By Kulbhushan Kain
We meet different kinds of people when we travel in trains, ferries, buses planes…
I always try to connect with them by talking. I realise that these are special relationships and are generated because these people are on the move, and you meet them accidentally. Nine times out of ten, these die once we reach our respective destinations. We may never meet them again. They come into our lives for 1 hour, 3 hrs, 12 hrs, 18 hrs or 22 hrs!! And, then, they disappear.
It is rare to be seated next to someone who is travelling for the first time – be it in a train, bus, ferry or a plane. Eight years ago, I boarded a Spicejet Flight going from Ahmedabad to Dubai.
I did the normal things. I sat down at my window seat and started to read the travel magazine. I started to surf my Facebook page on my cellphone. I checked to make sure that my camera and passport were safe.
Soon, it was announced that the flight was about to take off and that we should all fasten our seat belts.
I had not noticed that a middle aged lady had occupied the seat next to mine. As I fastened my seat belt I noticed she was struggling with hers. I smiled at her and volunteered to fasten it for her.
“Pehle baar ur rahi hoon (I am flying for the first time),” she said.
Before she could thank me, I reopened the seat belt and asked her to fasten it on her own. I asked her to unlock the seat belt. She looked at me with amusement and confusion.
“Aap utrengi bhi toh (you will get down also). Aur phir wapas bhi to Ahmedabad lautengee (and you will return to Ahmedabad, also). Ab seekhlo, aur bhoolna nahi!”
The teacher in me was asserting itself. She smiled childishly. My purpose was to teach her and make her aware about the procedures that a first time traveler experiences. I remembered how I had made a fool of myself when I had flown for the first time and how an insensitive Englishman had laughed derisively at me when I had wanted to go to the bathroom and could not unlock the belt.
She shut her eyes and kept mumbling “Ram, Ram” as the aircraft gathered speed before it took off. She told me that she was getting “chakkers” (feeling dizzy) and that she might vomit. I told her that a waste envelope was provided in the jacket of the seat, so she could empty out into it. I was firm and added
“Muj par ultee mut karna.” She was quiet and luckily did not bring up.
After some time, we were flying over Pakistan and I told her so.
“Pakistan?” She was excited that she was was flying over Pakistan and told me that her family had migrated from Karachi. She looked out. She was quiet.
She had a sense of humour, too. We got caught in slight turbulence over Pakistan. The plane rocked a little and dropped height. The experienced traveler knows all about it, but for a first timer it could be frightening.
“Yeh kya hua?”she asked looking visibly frightened.
“Kuchh nahi,” I said. I explained that these are routine things that happen during flights. She was quick to respond, “Pakistan tries to create fear among Indians. But they are like clouds that thunder and don’t rain!!!”
I had a good laugh. I told her that air turbulence has got nothing to do with Pakistan’s ill-intentions towards India.
Slowly her fear of looking down disappeared. She started enjoying the view of the earth from the air. As we started to lose height and descended on Dubai, I told her to look at the spectacular buildings that that form the skyline of Dubai.
The plane touched down. Bumpy and noisy! I asked her to follow me to immigration and promised to help her get through. She was obedient. She followed me faithfully. But she refused to take the escalator or the moving walkway (autowalks). She was stunned into silence seeing what she called “chalteh raaste” and said me she would get “chakkers”, if she walked on moving roads. In that case, I asked her to keep pace with me because I wanted to be the first to get the clearance at immigration.
She kept pace, huffing and puffing.
We went through the immigration and, since I had only my hand baggage, I bid her goodbye after instructing her from which conveyor belt to pick up her baggage.
She thanked me profusely.
We parted. My last picture of hers is her turning back to see whether I had left from where we had parted. I was waiting and then she melted into the crowd.
No cell numbers were exchanged. We did not even know each other’s names. All I knew was that she was a JBT Teacher in a school in Manicknagar, who had lost her husband 10 years ago and that though slightly short – she was tall in commonsense. She had sad but beautiful eyes and was attractive in an ethnic way.
We never met each other again. But by reaching out to her, I made sure that I would never forget her for a long time. Even she might remember me because I interfered so much in her travel.
My attempt was to teach.
I don’t know whether she was a good student or not.
Or, whether she passed or failed!
Ultimately, that depends on how good a teacher I was!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist
with more than 4 decades of working in schools in
India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at