We were on our way to a vacation in Langkawi, Malaysia. When we checked in at Kuala Lumpur airport, we could not get adjacent seats. So we took the only ones available in two separate rows with the intention of swapping them with someone after boarding the flight.
As I approached my designated middle seat, I noticed that the seat adjacent to mine was occupied by an old Caucasian lady who looked all set for a beach vacation in her bright shorts and top. I politely asked her if she was travelling alone and if she would like to swap her seat with ours so that I and my husband could sit together. Much to our disappointment, she flatly refused. As I grudgingly took my seat next to her, with a child-like excitement she explained to me further that her son was taking her to Langkawi for her 72nd birthday and he gave her his window seat so that she could see the islands and sea from the air.
My disappointment did not hold for long in front of her glee and soon we got talking. She asked me where I was from. I said India. Her eyes lit up on hearing that and she said beaming from ear to ear, “I was born in India”. Seeing the confused look on my face, she explained further that she was born in Kolkata or Calcutta, the then capital of British India. Her father worked in the company that built the iconic Howrah Bridge of Kolkata but they left India to return to England when she was about 11 years old and she has never had the chance to go back after that. I quickly jumped up to tell her that I too was born in Kolkata as my family belongs to there.
So there we sat chatting, one bound to the city by birth and a childhood spent there and another bound to it by familial lies and deep curiosity about the city that she visits every year but never had a chance to live in. I was really amazed by how much and how clearly she remembered her childhood spent in Kolkata. She spoke about living in Alipur and horse rides near the Tolly Club pausing to ask me if the Tolly Club still existed. I of course, was completely clueless about where the Tolly Club was and made a mental note of finding it out on my next visit to Kolkata. When I said that I now live in Bangalore, she surprised me further by saying, “Bangalore! Oh yeah, I know Bangalore. We would pass through Bangalore on our way to catch our ship for England.” (Presumably from a port on the western coast of India)
To me she was she was like time machine that let me peek into a time many many years before I was born. We could have sat there unraveling more stories of the past, if only my husband had not managed to find someone else willing to switch his seat with mine. Ironically, this time too I switched the seat grudgingly.
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