There was a period when I had frequent one-day trips to Delhi from Mumbai, to meet with our clients. These trips were painful not only because I had to catch an early morning flight and return by late flight, to maximize the time available at Delhi, but also because mostly I traveled alone.

On one such trip, I was waiting for my return flight in the evening at the gate. I noticed that there was a group of men and women who were also waiting for the same flight. This group was noticeable because they were all wearing some sort of uniform.  I couldn’t make out who they could be.

Then my gaze fell on a middle-aged woman from that group. Initially, I couldn’t quite get why, but just the sight of her filled me with aversion. She looked washed out, sick and if someone had said that she was an alien, I would have believed. I was thanking myself for sitting quite away from her.

Soon, the boarding was announced and I got into the flight. My fascination for the aisle seat is justified by the extra legroom available but the price to be paid for it is to stand up every time to give way to the companions on the other two seats. After my first companion grabbed the window seat, I wished for no one to turn up for the middle seat. But while peering into my phone, I noticed someone stopped near my seat. I looked up and I could not believe my eyes. It was the same Ms. Alien, requesting me to give way to get into the middle seat. Come on, her? out of all those people? I quickly got up and gave her way while trying to keep all my emotions behind a calm face. Possibly I started a mental timer of two hours to get out of this flight.

I was trying to focus and read into my material and “Ms. Alien” spoke, “Do you belong to Mumbai?”

Oh, so she knows English. I said, “Yes. That’s where I live and returning from a business trip.”

I had to ask, “ What about you!”

She said, “I am from Sri Lanka. We are on the last leg of our India tour. We visited several places in India. Incidentally, this is my first visit to India.”

We have frequent cricket tournaments with Sri Lankans and we even have a Sri Lankan actress in Indian cinema, but I never had a close interaction with a Sri Lankan.

I asked, this time with genuine curiosity, “ So how is your experience so far?”

She said, “Yours is such a big and beautiful country. You should all be proud about it.”

She went on, “ However, although my country is so minuscule when compared to yours, I felt proud about how clean we keep it. I feel that you should pay attention to keeping your country clean.” She went on to explain how the Sri Lankans are particular about keeping public places clean.

One thing led to another and we kept talking. We talked about what our children were doing. We even showed our family photos from phone to each other. I saw a warm and thoughtful person in her. Eventually, I ended up with the first-ever journey where I had such a long and lively conversation with a stranger.  Huh!

I was in my forties then and had seen the world enough to know that looks are always deceiving. Despite that, I had apprehensions about this company. I won’t blame myself for that. I think this is how we are made. But, what was amazing was that how soon with a little chat, those apprehensions disappeared.

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(featured image: Photo by Sourav Mishra from Pexels)