A streamlined body is one which is so designed that a gas or liquid can flow smoothly around its contours. This type of flow is called laminar flow. This is why airplanes and ships are not affected by the normal air and water currents in which they fly or sail. On the other hand, turbulent flow has the fluid moving in different directions, even opposite to the main current or going round in circles. A ship caught in turbulent waters would get tossed about, while an airplane that encounters turbulence in the air may shake and suddenly gain or lose height. Airline pilots try to keep away from thunderstorms as there are strong updrafts and downdrafts in their vicinity. However, clear air turbulence is also quite commonly experienced by passengers.

The words ‘turbulence’ and ‘turbulent’ are popularly used in news headlines to describe conditions that are variable or erratic, or a development whose future outcome is not quite predictable. These words are particularly chosen when the headlines relate to the aviation industry or airlines. For example, ‘airline initiative heads for turbulence’, ‘turbulence in aviation industry over proposed pollution tax’, ‘summer travellers face turbulence, required to carry passports’, ‘air traffic controllers stir turbulence’, ‘airline business hits a patch of turbulence as passenger traffic stalls’, and so on.

There are examples of the word being used in other contexts as well. For example, ‘major losses amid turbulence in the market’, ‘macro-economic turbulence sends copper into retreat’, ‘alliance on the right collapses, next comes turbulence on the left’, etc.

And there are news items that talk about ‘turbulent divides’ between territories, ‘turbulent life and times’ of legendary personalities, ‘turbulent marriages’ of business houses, ‘turbulent meetings’ of environmental bodies, ‘turbulent campaigns’ of political candidates, ‘turbulent ratings’ of TV channels, ‘turbulent futures’ in the stock market, and many more.

How difficult indeed for anyone to maintain a balance in these ‘turbulent times’ in which we all live!