A story of 2 journeys
On a flight between Seoul and Taipei, I settle down in my aisle seat and wait for the flight to take-off before opening my laptop. A man settles down to the right; an Indian?
I am not really in a mood to strike up a conversation; I have a presentation tomorrow for which I am using slides that I have not even seen before. Is this man the talkative type? Does a familiar brown face make him open up? It does too, for me. But, not today.
The flight takes off; my companion brings out a passport- the colour is green, the language familiar. He is a Bangladeshi! Suddenly, it is I who wants to strike up a conversation- haven’t spoken in Bangla for 15 days that I have been on the road- save for brief calls back home. The man saves me from having to find a opening line- turning to me, he extends a pen, a landing form and his passport and tries his extremely limited Hindi on me, seeking my help in filling it up.
I rescue him from his misery and talk to him in Bengali; I tell him I picked up the language but am not a Bengali- a subterfuge I have found helpful in the past- and he talks non-stop.
He was employed in a eatery in Seoul, washing dishes, peeling potatoes – on a six month visa- that expired more than a year ago. Then the Police caught up with him. He is being deported back to Bangladesh. He has no rancour, has only goodwill for Koreans and would be back given half a choice. Why?
He thinks but a second and offers the following story as explanation:
I was walking back to my home in Seoul; it was past midnight. I was still new, and I am afraid, I lost my way. I spoke no Korean then. The roads were empty, and it was bitterly cold. I saw a very pretty girl coming my way on the empty street. I had no choice; I asked her for help.
Dada, you will not believe me, for the next 30 minutes, she stayed with me, tried to make out from my description where I lived and then finally, walked with me part of the way till I recognized my surroundings. And, all the time, with a smile.
Dada, I swear to you; if I was similarly stuck in Dhaka, even in broad daylight, and if I had accosted a lonely lady on the road, I would have been thrashed. And, the comments! “Shaala, beshi poorki hoyechhe?”
I tell him, I had a similar experience in Taipei once; at 4 AM in the morning- sleepless on my first night- utterly jet-lagged, out on a walk and losing my way; I stumbled on a flower shop which was readying itself for the next morning. The lone girl at the shop came out, walked with me half a block, put me in the right road and waved goodbye with a smile.
Try this in Delhi. Or, in Calcutta for the matter. Here’s my story:
I am in a bus traveling from Salt Lake and I need to get off at Gariahat. After years living out of Calcutta, I am no longer a “local”; so, I get up from my seat at the middle of the bus and walk to the front a stop ahead of Gariahat only to realise that I am early. So, I wait.
A middle aged lady, standing near the door and having witnessed my progress in a hurry to the door and then not getting down, asks, in a loud and penetrating voice: “Ki Holo (What’s the matter)? Aapni naamlen na (Why did you not get down)? The intensity and the total unexpectedness of the assault stumps me. My ears burning, knowing the whole bus is looking at me, I get down at Gariahat feeling like the molester I was not, but was made to feel like.
So, when Mamata wants to make Calcutta into London, might I suggest she looks closer home. Our Asian capitals, be it Taiepi or Seoul and, yes, even Bangkok- have a lot to teach us.
We, the ruled, think our responsibility begins and ends with electing our rulers. The problem, is actually more with us.