Catch the Puja Flight, in association with t2, initially planned for October 20, was postponed to Dashami. Quite understandably, the excited contestants could not wait much longer!
"I was feeling as helpless as Jackie Shroff in Border when he looks at his watch and cannot take off. Now, after seeing the plane land, I feel like Dharmendra, who takes off with Hema Malini in the song Pyaar ke is khel mein from the 1973 film Jugnu!" laughed Arnab, a resident of New Alipore who works in a private firm.
He may not have had Hema Malini for company but husband-wife duo Raj Kumar and Runa Nath from Sealdah sure had each other! "We had tried last year for the Hot Air Balloon Pandal-Hopping contest, but were not chosen. We are crazy about the Pujas and anything to do with it. The idea of a flight on Dashami sounded exciting and we lost count of the number of SMSes we sent for the contest. When the call came finally, we knew we were going to have the best Dashami ever," smiled the couple, married for three years.
For as many as 15 out of the 45, it was the first time aboard an aircraft. Suchitra Bakuly, 16, was busy chewing the ends of her handkerchief but when asked if she was nervous, the Amta Balika Vidyalaya student said confidently, "Aami bhoy pai na. It's my first time on a flight but I will look down from the plane, take pictures from my mobile and then upload them on Facebook. I haven't told any of my friends as I want to give them a surprise!"
Ritan Debnath, a polytechnic student at Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, Belur Math, even sacrificed pandal-hopping on Tuesday night in order to wake up in time for the 9.45am flight on Wednesday. "When I first saw the advertisement in t2, I decided to give it a try. This is my first experience of flying and I cannot express my excitement. I was literally counting minutes. I even gave up pandal-hopping last night so that I could wake up on time this morning. Puja, for me, had only one meaning until now ' pandal-hopping and eating out ' but this year has now become the most special Puja of my life," said the 23-year-old.
It was indeed a special Puja for all 45, who were divided into five batches and put aboard a 11-seater Cessna 208B. But not before a safety briefing by pilots Siddharth Sharan and Nishant Parswani of chartered flight company Pinnacle Air Pvt Ltd. "Keep your seatbelts on, switch off your mobiles, sit back and relax as you see Calcutta from 1,000ft above the ground," were the instructions, short and sweet.
The first batch took flight at 9.45am. Excited jet-setters held on tight as the aircraft wobbled a bit before going up, up and away! If 28-year-old Pranajit Bose was "a little nervous", Runa Nath from the husband-wife duo was spotted touching up her make-up!
First-timers and brothers Animesh and Dinesh Ghosh could not let go of their cameras. "The experience is once-in-a-lifetime. Everyone thought I was mad to send 2,400 SMSes. I even got an unlimited SMS pack just for this contest," grinned Dinesh, 31. Brother Animesh sent more than 1,000 SMSes himself. "Byapok! The only scene running through my head was Akshay Kumar perching himself atop a speeding plane in Khiladi 420," laughed the Howrah boy.
The airplane angled as it cut through the air and flyers chatted excitedly as they spotted South City. And when the pilots pointed out the river, the cameras went 'click-click'.
"I have never seen the city from so near. I've never flown so low. The duration should have been longer ' it's a great effort. In fact, when I got the call, I instantly said yes. Everyone at home was also excited," said businessman Pranav Jani, as he sent updates to his wife by the minute.
For siblings Debanjali and Debanjan Chakraborty from Bansdroni, it was about ending Puja on a high note, literally! "We went in separate batches so we were a little sad but as we had only one camera, it was better because we got pictures from different angles. I am simply waiting to get back home and update all my experiences with photographs on Facebook," said Debanjali. "Once I was inside the flight I could not help wanting more of it. It is truly said good things do not last long. I felt overjoyed when I could make out the top view of some pandals," said Debanjan.
Finally, for adventurous Arnab who was one of the first to reach and also in the first batch to take the flight, the experience was "like a yorker".
"Before you could realise, it was over. Just when I started enjoying the trip and soaking in the joy of flying, it was all over. I was also anticipating the aircraft doing a somersault," he grinned.
Perhaps, next Pujas!