A mop of white hair neatly tied in a bun, shriveled skin, feeble voice and tentative steps; that is how I remember her! It was a flight from Bangalore to Kolkata and she was sitting next to me. She must have been over 70 and not quite "well dressed".
I generally prefer not to talk to strangers, esp on flights. The reasons are manifold. One of them is that though I am quite fond of instant coffee and other instant food items, I do not believe in "instant friendships" :). And the other very prominent reason being, my abhorrence to the typical Indian way of trying lurk in to your life, even given a chance of a frivolous conversation on weather and sports! So, I cling to the book in hand with all might and avoid all conversations, even at the cost of being judged "snooty"!
So, when I went and sat next to her, my only impression was that of an usual elderly lady, who will be willing to talk all the way till the plane lands and whom I must avoid. I was passing through one of the turbulent phases of my life that time and was in no mood to hear the usual story of "successful IT professional son settled in Bangalore" or worse still "daughter married to successful IT professional settled in Bangalore" from a proud Bengali parent. Well, no offence meant to anyone, but that is what generally is the conversation thread if you do get bundled up in a Bangalore Kolkata flight, sitting next to an elderly lady!
So it was uncanny when she didn't make an attempt to talk even after almost an hour of take off and rather out came an Agatha Cristie novel from her purse! Yes, it was a surprise. I might have expected a Bengali daily or a weekly magazine but surely not an Agatha Cristie book. She intrigued me more because though she herself reminded me of the Bengali version of miss Marple, she wasn't reading any of her fictional works. It was "Come, tell me how you live", the autobiography of Agatha Cristie, that she was reading! And yes, Agatha Cristie broke the ice between us and we started talking.
It turned out that she was avid reader and spoke impeccable English, again not something that I would have expected. And, in next one and a half hours of flight time she broke quite a few of my assumptions. For one, she never asked me beyond where I stayed in Bangalore. No, not even what I do for a living or whether I am married or not! And yes, she did have one daughter who stayed in Bangalore but again nothing beyond that. Never spoke about why she was travelling alone or where she lived. But we did talk about Agatha Cristie, P.G. Wodehouse and some famous Bengali authors like Ashapurna Devi and Shirshendu Mukhopadhaya. She turned out to be a retired school teacher. In no time our conversations turned towards philosophies of Life. Though we didn't discuss about our personal lives and nor she gave me any unsolicited advice, she said something that I will always remember. She said that with all the years that has gone on making all her hair white, she has only learnt one thing: no point in "trying" to be happy, no point in pursuing happiness. Life will unfold itself with all its color like a kaleidoscope if only you know how to turn the leaves, if only you know how to "be" in it!
Not soon after this, it was time for landing and since she was using special assistance from the airlines, she was wheeled out on the wheel chair first.
I didnt get a chance to ask her name or address. And for the first time I realized how much value an interaction with a stranger can also bring! I was humbled and was also embarrassed because I had judged her in the beginning.
In that particularly troubled phase of my life, some her words of wisdom struck a chord and helped me perhaps more than that of many a solicited advice. People say that God has strange ways of showing you the way only if you look out! I have often wondered if this interaction with a stranger was one such! I have often searched for her in all Kolkata bound flights since then, whenever I have traveled but never found her again.
But one thing is for sure, I have opened up more to conversations with strangers since then. Though I agree, most of the times it is still the same proud moms of software engineers or bored housewives who are eager to talk, but hey, no harm in looking around! :) You never know what lessons of Life you might get to learn from even a casual encounter!
This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda