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Sunday, November 30, 2008

A gentleman stranger


So, there I was on the train to Kochi, trying to stay awake so I wouldn't miss my stop. It was the midnight train, so my compartment was full of strange people trying to prove that they were otherwise incapable of being normal. Fair enough, because I seemed to be feeling a little abnormal myself, trying to fall asleep sitting down while my swooning neighbors kept falling on me.

Four and a half hours of this later, I finally reached my destination and proceeded to hastily leave the railway station. But where was I going and how was I planning to get there?

Well, the hotel was "walking distance" from the railway station, so I decided to exercise my right to being a biped and walk. You have to remember however, that I might be Malayalee and from this state, but I've only been to Kochi twice before in my adult life; both times passing through on my way to Trivandrum. So, yours truly decided to ask around and make his own way as he saw fit. It worked in theory, of course, but in reality I had set off in the opposite direction!

So, following signs -- which when you're lost in a place you don't know makes about as much sense as following a blind man through a mine field -- and asking the odd person if they knew where I was trying to get to, I ended up taking a rather circuitous and perhaps scenic route to getting more hopelessly lost. I say "perhaps scenic" because there was no way of knowing what I was looking at in the darkness. But, I pressed on still. Lost and nearing the end of my tether, with myself, funnily enough.

Just then, I discovered the sound of footsteps hastily approaching from behind. It got just a little bit freaky in the darkness, and I wasn't sure that I had the what-to-do-if-attacked-late-at-night-because-I-was-walking-around-like-an-idiot plan well thought out. Getting closer, the clip-clopping of footwear. And just when it was almost upon me, I turned around to face the dirty hand that fate was about to deal me. But, surprisingly enough, fate chose to be kind, and sent me a ray of light at the end of my self-imposed tunnel.

The speedy footfall came from a kind gentleman who was out on his morning walk. Suresh, as he later introduced himself, agreed to accompany me on my journey. He said that he was headed in that direction anyway, so it wasn't any trouble at all. And so, walking myself ragged in a fit of misguided adventure, an angel in human form was delivered to me, to save me from the darkness that was clouding my path and my mind.

We got to talking, and introductions were in order, which is when he told me that he wasn't comfortable speaking in English. I, unfortunately, had to reciprocate by informing him that my Malayalam was a bit of a personal code, often leaving the listener with a lot to decipher. But in spite of such apparent difficulties, this "language trainer" and his newly acquainted "transport / cargo operator" were soon chit-chatting into the early hours of the morning.

We talked about lots of things, from business, to the places we were passing but couldn't really see in the still lingering darkness, to the fact that most people didn't like to walk anymore. The walk-and-talk may have lasted for close to half an hour, but in that time we managed to small-talk constantly. We discussed the state of the world, the state of our country, the state of the state of Kerala, the future, and notions that we have about the people who don't like walking. Soon, before I knew it, he was being the perfect host to a visitor to his fair city, and with an effortless wave of his hand he went, "And this is your hotel on the left."

What started out as a defiant attempt to find my own way in a place that is alien to me, like I've done many a time before and found myself floundering thereafter, resulted in an enjoyable chat with a total stranger who went out of his way to aid me. And it's things like this that seem to make life worth living, I have to say. Funny if you think about it, or if I think about it because I did set myself up for this. But things could've gone horribly wrong. They didn't however, and that has made all the difference and more.

If you're reading this Suresh, I'd like to thank you for making this otherwise ordinary day more interesting; for helping me enjoy the unexpected and oh-so-simple pleasures that this life has to offer. Thank you.
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