Keep your lid on

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 23, 2010 20:10 hrs

With a name like that, can you blame the volcano?

Let’s say it all together now: Eyjafjallajökull! Oh, do you not know how?

The volcano under the eponymous Icelandic glacier began to erupt at about the same time as the whole Shashi Tharoor-Lalit Modi-IPL thing, though with less intensity. From India, the 15,000 ft-33,000 ft ash plume was almost totally eclipsed by our own cash plume. But those of us who view the IPL as any other crooked business venture, and Shashi Tharoor as any other slippery politician, have been much more interested in the volcano.

And for us, the big question for the last many days has been: How do you even say that word? Eyjafjallajökull, which in the local language means "A hundred thousand cancelled flights later you still won’t be able to pronounce this", is wreaking havoc with the aviation industry, and with newscasters around the world whose tongues now loll, limp and useless, from the effort of trying to say it several times a day. This greatly amuses Icelanders, who themselves breezily ignore half the letters, stick in some unscheduled ‘t’s, and then pronounce them ‘d’. You can listen to them say it right at; as far as I can make out, it’s Ay-a-fadla-yo-kudl. The rest of the clip is devoted to making fun of how everyone else says it.

I can’t begrudge them a few giggles, though. They haven’t had the best couple of years, what with everyone looking crossly at them because of how much they owe the world, and now for busting up travel plans and bankrupting airlines, as if they’re responsible for the behaviour of their volcanoes. (It doesn’t, however, look good that Reykjavik has sunny skies and that all flights between Iceland and the non-European world are right on schedule.)

Things could get worse: scientists say that not only could this volcano keep burping fire for weeks or months, but apparently Eyjafjallajökull’s explosions tend to trigger the neighbouring, much fiercer Katla volcano. Connected to the same magma chain is Laki —and the last eruption of that one, in 1783, has been blamed for effects as far-reaching as the French Revolution (volcanic gases change patterns, crop production falls in Europe, peasants run amok). Global warming is likely to increase both volcanic eruptions and their intensity. But figuring all this out is not going to be easy; GNS Science, a New Zealand research organisation, wanted to send a scientist to study Eyjafjallajökull, but he couldn’t get a flight to Europe.

But really, everyone should just suck it up. I don’t care if I never go to Europe again, as long as they wait for it to be safe to fly. All the people yelling about the lack of crisis coordination and demanding their high-tech, high-speed lives back should take a quick refresher on the ‘Jakarta incident’ of 1982, when a British Airways Boeing flew into the ash plume of Mt Galunggung near the Indonesian capital and lost all four of its engines. The crew took the plane into a nosedive to prevent oxygen-starvation, and upon exiting the ash cloud were able to restart their engines, but had to land without their instruments and more or less blind. The whole thing was, as the captain memorably described it, "a bit like negotiating one’s way up a badger’s arse."

If that sounds like fun, go ahead and blow your top agitating for flights to resume ASAP. But it might be much more fun to sit around on a boat, or in a train or car, and use the time to look at photographs or film clips of volcanic eruptions, because they’re truly spectacular events.

And maybe practice how to say Eyjafjallajökull.

[Mitali Saran is a Delhi-based freelance writer]

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