A Moving Experience

January 21, 2024by Rajeev Hora0

A party of absolute strangers brought together miles away from home by a stroke of luck.

“I am never going to complain about Indian bureaucracy from now onwards.” These ‘pleasing in a way’ words came from an old man abreast of me in a rather serpentine queue. And guess which part of the world were we crossing paths? It was the arrival terminal at Heathrow, somewhere mid last June. Not only the two of us but hundreds of others were going through a common misery.

We all had duly arrived in the Kingdom from various parts of the world. The immigration formalities had however hit a roadblock due to a local strike. The British nationals and those coming from the EU and the States were zooming into the country without a problem through a digital self-check-in arrangement. Not so lucky were the visitors from certain other parts of the world. The aristocracy did not bat an eyelid as the long proletariat lines continued to increase.

As it is, immigration at Heathrow generally radiates a bit of unsaid hostility and not-so-welcome feeling. That day, unimaginable to say the least, there were only four immigration counters which were manned. It was compounded by the rather lackadaisical and grim attitude of the desk officers. As if they had been pulled out of the comfort of their quilted beds on an essential duty call out. Own paced and totally oblivious to the discomfort of the masses.

Almost three distressing hours had already passed. Mental mathematics skills were competing to judge the lane movement rate. A wait of clearly another hour or two was in the offing. Rolling and dragging their hand luggage along, a frustrated populace moved on in dawdling lanes. Tired of crying, the babe in arms were falling asleep in the exhausted laps of their paternities. Hobson’s choice, everyone trudged along.

Patience being tested to its limits; widespread grumbling filled the air. No food, no water, no drinks! Where on earth had we landed up? What was all that jazz about first world hospitality? Maybe someone listened to the laments going around. Suddenly out of nowhere, an airport official dumped dozens of white-coloured water cans at a couple of spots. There was quite a scramble for the fluidic respite but even then, quite a few were left unquenched.

Similar to a Coke tin can, these could be opened by prying open the pull ring/ tab. A youngish Telugu gentleman in my adjacent lane thought that he had been lucky to lay his hands on a water can. But when he attempted to open it, he pulled the tab the wrong way and broke it inadvertently. So, a very thirsty and hapless man was left holding a water can which he could not possibly open. Well, such is the irony of life!

Standing in the vicinity, I was watching the whole episode with nothing else to watch. I was instantaneously filled with pity and quickly scurried inside my handbag. I pulled out a half-full bottle of water and offered it the to the desperately craving gentleman. Filled with gratitude for my simple act, he thanked me profusely as he hydrated himself in a singular gulp.

“That was very nice of you Uncle. Water is indeed at a premium out here”, remarked a young girl ahead of me who was also watching the developments. Probably college going she was.

A bit overwhelmed at the unexpected compliment, I said, “Not at all dear.” And as we continued with our wait and drudgery, she introduced herself. Sophia it turned out, had finished her graduation from Imperial College, London a couple of months ago. She had gone home to Mumbai for a holiday. Whilst there, she had been pleasantly surprised to get a call for a UK Grad Trg program. That’s how she was where she was.

As I outlined a little bit about myself, the oldish couple behind me joined in the conversation,“Our nephew is also in the Air Force. He is an engineer.”It didn’t take me more than this sentence to determine their Gujarati heritage. The Desais I gathered, hailed from Ahmedabad where Amirbhai ran a cotton trading business. This was their first visit abroad. They were visiting a cousin in Sussex. It was obvious that were rather nervous about how it was all proceeding.

Reddy our thirsty friend, who was within hearing range, also could not resist telling about himself. One comment led to another and before we knew it, the five of us were chatting like long lost friends. A most unusual cluster in a most unusual setting.

With no food for hours, hypoglycaemia was setting in. Sophia took out a box of chocolate biscuits and passed it around. I contributed with my reserve rations of a dry fruit bag which the Missus had packed with parting words of, “You don’t know when you will need it.” The surprise package was Mrs Desai’s massive cotton handbag. Call it a treasure trove if you wish.

Out came the Theplas, the Khakhras and the Bakalwadis. Of course, not forgetting the Khara Sing Dana, salted peanuts in simple terms. An excited Mrs Desai’s rations could have easily fed a mini army. In fact, the way we all shamelessly gorged at the delicacies, it appeared that we had not eaten in ages. Reddy meanwhile had managed the drinks (two water cans from a fresh delivery by the staff).

As we chatted and gobbled, we laughed over papa jokes and some equally silly stuff. It was hard to keep the envious eyes away from us. A party of absolute strangers brought together miles away from home by a stroke of luck. Joyful and having a frolicking party in the midst of adversity. Making lemonade when life serves you lemons, they call it or something like that.

And all this while continuously moving at a miserable pace towards the immigration counter. As our turn came, it was time to say our goodbyes. Oddly, we were the only ones in that terminal who appeared to be in no hurry. After all, no one likes a good party to end!

Quite an experience on the move or let’s say, a moving experience!

Left on a high,
Horax (Casper)

P.S: Amazingly, it all started from a broken tin can:)

First published at seekmediation.com on 22/01/24

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