People watching, people talking, people eating… I am always fascinated by these. I always look at what people are having on their plates in the restaurants. Much to the horror of my friends, I have on many occasions asked the waiter, “Give me what he/she’s eating.” The grass always looks greener on the other side. And many times, it has been enticing too. One thing I have noticed is almost all foreigners are hooked to their books during their travel. Just the opposite can be said about Indians. I have always seen Indians either talking loudly on their mobile phones (read latest lifelines for most of them) or staring vacantly at the ceiling of airports (as if some heavenly blessings will be showered upon them at an appropriate time). And eating and gulping gallons of soft drinks come close third. A foreigner couple who were staying next to my room in the resort were completely devoted to the printed words. I saw both of them sitting on their balcony and engrossed in their world of books. The only break they took was when they either sipped their beer or nibbled a sandwich. Even in the night, I saw the lady holding a torch and reading with such concentration that it almost made me feel guilty. I didn’t have such concentration even a day before my Board Exams (to be honest, I was watching then a highly exciting India-Pakistan match in Sharjah and India lost the match. I was devastated and was more interested in discussing the game with my sister rather than studying for the examination). I was mighty impressed with my ‘temporary neighbour’s’ reading ability. I couldn’t control my emotions and before leaving Goa I complimented her on this amazing reading habit. While lying on a sun bed, most foreigners were completely lost in their books (very different from us, the Indians). My self-proclaimed intellectual Ex who’s now teaching in a foreign university gets a little annoyed when I marvel at the foreigners’ reading habits. He says, “India is a country of oral traditions. So, we talk. What’s so great about these foreigners reading?” Well, I stopped arguing with Ex much before we called it quits. So, why bother now?
As Indira is from the North-East region of India, we made quick friendship with some of the waiters who are from the same landscape. They are young boys who are really working hard to make a living. Chang was a sweet-heart who looked after us well and even gave us a cigarette in the night (from his own packet). Daniel from Siliguri was more interesting than many people I have worked with. He had his share of tough tides in his life and today he’s working hard to make a living. Indira asked him about the tipping habits of foreigners and he gave us some powerful insights. The Russians order huge chunks of food (it generates revenue for the hotels) but are not generous tippers. The Dutch are. The English are not really. And Daniel, a natural charmer, seemed to be quite popular with all the women guests at the resort. When I was having a beer with a plate of French fries in the evening, Daniel and me got talking. I was admiring the breath-taking beauty of the ocean and then casting a glance at the rolling waves from his workplace (i.e the restaurant) Daniel told me, “You know, Deepika, I don’t get time to enjoy the sea. I have never been on the beach here. My duty starts in the morning and it goes on for long hours. May be when I will leave Goa, I will come back here as a traveller to enjoy the place.” Listening to Daniel’s word that evening made me a little sad. I remembered a line from a Hindi film ‘Tere do takiya ki naukri, mera laakhon ka sawaan.’ While leaving the resort, I gave my visiting card to Daniel and he told me he would stay in touch. I never take these ‘I will stay in touch’ conversations seriously when I meet people on vacations. Few days back, I got an e-mail from Daniel and he was in Siliguri and he seemed to be gung-ho about the change of government in West Bengal. And yes, he is planning to go to Sweden. Thanks to technology, now Daniel and I have become ‘friends’ on Facebook.
Life’s strange, the other day when I was going through my notebook, I saw the mobile number of Nick scribbled in a hurried fashion. Nick was the cab guy who dropped me back to the airport. It was a long drive and rapper Akon’s Right Now Na Na broke the ice between us. Nick says he has no life even though he’s in his 20s. I told him, “Come on Nick, a Goan can’t say this.” He says, “I only see Goa through the eyes of the tourists. I have to earn money to look after my ageing parents. While the tourists enjoy the sea, sand, sun and the old Portuguese houses, I end up waiting for them in the car. And every tourist thinks life’s a song in Goa?” It was his birthday the next day and he was planning to work. As I entered into the airport, I could see young North-Indian women in their chudas (bangles), tight jeans and T shirts clinging to their newly acquired husbands as if they would run away otherwise. Indian honeymooners can be an eyesore after a while. Our ‘distant’ encounter with one newly married couple on our arrival in Goa was a hilarious one. Both of them looked grumpy and they hardly exchanged a word. The guy’s shoes wore a sparkling look but his face was sans any glow or happiness. His shoes were looking happier. Wise Laurie maintained, “May be the dowry is not up to his expectations. Tonight will not be a good night.” Indi and me were rolling in laughter even as the ‘in silent mode’ couple got into the cab.
And by the end of my trip, I was a veteran in remembering how many prestigious awards the low-cost airlines had received in 2010 and how it’s one of the best places to work… blah blah. Certain things don’t change in India. So, when our flight finally came to a halt in Ahmedabad, there was the same chaos, same urgency to talk loudly on the mobile and not to talk about the desperate bid to pull out the cabin luggage. And in that mayhem, one gentleman (may be I can give the ‘gentle’ part a miss) dropped his bag on my head (thank God, head was saved). I gave him the dirtiest scare I could manage and he just muttered the word ‘sorry’. To put it in Laurie’s words, “It was a good (read eventful) flight.”