Dare To Dream And Have The Courage To Follow It!!
How many of us wish we could go back to being a kid, go back to our childhood? And how many of us wished to grow up faster than we actually were or in other words, get rid of the childhood and be an adult? I believe ( or atleast I would like to believe) that most of us did that. Which makes me wonder why do we miss being a kid, a child? The answer to this question had more bullet points than I wanted. And I am sure you might have many more bullets to add to that.
So let’s not do that and sulk over how childhood was better than being an adult. Rather let’s get lost in nostalgia and enjoy the memories that childhood left for us.
“Go talk to them”, said my dad. We were in the waiting room at the Mumbai railway station. I was in fifth grade at the time. Rather, I was to yet to start my fifth grade after spending few months of vacation doing all kinds interesting stuff which now sounds too boring to most adults. Like every other kid, I too got excited with small little things life offered and found pleasure in them like sleeping till late in morning until my parents kicked me out of the bed, purposelessly biking around for miles around the city and into the hinterlands, or even spend the night staring at stars and moon, dreaming to an astronaut one day and land there. Stupid right?
One such thing that excited me, like most Indians ( I hope I wasn’t alone in this stupidity), was people from foreign countries, or foreigners, as we liked to call them. Seeing a foreigner that time to me seemed almost like seeing an alien. It was a source of immense excitement. I remember seeing these foreigners when on trip popular tourist cities like Delhi, Agra, Mumbai, etc. I would point them out my brother shared the excitement with me and my parents, who I thought were equally excited but now I wonder if such a silly thing excited them. But they did a good job at pretending to be excited if they weren’t, since I still can’t tell for sure if there were or weren’t. And knowing my interest in the foreigners they too would promptly them point them out to me whenever they saw them.
So I was returning home after a long trip to Delhi, with my family. The journey required us to change the train at Mumbai with some hours to kill between the trains. So we decided to go to the waiting room, get freshened up and relax for some time. I was welcomed into the waiting room by the sight of a mid-aged couple from a foreign country, a.k.a foreigners. I glanced around and found a spot right in front of them available for occupancy. Sensing the opportunity I immediately dragged my parents to occupy that spot.
It was half an hour since we took the spot and I hadn’t blinked my eye from the couple. My parents had tried in vain to try to get me to eat or use a bathroom, but I just wouldn’t budge. I suppose my dad saw the excitement on my face and said, ” Go talk to them”.
The excitement in my eyes was replaced by fear, only for an instant though, at the idea of talking to foreigners. The very next moment excitement kicked the fear out and regained its rightful place upon the same idea of talking to foreigners. I had never spoken to a foreigner before. It seemed fascinating.
“Can I do that? Will that be fine?” I asked dad.
“Absolutely. You know english well. You can talk to them. They won’t mind”, dad assured me.
I convinced my brother and we both started walking towards them slowly. Very slowly. Almost as if we were crawling.
“Hello, my name is Ankit.” I said in my thick Indian accented english.
“Hello, my name is John.” he replied with a bright smile on his face.
“I am from South Africa. Do you know where it is?”
“Yes, I do. Also, I have seen it on tv. It is a beautiful country. Johannesburg is amazing.” I replied with glittering eyes.
I was so much in awe of the moment. My eyes probably sparkled and face radiated joy as I got immersed speaking to them and probably even proud that I was able to talk to them and I could boast about my english skills now. I, and my brother, kept asking them questions after questions. And they patiently answered them all.
“So would you like to be my friend?” asked John, again with a bright smile.
“Absolutely!!!” I blurted out without a moment of hesitation.
And that was enough to send me on cloud 9. I have a foreigner friend now. How cool is that! I was absolutely mesmerised. I felt unbounded happiness and glorious pride. As if I had achieved something. As if I had succeeded in life.
I introduced them to my parents. They offered them some Indian food that we carried for the travel, which they both loved immensely. John offered me some chocolates which he had and it was amazing too. I spared some chocolates for later so that I can show off in front of my friends and family.
We spoke at length about all sorts of topics. I enquired them about their profession, their kids, about South Africa, about India, their Indian tour, hobbies, interests, food, flight, etc. I asked them if they had any South African currency and if I could see it. I had a friend who belonged to a rich family and he had collected currencies from different countries that his parents or he visited. I was jealous upon seeing his collection. I had never seen a foreign currency before that and discovered a hobby called currency collection too existed in the world. So there was no way I was going to let go of my golden chance to see a foreign currency.
Luckily, he had some of it and he even offered me some coins which I could keep as a souvenir. I offered him some Indian coins in exchange, which he already had since he had been travelling here but I asked him to keep it nonetheless.
I spoke to them for more than two hours. In retrospect, I now see some seriously childish questions that I asked them. Like the silliness of even asking to see their flight tickets because I had never seen one and air travel was had always been a dream of mine. They happily obliged to that too. They even showed their boarding pass which at the time I had absolutely no idea what it meant.
Before leaving John asked me if he could have my contact address and phone number. I happily wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it over to him. He gave me his contact details in exchange along with a few more souvenirs and departed towards the airport to catch their flight back home to South Africa.
I returned back to my parents with a big smile on my face. And I saw an even bigger smile on their face. The face you see on the parents when their kids succeed in something. They were proud. Atleast that’s what I felt.
I returned home and started school and along with started my boasting off about this incident. I told my friends about it. My uncles and aunt’s were thrilled to hear it and my cousins probably jealous. I elaborated the incident in detail to my grandfather.
A few months had passed by and I had been buried deep in the academic challenges. One day dad returned from office with a bunch of letters. He put them all, on the shelf above the TV, where he usually kept his mails, except one. He gave that mail to me and said “It’s yours. It has your name on it.”
A burst of happiness, excitement and anxiety rushed into me. “A letter with my name on it? Who would it be from?” Letters never came with my name on it even if it was meant of for me. It used to be addressed to my dad for obvious reasons. But it makes me wonder now, as a kid, how little I needed to be happy. Immensely happy.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the letter had South African stamp on it and a South African address in the from section, along with the name, John, as the sender. This was enough to send me crazy. I was surprised and shocked. I looked at my dad and his smile as smile gave me the assurance that I read it right. I started jumping out of joy and ran to show it to my mom and brother.
I opened the envelope and read the letter. And read it again. And again. And again. I probably read and re-read it about 10 times at that moment itself. It was printed on a yellow paper and was two pages long. I gave it to my parents to read. Showed it off to my friends and family and everybody else for months.
I decided to write a letter back to them. I typed it on the computer we had in the office and printed it, instead of mailing a handwritten letter. But I had no idea how to mail a letter to an international address. So I made a trip to post office to find out how I could that and finally sent it off.
I don’t know if the letter reached them. I didn’t get a letter from him again. I thought he didn’t get the letter and so I didn’t write him another one either.
I used to keep the letter hidden in a secret locker in my cupboard, where it still lies safely today along with other souvenirs that they had given and the letter I wrote in response to his. This was my secret treasure and it still is. Every year my parents ask me to get rid of it during the annual cleaning festival (Diwali!). But I still hold on to it very dearly, with a hopeless hope of hearing from them again.
It has been almost 15 years since the incident and I am now almost the same age now as was John’s son when I met him. A lot has changed since then. I have grown up and become a wise adult. And it now takes a lot more than such silly incident to make me happy and excited.(I am hoping I am not alone in this too!). It sounds almost ironic now to me that I now live amidst all the foreigners in a foreign country. And the most exciting thing now is about seeing the people I left behind; my family, my friends and my country.