What class do you need to travel business class?

Published: Sunday 15 October 2006

-- to fly business class one must look and behave like a businessman. Santraj Maurya did not have that demeanour. He really couldn't have. Picking waste from Delhi's roads doesn't really bestow one with business class gentility. And, Maurya had spent the best part of his 29 years doing exactly that.

Make no mistake the young man had no pretensions. He simply did his job well cleaning the filth in Delhi's elite residential enclaves. Not just that. His earnestness rubbed on to his fellow waste pickers. It also helped that the ngo Chintan, which works with wastepickers, took Maurya under its wing. The ngo's activists say that Maurya was remarkably responsive to their workshops on group building real leader material. His ability to solve local problems, deal with municipal officials and his eagerness to learn, earned Maurya a promotion. He was now a supervisor. A distinct achievement. But business class? Nah.

Such niceties, or perhaps, the lack of them, didn't bother Maurya. He was invited to Belo Horizonte to take part in the wastepickers' festival that's an annual feature of this Brazilian city. Here was a chance to interact with Belo Horizonte's famous association of wastepickers, asmare. At the festival, Maurya was expected to be part of an important panel discussion to share experiences on how privatisation impacts waste pickers. He would have shared space with organisations from Egypt and Colombia, apart from important lawyers from Brazil. A recognition for sure. But definitely not business class worthy.

Maurya was, however, under no illusion. He simply got busy arranging the trip. It required resources. Of course, Maurya didn't have the business class acumen, so precious time went by making arrangements. By the time he had his bearings there was no economy class ticket for him. So, Maurya finally had his date with business class, if only by default. The finances were there. So an Alitalia business class ticket was procured.

But the airline company realised it had made a mistake at the eleventh hour it hadn't checked on Maurya's antecedents. How could a wastepicker, who spoke no English, qualify to fly business class. What a slur. How would the real business class react? No, prudence dictated that Alitalia ground Maurya. He had no business flying business class.

Of course, it's another matter that the wastepicker had never claimed he was business class.

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