Monday, 3 October 2016

The Gift Horse and I

Sometime last year, during one of our irregular WhatsApp chats, Hermione asked me to come visit her. She had bought her own place and now I must visit, she said. Gollywog had been complaining that all my holidays were spent in favour of Europe and Delhi and I was making no effort to meet him in Bangkok or Singapore, halfway for the both of us. Hermione has known me for two thirds of my life. Gollywog has been an anchor for half of my life. And yet, making my way to Singapore, to meet these two jewels was not happening; because it just was not coming from within.

As a very young and na├»ve teenager I had traveled daily, from Johor Baru to Singapore, to go to school. Everyday immigration authorities were nodded at, the blue passport stamped and the school bag scanned. Every period when the others learned Mandarin, I doodled, trying to figure out what I was doing there; a foreigner in a strange land. When I tried to clarify my  confusion on the relevance of a detailed project based on the short and limited history of the city nation, I was reprimanded for questioning authority. My views on the chewing gum ban had caused my only friend to yank me away from anyone's hearing distance. I did not enjoy physical education and went through the motions because I had no other option. The trainer took pleasure in letting me know that I was a laggard. To spite him, I decided to run a half marathon, and completed it in timing that had him shut up for the rest of my time at the school.

As a banker, my travel to Singapore was all about meetings in the middle of a concrete jungle. There was too much of frantic activity pre and post every trip. I was always tired and found little else, other than the ease and convenience of movement, to add to my appreciation of the city.

Consequently, Singapore was not a highly desired destination; until I realised I wanted to attempt to understand an Enigma.

I landed early to a bright Singaporean morning and breezed through immigration. Within minutes I was sitting in a cab and no less than ten seconds later the radio was belting out the theme song of Friends. The city had probably guessed why I was there. I was smiling for no reason, and that too in Singapore! Wonders don't seem to cease!  Maybe it was not such a bad idea to be here...

Gollywog was thrilled to see me and likewise. At some level he understood that I had finally undertaken this journey because I had wanted it; the desire and desicion had come from within. Hermione, smiling and embracing, was not just warm and welcoming but a tremendous guide to my understanding of the city. As we sat sharing and catching up, she got why I could not relate to Singapore. That I could be honest, authentic and myself already made the short holiday so worth it.

After a busy, tiring and interesting Saturday, an impulsive, relaxing and rejuvenating Sunday; I woke up to a wet Singapore morning ready to board my flight back to Mumbai. Having dropped Hermione at work, I sat in the cab, on way to the airport, lost in my thoughts; when suddenly the driver struck a conversation. Was I travelling someplace for work was the opening question. Answering that I was returning to Mumbai, the city I dwell in, I asked if he had been to India. In two days, I had had unpleasant experiences with Singaporean taxi drivers and so what happened in the next twenty minutes was a pleasant surprise.

The conversation that ensued reminded me of the many invigorating talks with London black cab drivers. Discussion was on travel and life but world cuisine and street food were the central topics, and had to be. This was a food and beverage graduate running a successful catering business, driving  a cab as a "leisure activity". Love of meeting new people had pushed him to this vocation and being single, an additional job ensured he wasted no time! Endless information kept flowing and opinions were aplenty. I did not need to know some of the details but that he shared them was an insight into the person residing inside the outer body cover I saw. That he shared it with a total stranger not only demonstrated his own confidence but also highlighted that I was a worthy listener. Once we got to the airport he promptly got out to take my stroller out from the boot; he had not helped with it when we had boarded the taxi! Carefully placing it on the curb he shook my hand, wished me a safe journey and with a broad smile went back to the parked vehicle. The unexpected gentleness, openness and generosity left me humbled and smiling.

I walked to the check in counter lost in amazement of how the simplest of honest interactions can bring an incredible amount of positivity in our chaotic lives. Maybe the good energy was still enveloping me because the lady behind the counter was wonderful. My decision making pendulum was swinging  randomly between wanting to use miles for an upgrade, to understanding if I could fly economy but have four seats to myself. All through the many minutes of my inability to decide, the lady continued to smile and patiently answer my questions. She finally handed my boarding pass, when I apologised; I had changed my mind yet again but for the last time.  I was going to opt for an upgrade and wanted to fill the form authorising deduction of miles. Letting out an amused and endearing laugh she gave me the form and a new boarding pass. Smiling from the bottom most echelons of my heart, I thanked her profusely, and made my way to immigration. It was almost time to bid adieu to a city that I have never embraced, and I had a second insight into human kindness...

The next couple of hours just flew by as I window shopped and penned some of the thoughts that you are reading now. I walked into the aircraft ready to sleep, only to be welcomed by Simon and Garfunkel singing Sound of Silence; yes the very same song, lyrics of which ornate the title section of my blog. That was my third reason to smile this morning. Sleep vanished, gratitude swarmed in and the beauty of life started its twinkling dance.

Last night, bleary eyed and exhausted, Hermione and I spent the last few moments catching up when I sincerely felt that the wheels are in motion yet another time in my life. I told her so and admitted that I knew not where the movement would lead me, if at all it did create a shift. As I conclude this long meandering piece aboard the Boeing 777, sharing another part of me and my journey yet again, I know not where I will be a year from now. What I do know for sure , however, is that I will be a better version of me. The importance of open mindedness, magnificence of acceptance and beauty of change have been reiterated. I will not and cannot retreat from this new journey I have started. That sunshine and rainbows will keep dotting the occasional grey skies is my belief. That I can tell you about my joyous journey in a year from now is a fervent hope. That I never look the gift horse at the mouth and it stays in place are sincere prayers...

No comments: