Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Bahar Jana

An early morning flight more often than not implies a round-about mid-night wake-up alarm. And the company driver was stricter than one would find usually and deposited me at the airport at 2:30 for a 4:30 flight when at this airport a 4:00am check-in would have been well ahead of time. Most likely they fly a single digit number of flights from this airport in a day. As was the case I along with two other company employees found myself sitting in departure area with plenty of time to spare. I still had few chapters of ‘David Copperfield’ on the other side of the bookmark and I was happy to busy myself while the two companions talked about the fishing gear they had purchased and were carrying with them on way to their respective homes.

It must have been 30 minutes or so since I started reading when I was asked a question in a language I least expected for the place I was at. Generally, they say that Punjabis are found everywhere. I have tested this hypothesis and found that to an extent it was true but not always. For example in Baku (Azerbaijan) in nearly six months the only sardar I have seen is when I look into the mirror. Same was true for Turkmenistan. No sardars here as well (apart from me of course). Hardly any Indians for that matter. Baku, though, does boast of some Indians. In any case hearing, “beta koi pani di botal hai” at Ashgabat airport was a surprise and I looked up from my book and found a sardarji standing next to me. An old man, with hardly any black in the beard, wearing a kurta pyjama and a distant look in eyes. He was asking for a water bottle, an empty one to be precise. It was early morning and it was his time for the bowel movements and in his (our - his and mine) world they need water afterwards, toilet papers don’t suffice. It was quite a request.

In ‘Tales from Ferozeshah Bagh’, Rohinton Mistry, tells a tale of an Indian who goes to Canada. This particular Indian finds it hard to “take a dump” on the western style commodes. He can only do it squatting. This leads to a lot of embarrassing situations and in the end he decides that he can’t become westernized as he can’t do it the ‘west way’ and packs up everything and decides to go back to India. On the flight back (most likely before the flight takes off) he eats something which causes some stomach trouble and the toilet of the airplane didn’t allow him enough space to squat and in the end he, one way or the other, succeeds in doing it the west way. He was finally successful in his quest to be westernized but by that time he is already on his way home.

I did have a water bottle but it wasn’t empty and I did not want to give him the drinking water I had carried along. Had he been somewhat younger I would have just rubbished the request. But here was an old man, truly Punjabi and desi by nature. Travelling to or from some part of world where he clearly did not belong. What were his reasons? I do not know maybe even he himself don’t know. Maybe, just because it was ‘the thing’ these days. Going to Kaneda, Jurman, Amrika. The wanderlust and lust for ‘currency’ doesn’t leave space for reasons.

I told him to wait and went to the canteen in the lounge, asked them for an empty bottle and the lady there was kind enough to fish one out of the heap of bottles in rubbish bin. This I passed onto the gentleman and he was on his way to ‘relieve the pressure’. ‘Bahar jana’. That is what we say back home in Punjab. For both the things, taking a dump and travelling out of our country.

I looked around and found that the sardarji was not alone. I noticed a group of over twenty Punjabis, men, women, boys, girls, sitting in a corner. Turbans, flowing beards, Punjabi suits, duppattas. Lions of their land, sitting in a herd, apprehensive of the unknown, out of place and out of their elements. To avoid the usual situation of having to make conversation with my own type I busied myself with the book and did not look left right up or back till my flight was announced.

(written sometime in 2010)

No comments:

PRELUDE TO A RIOT

The cover of Annie Zaidi’s ‘prelude to a riot’ carries in red letters – ‘A white-hot novel about today’s India.’ White hot! Hotter than red-...