The Understated Warmth Of Journeys And Encounters
I settled in my seat panting as I had hurried past all the airline counters to board the flight. As a solo female to step aboard a bit late, I acted like a horse with its blinkers on while walking through the aisle, reaching my seat and dodging the eyes of the already ensconced co-passengers. There were still 20 minutes for take-off to Kolkata. I stared out the window to see other aircraft on the tarmac, untouched by the crack of dawn. It was close to 6 a.m. in April and the sky was still midnight blue in western India. The sun must be shining brightly in Kolkata by now, I thought.
To my left were the passengers in the same row, mostly asleep. Two seats away and across the passage, my eyes accidentally settled on a young woman in her aisle seat who was attempting to get some sleep. The common human tendency is to look a little longer when your eyes spot an alluring face; and when a face seems familiar, we involuntarily give a second glance always. Here, it was both.
My thoughts kept juggling between how I had last visited Kolkata 14 years ago as a child to exhilaration surrounding travelling alone for the first time and back to the known face. After the plane touched down and while exiting, I walked up to her and asked her if she was the person I had assumed her to be. I had felt absolutely certain about it by then.
Surprised, she nodded with a soft yes. She was an IAS officer and the topper from her State. By virtue of being allotted Gujarat as her cadre, she was often invited as a guest speaker at the state-run civil services examination training institute where I had been working. We talked in the airport bus and while ambling our way through until we reached the terminal. “It is extremely nice to know you,” she said with her sweet smile adding a constant radiance. We collected our bags, bid our good-byes near the carousel and parted for our individual journeys.
In another incident a month before my Kolkata trip, my father visited Delhi. After his tiring stay in the national capital, he chose to go to sleep early during his return train journey that had begun late that evening. The following morning, the berth partners indulged in that customary exchange of niceties over breakfast. In the course of their conversation, my father learned that the family sitting across him resided in apartments we had lived in previously. In fact, we were their neighbours earlier, staying a few blocks from theirs. The rest of the journey was occupied by reminiscing on the good old days as residents of the same apartment complex and on the general trajectory of life formed. Hometown for both parties, after all, was only a couple hours away.
We travel occasionally. But rarely does our path cross that of somebody we already know during a journey. Bumping into familiarity while travelling and the fact of heading towards the same destination together is a force that connects. The inevitability of being a part of the same experiences while journeying is sui generis in the grand scheme of things.
My fun days spent in Kolkata would be as indelible in my bank of fond memories even if I had not met her. But would my conversation with her have ended with my wishing if we could have chatted for a longer period? With the purpose of the visit fulfilled, why did my father think it important enough to tell us about the family he met in the train? Such incidents are a travelogue in their own right.
Journeys often have a mystical way of transforming mere acquaintances into travelling-partners. An exchange of pleasantries can sometimes turn into cosy and candid conversations. Such is the influence of a voyage that it elevates concepts of time and space; it renders more meaning to sharing, connecting and strengthening. It transcends barriers that we did not know existed until then.
These experiences bear a profound interpretation for me. It makes more sense now as to why the better-half is befittingly called a ‘companion’. They are really a home away from home in the journey of life that is meant to be experienced together.