I was on my way from Los Angeles to Baltimore on a visit to my children who stay in the East Coast. We had to change planes somewhere in the middle of the journey. As luck would have it my husband and I got two middle seats on either side of the aisle and were sandwiched between two unknown faces. My children tend to forget that we were the ones who taught them to walk and talk. They live in perpetual fear that we may get lost in transit. We were given calling cards, three copies of their phone numbers and what not. We sat through umpteen phone calls with an equal number of directions of what we could do and what we couldn’t. Let me list a few of them.
1. Don’t talk to strangers. …….. This one is especially directed at me. My husband always has tobacco in his mouth so he can’t talk any way. I sometimes wonder if he chews tobacco to avoid conversations…. but that’s beside the point.
2. Don’t pet children unknown to you. Your intentions may be misunderstood. Weren’t they being a trifle unfair? You see a cute looking kid and you’re supposed to look away……. Times had really changed!
3. Don’t offer or accept food from unknown people. A difficult proposal. Will give it a try. We Indians cannot eat our food without offering it first to the one beside us.
4. Don’t accept responsibility of anyone else’s luggage. This made sense even to ‘living fossils’ like us.
5. Stay together. …….. Do we need to be told? We stayed together through thick and thin. Thirty-three years together with hopes of many more to come and these kids tell us to ‘stay together’ the way we told them some twenty-five years back! It was a good thing that they didn’t say ‘hold your hands and stand in a corner’ the way I would tell them when they were kids. I imagined myself holding my husband’s hands and ‘standing in a corner’ and burst out laughing!
6. Mummy, you take care of your passports and all such stuff, daddy can’t handle it…….. If I was the mother hen what were they? We all treat him as the baby of the house and keep expecting him to ‘grow up’.
Jokes apart I must admit that I was touched by the concern they showed. Times had changed and it was always better to keep to yourself since one never knew what the person next to you was up to. Gone were the days when traveling was like an extended picnic. We’ve traveled several times to and from Jamshedpur and most of the time it was a two-night journey. If it had not been for good travel companions our trips would have been difficult to handle.
Did I follow my children’s advice? I tried my best but I must admit that I did break a few of their rules. I did not pet any unknown children but made an exception of a cute little pup. To my right was an African American, traveling with a month old puppy. The pup had a silvery body and his legs and mouth were golden in color. The little thing kept standing up and wagging its tail every time I looked in his direction. I was sure that I didn’t look like a kidnapper and I could not help it even if I did. “ Will he be okay in that bag?” I enquired. “ He’ll be fine” his master replied. From then on, we struck a healthy conversation and rule no. 1 was already broken. The boy was working in a plastic manufacturing company; he was taking this puppy to his twenty-year-old niece who was working in New York. The bag had cost him seventy dollars and his air- tickets another hundred. I could see my husband on the other side of the aisle very much wanting to join our conversation but unfortunately the plane was full and no one was keen to exchange places.
To my right was a Hollywood actress though I did not know it initially. She was poring through some magazine that she had brought and lent them to me when she was done with them. All three magazines had something to do with wedding plans. While one dealt with trendy wedding gowns the other described ‘destination’ weddings, their estimated costs etc. The third gave instructions on wedding etiquette like how to prepare guest lists, seating arrangements, who should be accorded priority and how and many other details that went into the preparation of weddings in America. I was pretty sure that this cute girl was a bride to be and hence her interest in these books. I imagined her in a wedding gown with pretty little bridesmaids accompanying her! She was also going through what appeared to me a drama script. I wondered if she was a student rehearsing for a college play. I was not sure if she would like my asking her personal questions but it was safe to talk of her career plans.
“ Are you a student?” I ventured to ask.
“ I am an actress from Hollywood” she replied “ and I am on my way to a shooting schedule.” She then gave me a list of films in which she had made an appearance though none of it registered to me. I am not a film buff any way and I find it hard to remember and correlate faces and names of film personalities. What struck me was the casual way that she disclosed her identity and the relaxed manner in which she went about carrying her own luggage and waiting in the queue like anyone else. Her role perhaps had something to do with a wedding scene. She might just be a budding actress and may be she could not afford first class travel. But if she was that which I took her to be, I could see that a bright future awaited her.
Tracy, that was the name of the boy with the puppy, was going right upto Baltimore and when we alighted in Cincinnati to catch a connecting flight he also accompanied us to the waiting area. By then we had almost become friends, and it was impossible for us to have our sandwiches without offering him a piece. I wondered if I looked like a food poisoner but took the risk of offering it to him anyway. He must have been famished but he also seemed to trust me and took a piece after an initial hesitation.
The journey finally came to an end. We parted ways as all passengers must but I still carry pleasant memories of the journey. My children were right in their own way. They had nothing but our safety in mind. The world is being held hostage by terrorist groups but it has not yet taken away the human touch in all our dealings. People still find it hard to distrust their fellow human beings. To my mind it appears that it is this human touch that binds all our hearts together and helps us survive the worst tragedies.