Brace for impact : ‘Sully’

I like chatty pilots, especially those with a fine turn of phrase. But the one time that I could have done without a compulsive talker for a pilot was in September 2010, when I was returning from Spain & Portugal. Our take-off was delayed as some passengers arrived late (their connecting flight was late) and there was congestion at the airport. The Lufthansa captain wasn’t too happy and kept up a running commentary.


The details are a little hazy now but I remember she said that she was asking permission to fly at a lower altitude than scheduled as we were running low on fuel. When we landed, perhaps at Frankfurt, she announced that the plane was being refuelled with all us on board, and told us to unfasten our seat belts and be prepared for a quick exit if required. I am not a nervous flier, but I confess my heart did a quick flip and I breathed easy only when we were safely up and away once more.

Thankfully, that was the most frightening flight experience I have had. I can’t begin to imagine what I would feel on hearing “This is your Captain. Brace for impact”. This is what Capt. Sully, who was in command of US Airways flight 1549, announced to the 155 passengers and crew on January 15, 2009. With both engines disabled by bird hit, he chose to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.


‘Sully’, the movie is directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood, with Tom Hanks playing the lead with impressive understatement. A finely crafted movie, it is a tribute to the pilot who chose his ‘human’ ability (instinct backed by solid experience). It is also as much a tribute to the rapid response of rescue teams who had all the passengers on board the Airbus 320 safe in less than half hour after the landing.

The heart soars up when one sees such a fortunate coming together of people; as Sully – astonished at finding himself become a hero- said at the end of the hearing that proved that he had taken the right call, it was all of them together who made the miracle on the Hudson happen.


The irony when most of the world hails Sully as a saviour while his company wants to pin the blame on him, the worries of a career in jeopardy, the family’s pressing need for money – the tumult of emotions are delicately portrayed. As biopics go, this ranks amongst the best; the very simplicity of its narrative makes it a compelling watch. It might just make you go out to the nearest pub and stand everyone a round of beer.


Guru -a Hijra family

This is a photo of two hijras (eunuchs) who appeared during a puja in our family recently.


I have travelled a long while since the time that I was in a cab in Bombay. At a traffic signal, a hijra leaned in through the window and much to my chagrin, grabbed my dark glasses and demanded money. When I gave her some, she pressed my head with her hands in blessing. I was a bit upset and angered.

Over the years, I have begun to sympathise with them. I am neither put off or frightened by them. Eunuchs typically land up in groups at weddings, housewarmings and such happy occasions and demand money. When people around me express their irritation, I ask them to think if any of them would employ a hijra. They beg because they have no choice – think of how tough it is for them to get out and face life every day, knowing they are alien.

Today as I watched ‘Guru’ a film about a hijra family by Laurie Colson & Axelle Le Dauphin, I felt that it could have only been made by eyes that could see the raw pain and yes, beauty in the life of the mocked and reviled hijras (eunuchs) in India.


The 1.15 hour documentary travels with Guru, a eunuch in Coimbatore and the 10 women under her care.

Within the closed doors of their home, life seems the same routine of any large Indian family. But out of this cocoon, they traverse a varied path.

From begging for alms to working as sex workers, they lead a hard life. There is a rare acceptability and honour in Lakshmi Amma, the hijras’ Guru’s achievement as a sought after cook at weddings and temple events.

The camera is unobtrusive and all pervasive, as it captures the dreams and the laughter, the yearning and the travails of this community.

Two things in particular struck me: the eunuchs call the castration they embrace ‘nirvanam’ (nirvana).

The second thing that forcibly struck me were the words of one of the eunuchs who says that she ‘longs to be free’ but that isn’t to be; eunuchs are taught from a young age to listen to their elders, to tread the safe path that the family has drawn and to always travel in a group. Substitute hijra with woman, and isn’t it the same that we were told and that we repeat?