I was not particularly pleased when I had to set out for a two day business trip to Bangalore during early October. Rains had been outrageously pelting for a while in Trivandrum. I did not want to miss it – neither watching the obscure designs the clouds formed, nor the uninterrupted chatter patter of rain falling rhythmically on ground.
I left for airport around 7 am, when it was still drizzling and I hoped the flight took off in time. My considerate cab driver could not stop giving advice on how to manage the car if I had to stop ever on the magnificently elevated thoroughfare that connected us to the main road. I gleefully thanked him as he went on and took the pains to enlighten me on the sound the engine will produce once the automobile idles. I did not want to tell him and dampen his spirits that I have been driving for the past twelve years when he suggested I could try the hand brakes too.
I thanked him again at the airport and slowly strolled in – the very familiar, never changing Trivandrum airport. Domestic departure area is never busy in this airport and one would never find a queue forming in front of a counter. I went to the red counter of Kingfisher Airlines and asked for a window seat, hoping to get a better glimpse of clouds and the sky that has been sulking for a few days. I was early and did my security check leisurely, took the escalator and reached the waiting area. By habit, I grabbed a cup of black coffee and looked around for a good seat. I had plenty to choose from as only three other passengers were seated in the whole area. I looked at the two television screens on the wall – One was telecasting the preparations for Common Wealth Games and the other some movie scenes. I chose to watch CWG and comfortably relaxed.
It was only around 8 am and I had another half an hour before boarding. I could not compromise with the idea of watching CWG updates for the next thirty minutes. I promptly took Vikram Seth’s ‘From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet’, his celebrated travel book, my friend had thoughtfully given the previous evening. Tibet is my dream destination. I can forever listen to Tibetan music and imagine myself wandering through the valleys. I distastefully gazed at the stickers the book’s owner had stuck on the cover. What were those Disney’s characters doing on the cover page of a travelogue? Anyway, I settled to read and soon realized I did not want to make it a pleasure read, but wanted to really understand, connect myself with everything written on it. I progressed very little by the time the boarding announcement came. No one seemed to be in a hurry. I happened to board the flight first – for the first time in all my life.
The tiny aircraft always reminds me of a dragon fly. I sat at my window seat, thinking about the usual piece of sandwich, hunger began to trouble me. A very huge made man with enormous belly struggled to squeeze himself in his seat behind. An old lady in cotton kurta with short hair hit her head on the baggage carrier and the flight attendant helped her gently. I stared at the woman – may be in sixties, with salt and pepper hair, that has acute prominence of salt in it. I thought and smiled, I may look like her 25 years from now.
I went back to my book and travelled through sand and river with Vikram Seth and braved through the caves. To my pleasure, Kingfisher decided to serve an authentic south Indian dish of vada and sambar to its passengers that day. I listened with curiosity when the flight attendant patiently explained what vada and sambar were to my co-passenger, a young man from the Far East. I was pleased to see that the dish was palatable to his taste buds and he finished the whole of it.
I decided to take a break from my virtual Tibetan tour and glanced around. The big man with huge belly is still struggling in his seat. The young man from Far East next to me is blissfully listening to music. The old lady in her sixties had changed her seat to a more comfortable window seat two rows further. I noticed another lady, appeared to be in her fifties and obviously from European descendant lavished herself on both the seats in the row, taking advantage of the vacant seat next to her. I admired her smart backpack and casual footwear from the corner of my eye and made sure that she did not see me watching her.
The flight landed at Bangalore airport safely on time. I quickly walked out, took a cab and gave my destination. I eagerly looked out – the streets of Bangalore, the city that homed me for eight years. The city I am most comfortable in. I informed my folks at home of my safe arrival and attended a few official calls. It was funny to listen to the cab driver who spoke Hindi with strong Kannada accent. Apparently he spoke fluent English too – Rahman, the cab driver. A kind old man, he dropped me very carefully and exchanged a few pleasantries.
I went in to our Bangalore office to the enjoyable company of my counterparts from Bangalore, UK and Dalian. We relished our working lunch that came in a box – delicious assortment of goodies and got into our business. We discussed very productively, shared a lot of knowledge, learnt from each other and inspired each other.
On the way to dinner, my Dalian and UK counter parts shrieked all the way as they were scared to death experiencing the Bangalore traffic. My UK colleague was constantly looking out to spot a cow and the one from Dalian was so much amazed to see street dogs.
Our hosts from Bangalore office spoilt us with lip smacking Thai cuisine for dinner and finally at 10pm I checked in to my hotel room and hit the sack.
The next day began early. I checked out from hotel at 8 am and started for office. We were taken through further sessions and meeting more people, even more informative. We wound up at 4 pm, after being spoilt again with toothsome Italian pastas and desserts and set out to catch the 6:25 pm flight to Trivandrum. Another day’s meeting scheduled at Trivandrum office. During the one hour drive to airport, my friend from UK could spot, not one but three cows and was excited. My friend from Dalian had endless questions on India. The sky was downcast and a rainbow delighted my eyes.
At the airport it was announced that flight to Trivandrum is late by 20 minutes. We had plenty of time. After the security check, we sat down and caught up with each other. My colleague from Dalian and I were eager to know the culture across borders. I had a tough time making her understand we follow various languages and scripts in India. I bet she has not really understood it still. The concept of English being the medium of education was alien to her. She had asked me whether I learnt to speak in English after I joined this organization. Though I tried not to smile, I really appreciated the hard work she had put behind learning a foreign language by enrolling herself to a spoken English course. She explained to me how most are under pressure in China to learn English now with the surge of businesses and processes being outsourced to the country in large volumes. Her face saddened as she explained to me people concentrate on making money now as respect goes to rich, contrary to the olden days, when knowledge had an upper hand over riches. I particularly liked their marriage system that followed no rituals whatsoever. As a people that did not believe in religion, they have not much to choose from, but it is limited to a lavish lunch or dinner. A beautiful example to learn from, for those opting for a Great Indian Wedding. She could not accept the idea of citizens going in for a strike against government to attain their rights – or rather they thought were their rights.
Why do Indians have cold food, she asked with a scorn later. I did not have a clue from where she got such an improper idea. I was bewildered to know the source of her misconception – the culprit was our boxed lunch of first day!!! The goodies that did not really need to heat up. With some amount of difficulty I was successful to pass the right message. She laughed when I asked about martial arts and why most of the movies with Chinese theme have it as an integral part. She was pleased to know that I cherish Chinese music, though I do not understand a word of it. We made the best of our time together by sharing a world of information on each other’s heritage and culture. I deliberately avoided asking her anything about Tibet and finally it was time to board our flight.
We sat in different rows and I was relieved as I gave much awaited rest to my tongue that obligingly twisted so long to make my friend from China understand my English, which we call accent free. Two days of restless travel and work had taken a toll on me already and I was very sleepy. I pulled out my book again, but could not read beyond two pages. I even felt I travelled close to Tibet after speaking to this petite Chinese lady for some time. I tried to sleep through the air turbulence. It was still raining in Trivandrum.
I caught a glimpse of my UK colleague in the adjacent row. He was sleeping with hand on his chin. Most said no to the noodles they served on the flight.
It was pleasant to land at Trivandrum airport amidst rains. I skipped the official dinner, bid bye to my colleagues and headed straight home. I was homesick and had to see my daughter and her familiar laughter chirped at the door bell. She jumped to my arms and asked her million dollar question – what did you bring for me? I handed her all the chocolates I bought from the Bangalore airport and there I was home, back to my comfortable routines.