Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lost And Found In Transit


In the winter of 2008 I crossed India’s borders for the first time; I hadn’t even been to Nepal or Bhutan until then. My primary emotion pertaining to this travel was that of excitement. But when, at the end of the first phase of the travel, I missed my connecting flight to Bangalore from Frankfurt with no tickets available till the next day due to Christmas rush, that excitement was quickly replaced by apprehension.

Now I like to think of myself as an avid traveler who has even travelled alone in India since that day. But that day, I was tired, sleep-deprived, on my way home and was in no mood to be stranded in transit in Frankfurt. There surely was a moment when I felt it was serendipity, this opportunity to be in and see a bit of Germany. But then I had heard that Germans don’t speak English even if they know how to. How would I get around for one whole day? How would I get to the town from wherever the airport was? What would I eat? And did I have the money? How expensive was Germany anyway? Suddenly, the thought of being couped up in my room at the airport hotel and catching up on sleep after nearly 30 hours seemed more tempting than exploring a new country. Frankly, I felt a little lost.

And so I collected my alternate tickets from the Lufthansa desk and stepped outside to look for the shuttle bus to the Intercity Hotel. There were many Indians waiting alongside but I was too drained to try and initiate a conversation although usually I am the one who starts talking. I just wanted to get to my hotel room and lock myself in. Just then I heard a question: “Have you missed your flight to Mumbai?” 

He had missed his flight to Mumbai, an elderly gentleman of Indian origin, who was on his way to Baroda, I learnt. In the course of the introductory conversation I realized that he was Gujarati by origin and had migrated to Australia many years ago where he was a Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering in Canberra. I brightened up on hearing this; I was an Electrical Engineering graduate myself! I decided to address him as ‘Sir’ from then on since that is how we addressed all our professors in college. He didn’t seem to mind either.

We reached the hotel and while checking in, Sir asked me if I wanted to go see the town post lunch. Whereas I should have jumped at the opportunity of being able to see Frankfurt and not necessarily on my own, I found myself saying that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and needed to catch up. It’s unbelievable in retrospect. But Sir told me to consider it; if I wasn’t coming back to Frankfurt in the near future I might as well see it while I had the chance. And yet I only said I’d think about it!

Thankfully good sense prevailed and I called Sir in a bit to ask if we could go to town. He happily obliged and we asked for directions at the hotel desk. We were told that the Christmas market was a must-visit for that time of the year and were even handed over free tickets for the train! And we set about to explore Frankfurt.

For someone who enjoys a good conversation more than most other things in life, a conversation with Sir that evening was a fitting close to the first phase of my travel abroad. Sir is a learned man with a broad spectrum of interests and an open mind. He was curious to know my perspectives about a whole range of things in India, just to gauge how much India had changed since he left. And we talked…of art, culture, philosophy, India, Australia, academics, the development of language and Sanskrit and all that I can’t think of. We also spoke of our families. He asked me how old I was at one point, and told me that if he had got married before his Ph. D. he would have probably had a daughter my age. He asked me to think of him as a father-figure and not to hesitate to ask if I wanted to buy something from the market. And I happily got him to buy me a big bag of Caramel popcorn! 

We returned from town at dinnertime but the conversation continued. Being from my parent’s generation, Sir gave me his perspective on certain matters that had been bothering me especially relating to conforming to societal norms regarding marriage and such. His unbiased opinion helped me to put my thoughts in order. At the end of the day, it felt like I’d had a conversation with a wise relative who knew exactly what it felt like to be in my place. More than the opportunity to see Frankfurt, I was thankful for the opportunity to talk to someone as wise as Sir and find a good friend while stranded in transit. 

While taking his leave that night, I had felt the sudden urge to touch Sir’s feet like one would of one’s own elders; the conversation I had with him was one I would have liked to have with someone from my own family but their concern and worry would always come in the way. Sir and I still keep in touch and our conversations remain the same – Sir trying to gather perspectives from me on the India of today that he only reads about, me trying to gather wisdom from him like one would from a wise uncle. He sends me songs that his son has composed and gives me feedback on my writing. It really is like having a family elder in a far flung land. But I had known that already, when he had blessed me that night as I touched his feet and told me to head to Canberra whenever I felt like visiting since he and his family would be glad to host me. I had left knowing he probably WAS my family in another lifetime and had been sent to take care of me while I was lost in transit that December day in Frankfurt.

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This post has been written as an entry for the Around The World With Expedia Contest organized by Indiblogger and Expedia

8 Thinkers Pondered:

Dee........ said...

beautifully written :)
good luck for the contest :)

Anupama said...

Thank you so much Dee :)

Sudhagee said...

Serendipity ... That's how I would describe your meeting "Sir".

Good luck for the contest :-)

Anupama said...

Serendipity indeed Sudhagee, thanks a lot :)

vasu said...

Nicely penned.

Anupama said...

Thank you Vasu :)

Vaish said...

Nice account on travel!

Anupama said...

Thanks Vaish!