Saying Goodbye - Part 1

Location: Burger King, 2nd Level, Stuttgart Airport, Germany.
Time: 1.15 pm.
Date: August 23rd, 2011.

The raised skin on my palms hurt. Clutching the large coke with both my hands provides a little relief. I rather not do it often. It’s already half full and I need it to last for three hours.

I wonder what precisely about novelty excites me. Is it merely the fact that it is the causative agent to ‘change’? That would definitely not explain my random bouts of love for laziness. On that note, I think I would love pottery. The more clay you add, the better you can mold, the better it can transform, hence, the more choices you have to make your creation even more beautiful. I find the metamorphosis of the human mind similar. As a staunch believer of man being an eternal student, I completely agree with Darwin when he said that only those organisms most adaptive to change, survive. Yes, only those pots most inclined to change, to withhold the new clay, make it out into the market for sale. Now that I think of it, I probably took it upon myself to start loving change. The human mind is a mysteriously vulnerable organ. It can be misled into believing almost anything that one deems right. I made my mind believe that change was good, always. Isn’t experience the best teacher? Any change that works to our disadvantage always comes with a hidden lesson which can be learnt to prevent the occurrence of a similar change in the future. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for these actions which relate to the future.

She is back again today. She reminds me of my co-traveller on my way from Krakow to Berlin. I wish she would speak in her classy English accent again, but all of her clients till now knew German. I wonder if she would recognize me. After all, I’m wearing the same clothes.

There is a default network in the brain which has received much of the gung-ho lately from neuroscientists around the world. It is believed that the brain doesn’t rest even when it is believed to not be performing any neural actions. In simple terms, the default mode activity of the brain is at its peak when we get bored. The restless person that I am, I’m sure my brain is as averse to the default network as a touch-me-not plant to pressure. That also explains why I love staying out of the default mode by being more responsive to change and hence love this change/novelty.

I smile after writing this last part. I love what science has done to me.

I remember walking west through Wishnick Hall back in November 2010, looking at the multitudinous posters on the bulletin board to my right. One stood out clearly: the map of Germany with the German tricolor. The DAAD Rise program sounded very coveted then. A change of location for the summer would definitely be welcoming. I would get a unique opportunity to immerse myself in the plethora of novelty that would surround me in a foreign land.

She looked at me and smiled back, a tinge of recognition in her eyes. Why does that make me happy?

I took the chance and applied. My parents are firm believers of the power of experience. If I didn’t get accepted, I would at least stand a better chance the next time I apply. I could relate to that easily. Maybe it was just genes. Regardless, it definitely sparks a good nature v/s nurture debate. Debattieren. I didn’t realize debating would stay with me for so long. I wish my university had a debating club. On retrospect, I guess I started debating in high school only because all the top students did it; and it became fun along the way - to the extent, that I was actually considering law school. This year I will be a part of the Student Government Judicial Board in our university - my first tryst with law. I also hear there might be a possible vacancy in the Finance Board. That appeals more to my mathematical brain. Love for mathematics will definitely be a pre-requisite in my choice for a potential partner years later. Love. I remember the seventeen year old sister of my flat mate ask me what love is when sitting below the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. How would I even know? It is a word I’ve used to describe my emotions for my family. I know I would do anything for them. Is that love? On the other hand, I wouldn’t do anything for chocolate but I do love chocolate. Hmm…paradox. Oh, what a feeling it is to be in love when you are in the city of love. I was in love with life. I embraced change with open arms and appreciated even the smallest cobwebs that adorned the Pere Lachaise Cemetery; after all, they were the nouveauté in my life. Contrary to one’s belief, this Parisian cemetery was not at all eerie. It was just like the rest of Paris – beautiful, gorgeous and fashionable. Yes, it took me some time to digest the fact that a cemetery could be beautiful. It took me two hours after having set out from the Louvre Museum, to find Oscar Wilde’s grave. The note in front of his grave pleaded tourists to respect the author by not defacing his gravestone. The number of lipstick kisses on the stone was yet another rather artistic display of how mankind absolutely enjoys thwarting rules. I thought of the Happy Prince, I thought of the Nightingale and the Rose, I thought of the Picture of Dorian Gray. I wished my brother was there with me.  All three days in Paris, I looked at the brother – sister duo who accompanied me to Paris and missed my brother a lot. We stopped going on adventurous family trips ten years back when my brother started high school and education became priority #1. My father always made us notice sweepers when we were young. He would say, “If you don’t study, you will become like him. Look at his clothes, look at his appearance. He will keep sweeping the floor all day throughout the year but will steal not earn as much.” I remember the countless number of times my father clasped my hand tightly when he said this. I miss the warmth. I miss the feeling of security. It wasn’t as much about the lack of luxury that interested me when I saw those laborers, but more so the lack of luster in their faces. Browner than the standard Indian brown, tired, helpless, monotonous yet driven by the hunger in their stomachs, these people believed that the show must go on always. I always looked up at my father and noticed the stark contrast. The crisp ironed shirt, well groomed beard, sauna-scrubbed face, smiling worriless down at me. Of course the comparison wasn’t completely legitimate as it was during one of my father’s relaxed moments while it was the laborer’s workplace but I was young then and didn’t understand this fallacy.

My left knee has begun hurting again. The tight skinny jeans are not doing my scalded knee any good. Half an hour more.

As we crossed the light, the peak of the tower was visible. It was golden. The contrasting black night sky increased the illumination. My pupils dilated, lips slightly parted. As we continued walking, I remembered it was another 150 meters till I would be able to see the entire Eiffel Tower which was covered by some residential buildings currently. I grew impatient with each step.  I could see my destination but my short legs could speed up walking only to a certain limit. I told the brother – sister, “Ugh, I can’t wait!” and sprinted the 100 meters. I was back in grade 5. I had to run the fastest. No thought in mind, except that I had to complete these 100 meters as fast as I can. I felt the familiar whiff of wind gush past my hair. Only, this was the Parisian wind. And then, I saw the 2 pizza boxes I was holding, fly into the air. My dash was interrupted by a chain which camouflaged itself against the darkness of the night. I felt scratches on my knees, shins and palms as I found myself face down on the ground. I looked up. Fortunately, our pizza slices didn’t fly out of their boxes. I looked beyond them. My destination was still a couple of meters away. I got up, picked up the boxes and ran again only to be halted by my sharp intake of breath. It was there. Complete. In all of its glory. The Eiffel Tower. My mouth opened wide enough to make flies happy. I went numb. I looked to my right to find my co-travellers a long way ahead. I decided to wait for them. I looked down at my murky dress and the thin stream of blood running down my left leg. My dream lay in front of me. Nothing else really mattered. I was finally there.  It looked just like the pictures, yet was better than anything I could ever imagine. And then, my mind stopped thinking. It was one of those rare moments in my life when no thought polluted my mind. Not even a simple, ‘This is so beautiful’. I waited.

I see a BA personnel. I need to go. I might be back soon. 

Saying Goodbye - Part 2

Location: Gate 113, Stuttgart Airport, Germany.
Time: 4.45 pm.
Date: August 23rd, 2011.

Third boarding pass, second security check, change of clothes and a new Band-Aid later, I’m back again where I was yesterday. Two more hours.

As they came closer I started walking further ahead so I could see it from exactly in the middle. That’s when all the hormones surged enthusiastically. How lucky was I to finally see it in person, to have touched it earlier, to have climbed all the way to the top. While we were sitting there for some time, a group of middle aged drunk women camped not very far from us, had employed two guitarists to sing for them. At the stroke of the midnight hour, to my astonishment, the Tower started dazzling in white sparkles. Imagine the great big Eiffel Tower, in all its golden glory – but, also sparkling white all over, as though a string of pearls suddenly came to life just so they could dance over it in jubilance. Just to make the moment even more magical, the guitarist started singing Cheb Khaled’s Aicha! Now, that’s coincidence! Think of the only French song you know. Now think of the only time you visit France, you actually get to hear a real Frenchman singing it right in front of your glittery dream. All this thanks to my parents. I wish they were here to see this with me. If they hadn’t sent me to study abroad to the USA, I would never have applied to RISE. If they hadn’t been encouraging enough to build the confidence in me to travel alone, I would never have seen this at the age of 20. Some people wait for years and years to fulfill their dream travel destination. The old man in the movie ‘Up’ waited his entire lifetime before completing his dead wife’s desire to visit South America. Teeny little me, am just 20. I don’t deserve this right now. My parents do. They slogged for years and years unceasingly just so we, their children could live happy lives. It’s about time they stopped, and enjoyed their lives now. I felt my eyes welling up. Is this the cycle of life? Man enters this world dependent on others, and then spends his life by returning the favor - bringing in more men to see the beauty of his world. Our earth is buzzing with this constant activity. Cycles of birth result in evolution. Cycles of evolution result in a different species. I wonder if there is indeed a species so highly evolved that they alone were responsible for the birth of our universe. I wonder if we have been living in a vicious cycle of universes wherein our universe is born every time this species does something which causes the entire realm of space to explode and hence be responsible for the Big Bang Explosion. Karma would then indeed be true, wouldn’t it? Universally, every action would then definitely have a reaction. Unfortunately for Newton, not necessarily opposite; but a reaction, yes indeed. I wonder if the objective of life as we know it, is nothing else except completing this cycle of our universe. Birth of the universe, evolution of the universe, destruction of the universe by its own organisms and then death of the universe for the cycle to restart. That would still not solve the timeworn origin of life conundrum, but would definitely tantalize us more.

Ding! “[Some German Announcement]. Attention Please! The gate to Lufthansa Flight 0925 to Paris has been changed to Gate 310.”

Yes, I was in Paris, excessively homesick. It didn’t help walking down the famous Champs de Elysée from the Arc de Triomphe as it so reminded me of North Michigan Ave in Chicago. Great, now I was missing both my homes. And then I saw a Louis Vuitton store. OH yeah, I remember the label: ‘Louis Vuitton Paris.’ My eyes count the number of their store windows. Six windows and then the store turns. But wait, they have a second floor. Oh no…the entire Louis Vuitton building was at least fifteen floors high! I was indeed in Paris. We passed a Peugeot showroom, a Mercedes Benz showroom and a Renault showroom showing off their snazzy cars. I thought to myself, this was where the high flyers of the world shop at. Now I know the secret of the French economy.  The French government loves their people. Strategically located beautiful parks, play grounds for children, well lined roads, pretty buildings, pollution control; it would be an absolute pleasure to live here and contribute to the economy. Even the many beggars who crowded their train stations were better dressed than the average middle class strata of people in India. The nouveauté of Paris charmed me. I thanked all the forces of the Universe, yet again.

 I see another BA personnel. The chairs are filled once again. The screen says expected take off time is 7.15 pm. We’ll see.

The last time I would see the brother-sister duo – ever. I said many good byes this summer knowing fully well that this was the last time I would see them, unless we were destined to meet. I wonder how destiny fits in with Karma. I don’t believe in chance. It is too chaotic and random. I do believe in ordered chaos though. The bus back to Stuttgart was scheduled to reach at 7 am. Although, I made it to Stuttgart at 8.30 am.  It wasn’t till 10 am that I finally reached my dorm room back in Tübingen. I hadn’t even started packing then. I was leaving Germany in 9 hours. 135 minutes of uninterrupted packing later, I called the Housemaster to hand over my keys to him and set off for the last time to my lab. I hated leaving. I kept mumbling to myself how I didn’t want to leave. I told my supervisors that I didn’t want to leave. I hated leaving. I could continue saying this on and on. Tired of handling my super heavy bag, I fell asleep in the bus. A nice co-passenger woke me up to notify me that we had reached the airport. I spend about an hour trying to repack my considerably overweight bag so most of the weight is carried by my poor shoulders on the flight as carry on. A surprise vegetarian burger at Burger King later, I faced security check which didn’t work to my favor considering I had to unpack my carry-on bags and stuff everything all over again. They took my Speculoos!! Speculoos is a really tasty gram cookie paste that is available only in Belgium and The Netherlands. I wanted my family to taste it! Slowly, I made my way towards Gate 113 where I would board my flight to London Heathrow and then to Chicago O’Hare tomorrow. I waited. I didn’t want to go back. I waited some more.
Still waiting. Should probably pack my laptop in. 6.49 pm.
Two hours after the scheduled time for my flight, we received a notice that our flight to London had been cancelled and that we should see the BA personnel at the ticketing desk for further help. I saw people dart back into the airport and without knowing any better, I followed. Yes, I panicked. I had never faced a cancelled flight before. I had no idea how I would make my flight to Chicago the next day. Where was my checked in bag? I didn’t want to pay more. I felt helpless. I checked my phone but I couldn’t call any one as I didn’t remember any numbers. The last call I had made was home. It was 1 am in India. I thought to myself, if not now, then when. Scared and stranded, standing at the front of a long queue at Stuttgart Airport, I called home.

The gate’s opening. Can this be it?

My brother read out all the legal fine print from the British Airways website on cancelled flights. Better aware of my options, I faced the lady at the help desk who gave me a new itinerary for a flight which would make me reach Chicago 8 hours late. I didn’t have an option but to accept it. From there, I stood in another queue to collect my hotel voucher where BA had agreed to give us accommodation and food for one night. 60 passengers stranded in an airport scurried to reclaim their checked-in baggage and then head to the hotel. There was another queue to get into the airport shuttle which was taking us to the hotel. I started chatting with an old English lady and a pair of teenage brothers travelling alone. We planned to meet for our free dinner in a few minutes. Luckily, it was a four star hotel and they had arranged us well. I dropped my bags into my spacious single room and headed down. Queuing seemed to be the order of the day as we stood in another queue for dinner.

 I need to go!!! Yayy!!