July 16, 2012

Of strangers and chance encounters

It was like any other normal Monday when i climbed into the train, early in the morning, to get to Bangalore. Had a disturbed sleep and found myself wide awake in an hour. Most other people in the train were still fast asleep, all cosy in their woolens- it really IS cold early morning! It was then that the lady came by and asked if she could sit down beside me. Unable to sleep, she had just climbed down from the upper berth. I immediately moved my bag to make some place for her. She gave me a big smile and offered to put my bag beside hers, on the upper berth. Tall and well built that she was, she picked it in a flick and did not even have to stretch to shove it on the upper berth.
I went back to the music that i was listening to. We sat quietly for a long time. When people started waking up one by one, she asked around for directions to the airport in Bangalore and how she could get there. While most of them suggested a taxi, i told her that the volvo was a better and more economic option. When i mentioned about some auto and taxi people fleecing foreigners, she gave me the "been through it" look and narrated an incident where the auto guy asked her to push the auto to get it started. And yes, subsequently drove away. Her lucky star was probably shining bright cause she was able to catch up with him at a signal and got her stuff back. I was actually shocked that someone could fall for a trick in the book as old as this!
Since she found an eager listener, she told me how she had paid upwards a thousand bucks for quarter of a kg of tea and about 150 a piece a bangle, fully knowing that they were overpriced. She told me she was a music teacher in Austria and let me peep into her travel diary. Pages and pages of the places that she had been to, references of hotels and restaurants, people she had met during her travel and her "to visit" list. Next on it was Mumbai, where she was headed. I was amazed at the extent of her research and planning- down to the restaurants, shopping places and guided tours, for all 5 days of her stay. I threw in a few more places in an around Mumbai from what i remembered of my last visit.
We got talking about single woman travelers, safety concerns, of what good pepper sprays are and how it was so damn exciting for her to save up and go travelling like this. As we got down at Bangalore Station, i offered to walk with her to the bus stop to show her where the BIAL buses stopped. As we were walking, we picked up where we left off on single woman topic. She told me how there were people back home in Austria coaxing her to get married, and i went "oh my god, it is the same story everywhere!" When we reached the BIAL stop and i wanted to shake hands with her, she pulled me and gave me a tight hug when i least expected it. My name went into her travel diary, along with my mail id. And as i was turning back, she stopped me to give me a "gift". Much as i tried to say no and refuse, she persisted and gave me a pretty clip and said it would look good on my hair. And that she did not know how else to say thanks for the help that i did. I never thought it was something worth a gift.
 I certainly would not have had the sensibility to show my gratitude with anything more than a word of thanks. And now that i look back, i wonder if i would have been so open in the first place, to taking a stranger's help while in a different city, and whether i would have had that kind of implicit trust that i would be taken the right way. I would certainly have cross checked with some research off the net or asked around more than one person. I started to work with a smile, clutching a pretty clip in my hand.
My week started on a good note. I met Ilvana, a woman really simple, who taught music, sewed her own clothes and was determined to see as much of the world, garner as many experiences and meet as many new people as possible!


  1. From the title of the blog I thought it was an incident in which someone tried to snatch ur bag and hw u faced it... by the way u started the narration ('Tall and well built', and her encounters which u narrated in not that believable manner) she was developing into a villainess.... but the climax disappointed :P

  2. I think it's just us. We are reluctant to talk to strangers. May be because we are wired to suspect everybody of shady motives :P I feel here it is more common for random people to drift into conversations and sometimes more :P
    Cultural difference :) Nice job though, least we can do is to make tourists have a good impression of India when they go back home :)

  3. @Shobith,

    Oh God! Chain snatching! My world is pretty uneventful, thank you :)


    Totally agree. I would probably not have opened up like she did.

  4. What can i say? Serves you right gal :P

    Guess u made a friend for life :)


  5. Its nice to know that the female was not suspicious to hear you out, in my experience western ppl think twice before trusting Indians!!

  6. Really? Isn't that a generalization?

  7. Hmm... I think that her extensive travel experiences have taught her the fine art (or science?) of knowing whom to trust and whom not to...

    Besides, from your description of that woman, I presume she could have overpowered you without breaking a sweat, if you were to do something abominable...:-P