Other Side of the Mirror: Travelin’ wrong


By : Bikram Vohra

Amongst the many mysterious facets of the human race, one of the most inexplicable is its keenness to inflict strangers upon each other. Make a passing mention that you intend to travel and it’s 5 to 1 someone will say, oh really, are you going to Atlanta, then you must meet some very good friends of ours, let me give you their phone number, lovely couple, I am sure you’ll like them, what fun.
No, it’s not.

Considering you find it hard enough meeting your good friends why would you want to meet someone else’s good friends? Cousins in Yorkshire, former classmates in the Big Apple, an ex­-flame in Singapore, old neighbors in Geneva, they are all par for the course in this unbelievable exercise. The next thing you know you are burdened with all these scrappy pieces of paper destined to link you with all these lovely people you couldn’t care less about. Now with e-mail and SMS and all this desperate connectivity the papers are practically redundant.

How come they are always the salt of the earth? Why do people have these sterling friends in cities you are visiting? You are always told how you must meet them because you will really love them. How come no one ever says I’ve got a creep of a second cousin living in Kowloon and I wouldn’t wish him on anyone so I won’t give you his contact number or darling, remember those ghastly folks who were our neighbors here, aren’t they in Atlanta, look, if you do meet them when you are there, don’t mention us, couldn’t stand the fellow. That sort of thing would be such a pleasant change.

Instead, some of them build on the unsolicited offer of gregariousness by asking you to take a little something for them.

Twenty hours later you are jet-lagging into Atlanta absolutely certain the Customs are going to grab you for the suspicious looking packet, the contents of which have not been shared with you — it’s nothing really, just a few dou dabs and dit dits. I buy the argument. But does the stone-faced customs official have the same faith in mankind?

Usually, I throw away the addresses or they just fly back with me untouched in whichever pouch or pocket they were originally placed or I don’t open the electronic messages. Then I go into my barefaced lying routine about how I tried but they weren’t there and I left two messages and how disappointed I was not to meet them, considering it was to be the peak of my trip but they didn’t call back for some reason. I get believed and I don’t yet feel the least bit of a heel about it.

I once spent 80 euros on British Rail lugging some mangoes from Bombay to Heathrow to Paddington to Slough and if someone had thought to look you could have bought them in Southall. Much nearer.
Sometimes, homesickness, courtesy a surfeit of boiled vegetables, bland cheese and Big Macs can trigger a selfish desire for some spice of life and you find yourself brailing about for the paper with the phone number on it.

Hello, is that the Mundul residence, hi, I am Vohra, friend of the Shahs in Dubai, they said to call you if I were in Atlanta and I am.

Long silence.

You can visualize how he’s now sifting the Shahs in his life. Bingo! He’s got the right one sorted out. How are they, he says dredging for deeply buried enthusiasm.

Fine, I respond, they talk of you often.

Second long silence snakes over conversation.

How long are you staying, he asks, voice etched with hope and fear.

Off tomorrow, I say …. and launch the third lull.

Now I can picture him turning to his wife, hand cupping the telephone and hissing, some guy called Vohra from Dubai, friend of the Shahs, the Shahs we knew in Dubai, how do I know how they got our number, what do you want me to say?

Then he comes back on the line and in a voice soaked in liquid tragedy says, awfully sorry, we’d love to have had you over but we just can’t get out of our commitments, we are leaving for the Catskills this evening, wish you weren’t leaving tomorrow, what a pity, do give our love to the Shahs, we miss them so much. Sure, you do.




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