I guess the most important part of any occasion is to find the goodness in people. So it was that a single smile, a single act of magnanimity, these things in total made our visit to Europe memorable. In Athens, we were alarmed at the real small amount of food consumed at dinner by child. A bit of fear in our hearts as people had insisted that our hotel was in a ‘scary’ part of the city. Athens, a big bad city. God knows what vices lurk in what corners. Here we are, with our brown skin, our passports, and a frisky child. But then, we ducked into a side street nevertheless and prowled around in the back trying to figure out yogurt in Greek. Finally tracked it down and counted our Euros to purchase it as healthy protein and calcium supplement to the child’s dinner (yogurt is ideal – it is always loved, and requires no chewing). The child, who could not care less whether we were in Timbuktoo or Goregaon, discovered lollypops and started asking for them. We went through our routine, “How do we ask, where is the key word,” & so on. Then relented and went to count out more Euros for the sweet. The big Greek guy at the counter says, “It is free, for the baby, take it,” with characteristic Mediterranean hand gestures. We were floored. Life is the same. Cute little children are loved. Indulged a bit. Especially when they don’t behave in an abominable manner.
“Kya mein bacchi ko thoda pyaar kar sakta hoon?” asked this scruffy desi guy we ran into at a bus-stop. We were like, aaah dude what does that mean exactly. But then he was just a guy on the fence re: the law, and missing home and family and what not. He pinched her cheeks and loped off at the sight of (I think) cops in the distance, and we continued our musing wait for bus no. 815 till we finally gave up. The metro worked much better for us, and we were all over the Athens metro pretty soon.
Of course in the Pelopponese region of Greece where we hung out for a bit, we had friends, so that was different. It just felt good to see them after so long (I was in graduate school with them, my husband spent enough time with us to be friends separately with them from those days). We brought along the children (one each) as report cards. It felt in many ways the same as back when we used to agonise over our graduation dates. It felt a bit different too, with the children liking each other and playing a little, and what not. All awesomely nice. And they discovered for us vegetarian Greek food beyond Spinacopita. Eggplants, and tomatoes stuffed with rice, and chili peppers, and these really yummy Zucchini balls. Not to mention Tzatziki. Washed it all down with local Mythos beer and the Licorice strong Ouzo on ice. A gastronomical feast if anything. We met the owner of the little taverna by the beach we went to on day one. We charmed him and he charmed us in turn. We became quite the regulars there after that, and I think hugs were exchanged when we left.
In Bucharest, we were received by an eloquent Romanian student who drove us around the city to point out sights before dropping us off at the University guest house. His English was perfect while his despair over the changing face of Bucharest was touching. His complaint – trees are being cut down to make way for progress. And here we were, after Mumbai, exclaiming over the fact that there are so many forests and trees in that city!
In the remote areas of Romania we went to later in the week, our highlight was the incredible variety of birds we could see. Cruising around with a bunch of Chemists in a chugging motor boat of indiscernible speed, we saw Ibises, Pelicans, and god knows what else. In mostly black, white, and brown, and an occasional bright blue too! The delta of the formidable Danube river with the Black sea, an incredible morass of islands and channels of water big and small. One of the Polish chemists that was with us turned out to be quite a bird-guy with a book on birds of Europe and a list of what he expected to sight on our trips. To our collective relief, he declared at the end of two days that he had seen all the species he expected to. For sure, so had we then! Only, neither did we know the names nor could we pick out a spoonbill from a cormorant in a police line-up, but hey!
When I met a real surly girl at the reception desk during check out in the wee hours of the morning, I knew it was time to get back home. Could not resist giving her a small piece of my mind, mostly my chagrin at her assumption that I did not understand her arithmetic and/or English. Excuse me! The boat-guy that took us back was really happy in a shy smile when the child thanked him and blew him a kiss. Not a word of English, but when is language a barrier for anything.
After ten years of being married and a dozen of living independently, this place of five years here in Mumbai, despite the roads, the traffic, the annoyance at the repeated requests for loans, feels like home. And as in previous times, it feels good to be back on this wet muddy soil. The new bridge is in tatters, like someone tore at it with claws, prices seem to have risen further, people are still not separating wet from dry garbage, and I have a billion emails and the phone rings continuously, I suppose it is time to get back on the rails of routine life. Shove away the memories, download the pictures into an obscure folder on the computer, call the Aquaguard guy for servicing the water filter. It is fine, there is always curd rice for comfort. It is the first thing all three of us attacked, at midnight, when we reached home finally.