I don’t mean to add to the ongoing unrest around the world (terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali) and neither am I trying to share my point-of-view on the Syrian crisis or how frequent public shootings have become in the US. Yes, as a traveler it does add to a lot of uncertainty about one’s security, but I believe that such incidents will not stall our travel plans. If anything, such incidents make you realize how fragile life is & how important it is to really live like there’s no tomorrow. It sounds clichéd but this realization makes you go after things that really matter.
However this article is about two lovely families we met on our travels in the last two years. Unfortunately,we found ourselves getting in touch with them within weeks of meeting them. The common thread between them being their kindness & how they found themselves in the middle of a natural/man-made calamity within weeks of us meeting them. Don’t get me wrong, we are not bad omens. I have decided to share these two stories because of the coincidence & how this brings out the fragility of life so starkly.
Paris, November 2015
We lived with a Parisian Chinese family during our stay in Paris. While we roamed around Paris during the day, we usually sat with them at night and exchanged anecdotes about life in Paris & India. We were both curious & candid about the big contrast between India & Europe. They said that their Chinese genes made them more practical than most Parisians & we soon realized the flip side of living in a welfare state. A few weeks after the fabulous European experience ended, instead of sending our warm hosts a “Thank You” note, we found ourselves trying to reach them frantically during the worst terrorist attack Paris has seen in a 100 years.
Thankfully, they replied to us indicating that they were safe. “Tout le monde s’inquiète pour nous!” said Marie in her email to Sadi. In French it means, “Everyone cares for us”. We weren’t supposed to see this, but it warmed our hearts to know that the couple were safe and that their other AirBnB guests were checking up on them.
Sonamarg, August 2014
We were in Sonamarg, our base camp for the seven-day Great Lakes Trek. The first day was spent meeting the trek organizers & figuring out various logistics. With just a few hours to ourselves before we made the tent our home for the next week, we decided to go to the main city for tea. Because of the absence of public transport & private taxis charging an exorbitant fare, we decided to hitchhike the ten kilometers. After a few failed attempts, a young couple & their son reluctantly stopped their SUV and gave us a ride. Over the next 15 minutes we exchanged pleasantries like how strangers meeting for the first time do. At the end of the trip, the couple ended up inviting us for the picnic lunch for which they had travelled from Srinagar to Sonamarg. This was more heartening when we found out that this was a long distance marriage. This trip was their attempt to escape the army of indulgent relatives in Srinagar for a while & spend some quality time as man, woman & child.
The lunch that the couple so graciously decided to share with us was an elaborate Kashmiri feast. We sat on the wet grass with the gigantic Himalayas behind us & the pristine Sind River in front. This experience in which complete strangers opened both their lives & kitchen to us, touched us beyond words. A week after we returned, the Kashmir floods totally immobilized Srinagar. What should have been a “Thank You” call soon turned into a SOS call to find out about the wellbeing of the sweet family. We tried to make contact with them but never heard back. The optimists in us hope that they are safe.
Both these incidents prove that the aftermath of both man-made & natural disasters can be excruciating for people who are caught in its fury. For travelers who escape such tragedies, its equal amounts relief & sadness. It is very difficult to detach one from places even if years go by without re-visiting it. You leave behind a part of yourself & take a part of the place with you. Never keep moving, never keep feeling for the place & its people.