One of the most fun things about traveling is the kind of communication it inspires. Well, it’s not always amusing when you are lost in a remote area. Or need to catch a train and they announce changes you can barely comprehend. But occasionally, when there is no immediate emergency on hand, these exchanges bring us alive in a whole new way.
I enjoyed a particularly warm encounter recently. On my flight from Budapest to Frankfurt was a young couple sitting a row away. The girl looked Japanese. Their fond exchanges and soft conversations indicated a deepening friendship in its early days. When we got on to the airport bus at Frankfurt they were again right next to me. As we passed seemingly innumerable gates, the youngster grew increasingly intimidated and was clearly concerned about making his way to the next flight. The girl murmured soothing comments but he did not seem convinced. I lost sight of them through security. I too needed to focus on finding my way to the next flight.
I stood in queue, busily checking my belongings, when a loud voice boomed, “Hello!” I looked up startled and saw the young man again. Happy and excited to have made it to Passport clearance, he was now energized and ready to start his travel adventure. Acting with the familiarity of an old friend, he smiled broadly, and waved his hand questioningly. Took me a minute to figure out he meant to ask where I was headed. This set the tone for the conversation that ensued. Broken phrases, single words and a lot of joyful gesturing.
He told me he was going to Japan. So I said, “O genki desu ka?” He thought for a moment and in turn questioned, “Are you well?” I was a little confused at him translating rather than responding! Then I realized he was Hungarian. Almost like a parting reminder from the country that belied all that I had been warned about, he was even more warm, outgoing and genuinely interested than the other locals I had met.
I asked him if he was traveling for work or holiday and he blushed an endearing red. Without mention of her, both of us smiled remembering his absent friend. He went on to communicate that he was a musician and named a wind instrument I was unfamiliar with. In exasperation, he dramatically held up his hand to say wait. We stopped moving in the queue and he opened up his hand baggage to show me the parts of an elaborate instrument and how it would come together. Despite my concern over time, I was intrigued and amazed at how keen he was to explain. When I gave a suitably impressed reaction he expressed his love for music. I told him my name and that it means music. To this I got a delighted response. “You sing?” When I said no, he was hugely disappointed. Shaking his head in frustration at my moniker he muttered, “Bad. Bad. So wrong! Why?!” After a few seconds he reconciled, while I was still feeling a little guilty and apologetic. Halfheartedly he asked what I did. He looked like he was bracing himself for further disappointment, probably expecting me to be a software consultant or the like. After all, I am an Indian! I gestured that I write. The transformation was acute. A smile lit his face again and he asked hopefully, “Poetry?” I happily responded with equal enthusiasm, “Yes! Poetry!” I felt the sting of the earlier judgment fade as he clapped and did a little round of appreciation. “That is good! Poetry is good!”
We stood there grinning at each other. This was more than me feeling redeemed. Or the validation and approval of a young stranger I would never meet again. It was the mutual recognition of a deep connection, that despite our stark differences, we shared a great love, passion, respect, and appreciation for art.
Now this entire magical encounter had only taken a few minutes. I snapped out of my musings as I realized I was in the wrong queue. I had to run off to find the non-EU line. I hastily waved a bye and thanks to him, a little sad at the abrupt but necessary end to our ‘conversation’. When I finally reached my gate, boarding had already been announced. Suddenly I heard the same voice boom, “Hello! You have a good flight!” My stranger-friend caught my eye, smiled again and wishing me sincerely, ran to catch his own connecting flight.
Leaving me with this gem of a memory as to how quickly, easily and meaningfully a human connect can take place. We find so many ways to divide ourselves. Whether it be language, nationality, color, race, age, or gender.
But if we look to bridge the divide – a simple open and attentive presence is all it takes. We have so much in common after all.
(Image – Museum of Music, Prague, Czech Republic)