Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

“Hullo, stranger”

Navtej Sarna

We love to do it all the time It’s been done so often that can only put it down to Man’s irresistible desire to communicate. Anytime that I announce an intention of traveling so far as even the nearest district capital, somebody inevitably exclaims- “Ooh…. You’re going to that lovely out-of-this-world city. You simply must look up my friend. You’ll love to meet him.” If it’s not friend, it’s cousin, aunt or niece.

While I am still fumbling, trying to tell the person how busy I will probably be, there is a frantic search for the address book. Out it comes, hastily thumbed to an obviously unfamiliar name and address.

I dutifully scribble it down, preferably on an odd piece of paper which can conveniently be lost and the communicator sits back with a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes, patting himself on the back for another human bridge that has been built.

It is a safe general rule to lose these scraps of paper quickly, left carelessly in a hotel closet or, most unconsciously, of course, rolled into a ball and chewed and thrown away whole thinking deeply about something else. This tendency to lose addresses is perfectly understandable. The last thing that I do in a new city is go scampering around to strangers handing out regards and love from far-flung acquaintances and relatives. Life is too busy for that kind of a thing nowadays. I mean to say, imagine you suddenly finding a stranger on your doorstep, one hand extended and a foot already inside the house “Hullo, I was coming to Delhi and your cousin asked to give you his love, so her man would think that lose end or either at a terrible invitation desperate for an invitation. And you would probably be right.

Of course sometimes the traveller does not have a choice. His conscience is weighed down by an important message or a loving gift. In some cases a telephone call may suffice but usually a visit is warranted. I remember carrying a box of chocolates a thousand miles to Paris for a niece from a no doubt doting uncle. I had been promised a reward; I was told was a sort of an expert on the language and the city. She would be able to show me around. So I dropped in, chocolates and all, deliberately dressed scruffily so as to blend easily into the streets on the Left Bank. I walked into a most immaculate drawing room where a most genteel lady served me tea in silver. She accepted the chocolates and carefully avoided looking at my rolled up sleeves and faded jeans. By the time I had mumbled my way through the second cup I was almost apologising for every thing I had ever done since high school. If she had any intentions of showing me around Paris, she certainly hid them well. I was left to do my own parlez-vous-ing.

Despite all this I cannot get rid of a certain curiosity which I suppose is the basic reason why I take on these errands at all. This is the curiosity to see the person at the other end and sometimes it pays off. These are the times when you walk in, laden with regards and remembrances to find a warm welcome. A good meal, good conversation and perhaps a friend. It matters little then that the people you are calling on have long since forgotten the acquaintance who sent you there. After all, you discover later, he only stayed for a month across the street twenty years ago.