Mr and Mrs Hari
Sometimes, when you see something very often, you will stop taking notice of its worth. For example, I have this wonderful papyrus painting and I took great care of it. Once I hung it up my wall, I hardly see it every day. If you see the sun everyday, you will not understand the importance, till rain takes the toll on you for 2 consecutive days. I learnt these lessons from one of my trips.
It was the maiden trip abroad of Mr. and Mrs. Hari - my parents-in-law. They are around 60 and they were very excited about their trip. I took pride in the fact that I would explain and guide them through the trip. To avoid confusion, I would like to refer to my in-laws by their maiden name - Meena and Hari. Their excitement started much before the actual trip - from the day they shopped. Meena and Hari shopped for their clothes - in spite of the fact that their overflowing wardrobe did not permit them with any more space. Meena got herself some exclusive cotton saris and Hari got some cotton shirts stitched (for some reason I have failed to understand the stitching part as he has always stuck to readymade clothes!) Much before they actually got onto the flight, they endlessly looked into their passport and the visa stamp. For some reason, they wanted to look their best even on their visa stamp. (I remember the day we went for getting photographed for the visa application. They both diligently dressed and wore their best clothes and told everyone - 'it's for the visa you see'.
They both signed their immigration forms in the international airport and almost everyone from the family was there to see them off. All the while one thing went on in my mind - 'it's just for a week!!' But, in India, if you go abroad for a vacation, then, it's big deal. I looked at them and every time I was reminded of my own first trip abroad. To introduce Meena - Hari as individuals - Meena is more extrovert. She likes the outdoors and loves and delves in shopping, a hardcore 'Brahmin' vegetarian (meaning no onions and no garlic apart from the many no-nos.) Hari does not like the outdoors so much he likes sight seeing but only to a certain extent, he likes to drink expensive beer and smoke cigar, He loves coffee, cant walk much (some leg problem) but not food fussy! So, here we were plunging into this huge risk of taking two people of opposite interests abroad.
Once the flight took off, they both sat in rapt attention listening to the safety measures demonstrated by the crew. I looked at everyone and almost all of them were either reading or looking out of the window. I was immediately reminded of my own first flight and relived the moments. They both looked out of the window and discussed about the clouds, sky and colour and almost about everything. I was initially surprised because it was not their first flight but still their behaviour had all the bearing of a "first timer". Then, suddenly I was reminded what someone had said - 'in our family people take the flight only during emergency (read when someone has died or about to)' - well, certainly then, this was their first flight.
Once the food was served, Hari went on to eat everything and both asked for coffee. I suggested they drink tea but hard-core south Indians as they are, they took coffee. The stewardess poured coffee and they wondered where the milk was. I pointed out that there was whitener. They added whitener and sugar endlessly but could never manage to get the right proportion and taste!! 'The coffee is bad', they remarked. I suppressed myself from saying 'I told you so'. Hari wanted to taste the beer also. I asked to go ahead. He sheepishly looked at his better half - 'if you want to then drink. Why do you look at me?' she said. He jumped at this and enjoyed the beer with some peanuts. The look on his face was absolute bliss. It almost translated to - 'this is life!!'
Once in Singapore, they endlessly looked at the roads and buildings. It is so clean - they repeated. They liked the airport, then, the taxi, then the roads, then the buildings and so on. ' We should take a photo' Meena said, 'then, I show it back home. They should also know this is how it is in foreign'. This sentence began then. Little did I realize that it would repeat itself for the entire trip. I smiled silently and pretended it was not important. I told myself - 'its okay. Not so great looking' but then, I told myself, 'it need not be for them.' But somehow, after seeing anything or liking anything, one of them would turn to me and say 'isn't it good?' and I would say 'yes' almost blindly.
Meena spoke to almost all Indians she came across in the bus or train. She befriended and instantly spoke to them in Tamil. She would tell them where she is from and so on and she would ask them endless questions on sightseeing and shopping. She would also introduce us to them but thankfully she did not have time to cultivate a friendship else we would have ended up guests or hosts!!! Hari on the other hand, was on his own during most of his train and bus travel. He looked at awe and sat down at the slightest pretext. He walked with difficulty and at times, made me wonder why we had to put him to so much trouble. Walking was inevitable and he walked with difficulty - determined to see the place and not complain.
Their combined worry was food. They could not get themselves to eat anything. Hari managed to eat pizza and egg muffins but Meena had to struggle. She was worried about the French fries also. She wondered in which oil they would be fried. She bought some fruits and lived on fruits and 'Haldirams'!! She found a particular variety of biscuits, which "reminded her of her childhood" and decided to eat that. Somehow in Singapore, we managed to find "south Indian vegetarian" restaurant. But, I knew, we would not get so lucky in KL. Our relatives in KL suggested we go to a particular hotel and we went there only because they served Indian breakfast. This we thought would ease the 'food issue' to a certain extent. However, I never thought we would end up looking for an 'Indian vegetarian' restaurant in KL. This was on one of those days after we had the bit of sight seeing. We were in a place called 'Masjid India' in KL. After all the travel we had done, food was what we had in mind. This place had a whole lot of Indian restaurants but the Haris refused to eat because these restaurants also served non-vegetarian!!!! This was some belief to stick by!!
Meena being a shopoholic could just not resist herself. She endlessly looked at all the shops. She wanted pictures to be taken in the shopping mall other than the usual pictures we took in the places of interest. 'Such a beautiful shop. Hey, why don't we take a photo? I can show it to others at home', and immediately, I would go to a spot to aim and shoot and promptly she would say ' if you take the photo from there, you will get a better view' and I would silently walk to that spot and ask her to pose and she would say, ' hey, I am there in all photo, why don't you stand' and I would say, ' its ok ma, you stand. Its your trip' and I would click. This refrain happened at least 3 to 4 times a day. By the end of the trip, I found myself counting. She also was interested in buying things. She would ask me how much it would cost in India and I would calculate and tell her and then, based on her 'market knowledge' she would decide to buy or not to buy. I tried telling her that it did not work that way but 'old habits die hard'.
Hari's excitement was endless because he found that 'Gods had answered his prayers' because there were elevators almost everywhere. He would jump on to any elevator and go up and down in bliss knowing fully that his knees did not have to do the work. He walked the streets with his one hand on my shoulder and sometimes, with his weight on my shoulder, I would sigh but I knew I had to keep up with his undying spirit. Meena was initially scared of elevators. She took to stairs all the time. But at some point she realized it was futile and so she decided to venture out and learn to take the elevator. I took her each time and counted up to three and she would go with me. By the end of the trip, she was confident. (Well, this is something that I am very proud of. She is known to have had this fear for a very long time!!)
Towards the end of the trip, I was exhausted. Their habits and restrictions irritated me. They had their weird ways of justifying. They stood by Ronald McDonald and Kentucky for pictures that made me feel awkward. I was only too happy when it all ended. It's their trip I told myself. But, when all got over, I sat down and reflected on the whole trip. It only made me laugh. It was humorous. I failed to understand why I was irritated. But suddenly, like a lightening, I saw the whole thing crystal clear - it was probably my nth trip abroad and I knew what to expect. I had seen a zillion buildings and shopping malls. I had probably seen it all. What ticked me now, was culture and history. But, it was their first trip and I should have seen it coming. Probably, I should have been a little more understanding nevertheless, it was for memory. Yes, when you see the sun daily, you don't realize its worth. Only, next time, I should the opposite side from where I want to take the picture!!!!!!