I have been thinking about writing this for quite some time, but now I must, else this beautiful memory would slip out of my mind like the sand that slips through your fingers.
I am sure all of us have felt completely lost at some point in our lives. You are at crossroads and you are stuck because you just can’t decide which path to take. You don’t trust your judgment at all and you don’t trust anyone else to make the right judgment for you either. It’s like searching for light in complete darkness. Either you find that light or you end up losing all hope. And then the biggest challenge is to make yourself hope again. You are so desperate for that bit of hope that the smallest thing could push you in the pit or rescue you from it.
And I was desperate. I know it would seem like the heights of exaggeration if I were to say that an Italian I met for an hour and 15 minutes on a flight rescued me from the pits but he came close.
On the 24th of November, 2012 I was to board the Air India flight from Mumbai to Bangalore at 3:30 pm. I hate window seats by the way, they make me dizzy, so when the guy at the check-in counter told me that he'd given me a window seat, I immediately requested for an aisle seat instead. Once the security check was done I was doing my usual roaming-in-the-bookstalls thing, going through every bundle of pages to find something readable. Shortly I realized that Air India had proven me right and was admirably LATE yet again. Much as I hated the thought of getting back to Bangalore, I hated being stuck at the Mumbai airport even more. The airport is always so much more cheery when you are going home rather than when you are going back.
Anyways, so my bookstall haunting came to an end around 5 pm when the boarding to the flight finally began. The flights back to Bangalore are usually sad and dreadfully boring but this time was especially bad and I just couldn’t take it. The thought of coming back was weighing me down so badly that just before I entered the flight I actually prayed to God “please don’t let this be a boring flight, please don’t give my head time to dwell, please….”
I boarded the flight and I was slipping into the familiar monotony when Air India shook me out of it with their carelessness. I realized that my seat was still a window seat. That made my already low spirits hit rock bottom but there wasn’t anything I could do about it except request my co-passenger for a seat exchange. So I sat and waited for the seats next to me to fill up. The aisle seat was taken by a rather senior and formidable looking guy. Looking at him, I felt that sleeping through the flight would probably be a better idea than asking him for exchanging seats with me. The middle seat was still vacant.
And then came Marco. He took the middle seat and extended a hand to me to say hi. I was a bit taken aback by the sudden gesture and also the unexpected friendliness. The flight took off.
I used to believe that finding an Indian who talks more than me is next to impossible but I realized that day that I had definitely found an Italian who could talk much more than I did. He had so much to say and so many experiences to share and the strange part was that he was so open to sharing them with a complete stranger.
15 minutes into the flight and I came to know that Marco and the formidable Indian (his name was Jagdish by the way) were friends and then I was introduced to a new breed of humans. This breed is called the CHEMISTS. Honestly, for me the world seems to be made up of business analysts and software developers. To meet someone who was not one of these was refreshing. So Jagdish imports tiles from Italy and provides it to customers after customizing them according to their needs. The tiles are customized using some chemical formulae. This is where Marco comes in. Interesting, right?
But we didn’t just talk about tiles. Marco was coming from Mumbai. So I asked him what he thought of the place and the people and then we got talking about Marathi food. I told him that I loved Marathi food and that poha was my favourite breakfast. He, on the other hand, didn’t like poha at all and he tried to explain the reason to me in his imperfect and beautiful Italian English. I didn’t get it at all. So he tried further and what he said next is something that makes me remember him everytime I eat poha. He asked me a question “What would you do if you are about to enter a room and find that it is jam packed with people and there is no breathing space?” I replied that if there was no compulsion I would not enter the room and walk away from outside. So he says “That’s exactly what I feel when I see poha. It has too much humanity”. I am sure none of us have ever thought of poha like that.
We talked about food, we talked about how Indian wines are simply ethanol and we talked about my favourite topic as well.. Travel. He showed me his passport. I wish my passport would look like that 10 years from now. He’d been to Turkey, Peru, Brazil, Columbia, Russia, Czech Republic, Dubai and even to Pakistan. He told me that Istanbul has great architecture, Ecuador has terrible food, Russians drink too much vodka and Dubai is a lavish concrete jungle. He told me how Dubai was the only place where he successfully managed to convince his wife to go to. But when in Dubai she cried all the time about getting back to her country and her children. “What am I doing in a strange country without my children?” is how he mimicked her. Not much difference in Indian and Italian mothers then, don’t you think?
The two of us could have gone on talking for hours but for the first time I felt that the flight was too short. Very soon we were landing on the Bangalore Airport. There was a third guy with Marco and Jagdish. He was sitting in another row and was much younger. His name was Pratap and Marco was simply dying to set me up with him. Imagine an Italian match-making for two Indians, I died laughing.
We stepped out of the airport and the first words out of my mouth were, “Damn!! I’m back” whereas Marco was so happy to be in Bangalore. He said “Why do you say that? It’s such a beautiful place..” and he went on again. He set me thinking. This guy is thousands of miles away from friends and family, from his beautiful Italian wine and he is still so happy and enthusiastic about everything. And here I am, I am still in my own country, my best friends are with me, my family is just two hours of flight away, I have just had an amazing time.. and somehow I have managed to overlook all that. Why can’t I be like him? Yes, I can. I just have to remind myself of all the good things that I have been blessed with. What I lost was probably not mine anyways.
For the first time in a long time I felt a little positivity inside of me, like finding a tiny light in complete darkness.
Marco was to stay in Bangalore another three days. I knew I wouldn’t see him again. But I was so glad to have met him.
He wasn’t refreshing or interesting because he was a chemist or because he loved food and travel or because he was a great conversationalist. He inspired me coz he came across as a guy who was so completely in love with everything life has to offer. He loved his job. He loved the people he was working with. He loved travelling. He loved food, except for poha and being an Italian, he absolutely loved wine. He adored his wife even though he was constantly complaining about how she hated travelling.
May be he was one of those lucky few who got what they loved or maybe he was capable of loving all that he got. Whatever it was, that love made him happy and his happiness was infectious. I don’t know his last name and I have no way of contacting him but if, by some seriously crazy coincidence, I were to meet him again I would definitely thank him for this memory.
Note: Originally written on 14th December, 2012.
Note: Originally written on 14th December, 2012.