She reminded me of my grandmother - most cute old ladies with pearl-white hair do. They were a bubbly group, on a journey across the world. From London to Singapore, Kochi to Mumbai, Agra to Dubai and then back home. One leg of her journey coincided with mine and just for that brief flight to the city I call home, our universes collided. She sat in the aisle seat, I squeezed in my 11B. The middle seat. The arch nemesis of air travellers. But not this time. This time I had my sister to my left, my book in front of me and I didn't know it yet, but a sweet story to my right. Isn't there always something fascinating about elderly women who sport a naturally white, fashionably cropped bob and trendy spectacles? There is. There certainly is.
She was on this cruise and tour of Asia with another two dozen or so people. Surely my book started to lose its charm. I was drawn into conversation. "You must come to London. There's just so much to see and do over there!" I admitted I always wanted to. She was delighted to learn that my sister and I were huge fans of a British rock band (duh, Coldplay). "You must walk down the streets of Colaba. My city has an energy you can't miss" I added, amazed that I still felt this way.
I requested an extra sachet of creamer for my tea. I always do. And delightfully stirred my chai till the powder turned to milk. This caught her eye and she gave me a smile that made me confess, "Umm, I like my tea extra milky" to which I received the most prompt and hearty "Oh I can see that!" She also wondered out loud how one could read on a device. "I prefer real books. Isn't this heavy?" I assured her I belonged to the same camp, that it was only my second book on the Kindle, that my paperbacks would get destroyed while travelling. She weighed the device in her hand and head, "That's true, this is convenient"
She thought I looked much younger than my age. Asked me about my favourite places in Europe, told to me she'd love to see New Zealand and advised me with a grandmotherly sparkle in her eye - "Have you been to Russia? Oh you must go to Russia. If you liked Budapest, you'll fall in love with Saint Petersburg. It's all so magical. Oh.." She was 73, had lost her husband a few years back and had no children. "Oh I love to travel. I make it a point to get out as often as I can. If not now, when?"
"Aren't you excited? We've landed. We are in Bombay", she gushed to another friend of hers. I hugged her goodbye. I'll never know her name. But every time I travel, I'll remember her spirit; when I go to Saint Petersburg, I'll think of her.