Every once in a while, we are faced with an option of experiencing something different that shakes us out of the ordinary lifestyle we are accustomed to. One such opportunity comes with travelling for a vacation overseas. With great anticipation we embark on our favorite vacation, often with months of planning in hope of gaining something meaningful out of our journey.

Last week, a regular flight between Vancouver and Delhi presented me with that wonderful moment. I was looking forward to a home coming experience, travelling all by myself to visit family in India for the first time since the pandemic, and after 7 long years.

In an effort to stoke my deep sentiments, I chose to fly Air India. To Delhi on economy and onward to Cochin on business class. This was my jubilee trip of a lifetime and I was keen to enlighten myself through any insightful encounters, anywhere along the way. The first flight was the longer haul of the two and ended up being more insightful than the relaxing second flight.

On board the plane on a window seat, the harbinger of enlightenment during my journey east proved to be an elderly couple sitting next to me. Let’s call them Mr. Gill and Mrs. Kaur. The old man next to me had lost almost all his memory, perhaps bordering on dementia. After assisting him with his seat belt, he repeatedly asked me to read to him the time off his watch and in Hindi. I tried with partial success and with a mixture of English words. I soon realized he was not fully comprehending everything I was telling him. In a few hours, I gained key insight into how long we were airborne since departure. For his part, this was a tried and tested way to engage a neighbor in a quick conversation.

Next, we dealt with meals and refreshments. I preferred to go vegetarian which proved to be lighter on my airborne stomach. Mr. Gill then nodded to the stewardess and soon we were all having vegetarian meals!

In any case, he was barely able to consume his meals, appeared to be in discomfort, mumbled loud, and cleared his throat often, occasionally wiping off tears from his eyes with a tissue. At every meal, Mrs. Gill urged him on, with little success. I felt sorry for not being able to be of much help to him. At the end of our meals, I had learned a deep ‘lesson one’ at swallowing my own pride.

After meals, I would wait for him to rise up with considerable difficulty and clear the way for me to access the aisle, while he took a break. When I returned, he was already seated and he was unable to stand up to let me squeeze my way through the narrow space. When I did eventually succeed, I sat there, annoyed at the fact that I had to experience such discomfort on a trip I had eagerly anticipated for so long.

Mrs. Gill meanwhile was somehow attempting to conceal her embarrassment, softly muttering under her breath, as she urged him to maintain his composure, keep his arms out of the way and lean properly while he slept. I saw him taking efforts beyond what he was normally capable of, and his wife’s constant apologies, without realizing that she fully understood my uneasiness.

Slowly, I realized that at this rate, responding with my attitude to their situation was not about to yield anything meaningful. Feeling trapped here for a few good hours, I pondered at the intent of my own journey through life would need some re-calibration if I were to fully accept a few realities at my own destination. I then saw through the lens of meaningful comfort, some quiet and peace of heart, that it was in my own capacity to view and to accept the vicissitudes of my immediate surroundings in that light. These humble souls were doing everything in their capacity to live and love and had embarked on a journey to meet those very same goals as myself. I cringed at myself for a while as I was barely able to draw any strength at all, out of any richness I may have possessed and which was in my disposition to provide. Perhaps I was at the receiving end of a copious dose of fairness and timely gratification for a considerable length of time. My world had offered so much of it for now and I drifted off to sleep.

I was awake for another refreshment followed by another break down the aisle right after. When I returned to my seat, Mrs. Kaur looked visibly anxious and pointed towards the forward end saying she had lost him. I rushed forward and stood beside 2 occupied doors hoping that he was in one of them. After both doors had opened, he wasn’t in any of those. Returning to my seat, I found him already seated in place while Mrs. Kaur thankfully stood up to let me in. As he stood up weakly, his face grimaced in despair, he then fell backwards onto his seat before making another attempt with his weak hands. I was gradually getting used to this exercise and saw the value of some team effort – all 3 of us had put in everything we had to get ourselves back on to our seats!

I had to read the time off his watch one more time before we were able to hold a light conversation of a few words. He pointed to another gentleman across the aisle and told me that he was only 81 while the other guy across the aisle was 84. That man appeared to be making the best of his flight. He was fully alive to his surroundings, smiled and talked a lot, was fit enough to down a few drinks every so often, whereas my neighbour could manage a few mouthfuls of food, enough to swallow a few pills that his wife handed him after each meal. Such is life. Perhaps I was not seeing all the crosses that the other person carried, yet it is a blessing to be able to see any cross at all one any of the shoulders other than your own.

Upon arrival, Mrs. Kaur was curious enough to join our conversation as well. We shared some really private information such as destinations, the nature of our business, where we lived, what we were travelling for, who would pick us up at the airport and so on. This is normally not the kind of information what airline security experts would recommend for sharing amongst fellow passengers, in any case through our travelling experience, we had learned to trust each other with some basic information on our lives.

As we dis-embarked, I bade my goodbye to this sweet couple and to my pleasant surprise, received a travel blessing from the both of them! 

This and much more can be expected to come out of travel encounters, and hopefully all of them are beneficial. Not to be found in books, travel brochures, signs and media advisories but do occur nevertheless, on a regular basis.


Share This Post