I was at the Frankfurt International Airport. I had just arrived from India, taking the very first flight of my life at the age of 58.
I was to attend to the delivery of my daughter in the US. And I was to travel from India, all alone. Three flights, two connecting flight times, new countries, foreign people – it seemed no fun and I felt nervous about it ever since my daughter became pregnant.
My conversational English is just average; considering the fact that I come from a regional-language-medium school, my confidence level in speaking English is not so great. In spite of people telling me that I don’t actually need to ask anyone for assistance, I wasn’t sure if I can do it all by myself. For close to a month, I was informed of the step-by-step procedures starting with collecting the boarding pass, checking in the luggage, immigration check, security check, locating the flight terminals, liquid bottles-100 ml-zip-lock bag – I have rehearsed and re-rehearsed on my dumb brain several times before the D day 😯 Yet, I was at my most anxious state of mind at the Bengaluru International Airport the previous night.
I kept staring at the label tags they gave me at the boarding pass collection counter queue. Everybody else was writing something and I had no clue what I was supposed to write on it. I cursed my husband and daughters for not teaching me this step and I was afraid of what more such surprises were awaiting me. Thus, with the fright-or-flight mechanism intact in me, I managed to reach Frankfurt Airport the next morning.
And then started the second round of apprehension. I had only two hours’ time to locate the terminal for the connecting flight to Dallas. Following the other Indians, I finally reached two closed doors and felt exactly like playing the Richard O’Brien’s crystal maze show. It took something moving inside the closed doors, after a while, to realize that it was actually a train station.
After verifying multiple times that I had reached the right terminal gate, I was waiting for the announcement of the boarding; still doubtful if I was at the right place for the right flight. That’s when I spotted a young mother trying hard to manage her three children. For a second I thought she was weeping. She was, in fact, weeping! I turned around and noticed that a few more people in the airport were looking keenly at her. She had a crying infant on her lap whom she was trying to passify; she had a toddler on one side of the twin perambulators who was whining continuously and an older girl of around four years who was running hither and thither to her heart’s content. The lady seemed to be the only adult around them. I could understand her difficult situation but I couldn’t quite figure out why it should make her cry or if she was crying for something else.
The more I observed her, the more I felt restless. Should I offer her help? Will she be able to understand my English? Will she look down upon me for my complexion, the saree I was wearing or at my English? What if she tries to ignore me or snap at me? Even if she responds, will I understand what she speaks? Will people of their culture even expect help? Or should I better mind my business? I was struggling between guarding my dignity at a foreign place and calming my Indian blood that twitched to comfort her. After what seemed like a long time, I pulled up all my courage, walked up to her awkwardly, conscious of how I would appear to the rest of the crowd, and gestured to her to give me the crying infant.
What followed transcended my soul from all barriers of culture, region and religion, for the rest of my life!
The lady immediately placed the baby on my arms with tears of gratefulness combined with tears of that something else she was crying about. In a few seconds of strolling on my shoulders, the baby settled down. The lady quickly tried to speak a few sentences together amidst the emotional struggle she was going through, without me having to ask her anything. I understood that her mom had passed away and that she was waiting for her flight to some country. It made much sense now though I couldn’t understand the rest of the sentences that she spoke. For the next half an hour, I kept the three children engaged while she quietly resigned to her thoughts of melancholy. When it was time for her departure, she collected the kids and spoke to me from the depth of her heart in a serene tone. Again, I understood that she felt thankful but nothing of the rest of the long sentences she spoke.
The warmth I had felt after the family disappeared from my sight was conquering. It wasn’t just a good feeling of having helped a stranger; it was a proud feeling that my Indian upbringing had made me to care for a struggling mother in spite of the breaking of my complex that it had required.
Not that people of other cultures do not care for others; but definitely Indians do it a little more than others, especially when it comes to the matters of women and children. Now that I’ve been to the US more than thrice for my daughter’s subsequent deliveries and having interacted with people of different cultures in the US, I have a fair knowledge of the way of lives in the US. On the brighter side, I like the fact that strangers smile at each other at Walmart, cars stop for a while at crossroads letting the others go and follow lane discipline which Indians can get nowhere near to. However, I’ve observed that their bonding with family is shallower. From the woman at the immigration check counter – who had asked me why I was at US for which I answered that my daughter was carrying, to which in turn she asked me what my daughter was carrying – to every other person there, were surprised, while some were even cynical, about the fact that I had travelled across the globe spending lakhs of rupees to attend to my daughter’s delivery. In India, we take it as our duty to look after our children during needy times regardless of how old they get. And our culture also makes our children to look after us when parents get older. In either way, the familial bond is kept intact and that’s something which defines the value of Indians and the Indian culture.
As an Indian, I might not have the most pleasing complexion, I might not appear nice in my saree clad, my English language might not be the best in the world, I might not be confident enough to face a new group of people or know how to behave elegantly at a new place. However, as an Indian, I know to support a fellow mother who is in distress; I know how not to ignore a crying heart and I know how to come out of my timid-self to render help. And now I know that humanity has a special language beyond appearance and confidence, which Indians are the best in reading at.
The very fact that the mother at the Frankfurt airport found solace from her troubling children on the event of a loved one’s death is a victory. It might not mean big in the corporate world or in the history of countries but to the evolution of humanity, it is indeed a victorious step. When, someday, the lady recollects this incident, she will remember me as ‘an Indian woman’.
There shall come a day when I will be on my death bed and my daughter will have to pass through a similar situation as that of the lady, and I hope that there will be another Indian mother to comfort my daughter, that one day.
I was reminded of this small anecdote of my life while watching the Lufthansa TV commercial for their #MoreIndianThanYouThink campaign because as you could have guessed Lufthansa was that very first flight of my life!