November 4th, 2005
Sharada looked around the hustle and bustle. People were cramming their baggage into the trolleys at one end. She took a deep breath. Now is the time to face the fears of life, she thought. She could not fathom why families had to do this all the time. It was cool to be called as ‘non-residents’, but the kind of cost that tag came with. Sharada didn’t get it, simply. To leave all the comfort and the familiar to brace the unknown.
Announcement was made for the boarding of Jet. Travellers started running towards the gate, as if there was a tsunami in Vizag. That was another thing; people are always looking to settle elsewhere in the name of ‘advancement’. The façade was too much for a simple soul like her. Yet, children make one do even the impossible – boarding an aeroplane, for starters.
She waited, looked around, and waited again. The longer Sharada sat there, greater was her urge to chuck everything and take an auto back home. The warmth of her humble dwelling where she and Prasad have decided to live the rest of their lives. Sharada could not cope with this brief separation. Prasad had dropped her off till the airport entrance. He had given her all the instructions about the travel. The coaching has been going on for over two weeks now – how to travel, where to go, whom to ask, what to wear, what not to say at the immigration counter. She sighed. Exhaustion was coming over. Trying to brush aside all the vain thoughts, Sharada tried to focus on reading the magazine that she had bought. Stylish Nagarjuna all over in the photo shoot – Sunitha would have loved that. Better to take the mag along and show it to her, Sharada smiled to herself.
Just then, a gentleman came and sat opposite to her. Sharada became conscious. All the while, there were women and children around, mostly. They have boarded the respective flights. One more hour for her’s to arrive. Sharada had to land at Mumbai and catch a Lufthansa to Frankfurt.
She tried not to look at the man directly – her old fashioned head had some inhibitions. One was to not talk with strange men, regardless of what age. People would mock and ridicule if they had access to her innermost thoughts. Precisely why Sharada never had great opinions to express. Her views were of use to her alone, going by the little few incidents that were filled with arguments and laughs. Her children would be the first ones to brush away her backwardness.
The man opposite wore crisp formals and carried a small briefcase. Must be an engineer or a banker, she thought. He caught her glance in between as he read the Reader’s Digest. Sharada immediately turned her head. The man continued to look at her. Discomfort started settling in. Where was Prasad, she thought.
“Taking the Mumbai flight?” he asked, with a courteous smile. Sharada was forced to look at him. She smiled back and nodded.
“Me too” he said. “These flights are always delayed, Andi. We can’t do much about that.”
Sharada was in two minds. Should this conversation really continue? She tried not to reply. The man went on.
“I keep travelling often, and now, it almost feels like airport is the second home”
She made a forced face of agreeing to the viewpoint. He looked at her and then around. The awkwardness began to soar. The man went back to reading the Digest.
Sharada was relieved. Thank God, there will be no more interactions. She was not in the mood, for one. Not as if she would, in any scenario. Another boarding announcement came through for the Air India. Sharada began to double check her bag and belongings. She had checked in with great difficulty. A young lad helped her out. She was supposed to show the boarding pass when they would make the announcement and open the gate. The boarding pass was in her bag. She checked again. The pass was nowhere to be seen.
Sharada panicked. She jumped from her seat and started checking everywhere. She searched for the pass in her bag. She double checked and swirled the pages of the magazine that had stylish Nagarjuna. Not there, either.
“Oh my GOD!!” she mumbled to herself. The man looked at her.
“What’s the matter, Andi?” he asked
“I can’t find my boarding pass” she said, looking at him with a bated breath.
“Relax Andi. It should be there. Have you checked your bag properly?”
“Yes, Yes” she said, trying to catch up on her breath. “I have kept it in my bag, I remember very well. And now, it’s gone. Oh God!! What will I do now? I hate this flight journey. I hate this all”
The man waited for her to calm down. Sharada felt embarrassed over her outbreak of emotions.
“Let us understand where you were before sitting here.” The man said “Were you at the coffee shop?”
Sharada shook her head “No. I got here right after the security check”
The man looked around.
“Let us go there and check, in case you have left it there. Do you remember keeping the pass in your bag?”
Sharada couldn’t answer. She did not remember any of that. She had a vague recollection of having the pass in her hands as she got out of the check.
“Let’s go and find out”
The man went along with her to the security check. A lady guard immediately called Sharada from the check in area.
“Madam, you left your pass here”
Sharada ran to the woman and collected the boarding pass. She felt sheepish as people looked at her even for a brief moment. She thanked the employee and started walking towards the gate. The man walked along with her. Sharada went ahead and sat in the same place and the man took the seat opposite.
“Thanks a lot, Andi” she said, looking at him with gratitude.
“Mention not, please” he smiled “I’m glad we found your pass. Otherwise also, there is nothing much to worry about. We can always make a request for another one”
Sharada felt grateful. May be, now it was time to have a conversation with the man.
The man replied with courtesy “I’m Ramesh”
“See, I have never flown before” she said, as Ramesh listened to her. “My daughter is in US and is about to deliver a baby girl. These days, you know the child’s gender even before it arrives. She has asked me to come help her out. I actually didn’t want to go, but has to say yes”
“I can understand, Andi” Ramesh replied with empathy “Me and my wife, we live in Hyderabad. I keep coming to Vizag on work. Both our children are settled in US, too. Only, our time has not yet come to help them around with childbirth and post-natal care” he laughed. Sharada smiled.
“We have to sometimes oblige, I guess” she pondered, slowly “I mean, we would love to. But, I don’t understand why they have to settle abroad. They can be here. There is comfort here, the help, the access, the maid servants. Why should they go to another country and do their own dishes? I was told that my daughter has to check herself in on her own at the hospital during the labor. I mean, what kind of arrangement is that? Here, everybody would have huddled around her and helped her out”
“I totally get what you are saying, Sharada Garu” Ramesh replied. “But see, that’s their choice and they have made it. If you are not comfortable flying alone, you can always say no. But I see that you have taken this decision as a mother. Children are like that, Andi. They want their own space and lifestyle. If India is not where they want to be, who are we to stop them? At the end of it all, they have come through us into this world. So many times, I wish they were here, taking care of us, instead.”
Sharada stared at Ramesh. He had just put forth something very deep and meaningful.
“You are right, Ramesh Garu” she concurred “We have to do our bit for them. I’m not expecting them to do theirs when the time comes. But if they do, we are truly blessed”
“Let us not get there” Ramesh said “Let us do the best we can while we are still mobile and have the energy”
They laughed. Sharada was thankful for the conversation with a man who had a right head on his shoulders.
“I will help you, Andi, till you board the Lufthansa in Mumbai” Ramesh said, earnestly “Think of me as your Annayya (brother)”
Sharada was overwhelmed with emotion. She smiled and nodded.
“Let us go get some coffee before the boarding” Ramesh said.
Sharada’s phone rang as they headed to the coffee shop. It was Prasad.
“Hi Prasad” Sharada said cheerfully “No, in another 40 minutes. Don’t worry” she said, as she looked at Ramesh. “I have found a brother for myself in the airport”
Pic Courtesy – Padmajaa as Sharada