11 March 2008

First Impressions

Aaahh, touch down.

The airplane doors open and you walk out of that tube, noting how the temperature differs, how comparatively un-modern the carpeting is, how the ground staff greets you in English that is informed by verbal habits of another mother tongue.

I had not stepped outside of the Mumbai Chatrapati Shivraji International Airport when I got my first taste of the cheerful persistence that many Indians possess.

The man manning a public phone asked me in a remarkably loud voice if I had chocolate. I was startled by the randomness of this and his apparent ESP, and answered yes.

"Give me!", he insisted, jolting my more modest Southeast Asian sensibilities.

I protested, explaining it was very much sealed in a box, and that my friend had specifically asked me to bring them. I wasn't lying. I had gone on a last-minute run at the store for the goodies before leaving San Francisco.

"No whole box! Give me! Only one! I eat!", he demanded, with a smile. He began making motions of eating with his right hand, fingers puckered up like a flower bud, clasping some fantasy choco-bonbon.

When I politely denied his request (using progressively simpler English), he merely asked again. This continued for some time. I began to feel guilty and was close to tearing open the box of truffles in my bag, when he beamed me a kind smile, tipped his head from side to side, and conceded.

"Acha acha. Thank you! Have nice stay! Okay, no problem!"

And he meant it too! I could tell.

And so I gleaned that in this land, people (often strangers) may make the most brash requests, but they do so with few expectations. The are simply exploring possibilities of making life more interesting. Fantastic.

And so I left the almost-empty airport, which was in a mess due to renovations. The familiar mugginess of the afternoon clung to my skin like a tropical Manila vapory balm. The growing sound of traffic and human chatter-- in Hindi!-- had my heart jumping. A denizen of the third world backpacking the third world.

In a place familiar and strange all at once, I set off. With little goals or expectations. Simply exploring the possibility of making life more interesting.

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