I belong to that generation which during its formative years saw a nation make conversation with absolute strangers (as if they have known each other since time immemorial); from train journeys, bus stops to the common area with a television in villages (you would understand what I mean if you had been to an Indian village before the era of DTH). A glance at an Indian Railways train is all it takes to understand that starting and sustaining a conversation was an art we excelled at and that the art is on its way to extinction. Board a long distance train and a few hours into the journey the older, prior to economic liberalization generation would start talking to each other about where they all come from, where they are headed to and eventually lament over the state of affairs in the country-economic, political and social. All conversations have this common theme of Woh bhi kya din the! The millennials on the other hand? Too cool for conversation! Earphones, laptop, movies, music and in extreme cases not even a smile to co-passengers.
Having been one of those “How do you make a conversation with a stranger?” & more importantly “What for?” I decided to begin 2016 with a New Year resolution that read “Talk to strangers, befriend them-as many as you can!” After a year of having done this (yes I do keep my resolutions!) the results have been truly amazing.
Thanks to the era of Uber, we meet strangers on a daily basis, and thankfully when you start a conversation with your uber driver they don’t assume you are hitting on them! Not only do they have amazing anecdotes, sometimes they give you life lessons. For instance when I took an Uber on Christmas (i.e today!) I had no idea regarding where I wanted to go. All I knew was that I had to Go! So I gave my driver three options and asked him to take me to whichever was convenient for him (traffic and other considerations). We took a call and started our journey and our conversation. Thanks to the driver being a Muslim I heard some pure hindi interspersed with mellifluous Urdu words. To prevent any lost-in-translation effect here is a snippet of our conversation:
Driver: Ji aapko pata kaise nai ki aapko kahan jana hain? Manzil pe koi aapka intezaar nai kar raha?
Me: Ji nai. Zindagi mein akele rehna pasand hai.
Driver: Akele rehna bhala kisko pasand hota hai? Guftagu karne wala koi toh hona chahiye-phir chahe achha ho ya bura.
Me: Ji nazariye ki baat hai.
Driver: Mujhe lagta hai tajurbe ki baat hai. Aapka tajurba sahi nahi raha hai lagta hai.
Taking the conversation ahead and talking about our life experiences the driver finally concluded,
“Aap abhi bahut chhote ho iss tarah akelepan ko apnane ke liye. Uska waqt bhi aaega. Abhi aap khud se ishq karo aur doosro ko tavajo do. Humne toh yahi seekha hai ki jab tak khud se ishq nai karoge, khud ki ahmiyat nai samjhoge kisi aur ko kya samjhaoge. Pata nai kyun iss zamane mein khud se ishq karna ek gunaah ho gaya hai.
Manzil aa gayi hai, meri koi baat buri lagi ho toh dil pe mat lijiyega, main toh aise hi bolte rehta hoon.”
Now that was a lovely message conveyed in euphonious language: I don’t remember the last time I had heard Hindi that sounded so soothing. Thanks to my acquaintances (including myself) resorting to Hindi only when we wish to hurl heartfelt expletives at each other, this definitely was a refreshing change. More than that, I could tell him everything I wanted to without the apprehension of being judged or not bothering about the impression I would make. Driving through Chanakyapuri to Khan Market with some old songs on the radio and this conversation was the outing I needed (though I wasn’t aware I wanted it).
This is just one of the many amazing conversations I have had this year with absolute strangers.
Another that comes to mind is the conversation with a Sri Lankan Navy personnel. Starting the conversation with the obvious “Do you know hindi? Have you been to India?” questions and receiving answers in the affirmative I asked him to recount his Indian experience. He told us that for his training he had gone to Jamnagar, Gujarat. For the first few weeks that he was there, he didn’t know any hindi except,
“Kitna?” & “Nai nai. Yeh toh bahut zyada hai, kam karo.”
The context: fellow Indian trainees told him that if he were to step out of the base then from the auto to any shop that he would go to, he was supposed to ask the first question, wait for an answer and then say the second! He admitted that it was a very high probability event that the price quoted after the first question and the one quoted after the second were the same and could only hope that it wasn’t more!
This year has been full of such amusing stories. They have had their consequences. For instance while running in the gym, I think about these incidents and randomly start smiling to awkward glances from the person on the adjacent treadmil (with earphones plugged in).