“She’d like to know if she can ask you a few questions?” Arjun, my travel guide, Bangalore Walking Tour, remarks. “Absolutely.” A women, cross legged on the floor, sits behind a small hill of flowers; their bright colors and smells flooding my senses.
Arjun becomes our translator, seamlessly weaving between Kannada and English. Her first question: “Why is she alone?” followed by gestures, smiles, fellow flower sellers leaning in toward the two of us. “She’s very brave. Is she married? Where is she from? Is it true that in America women can divorce their husbands? Is her marriage arranged? I have also heard that you can marry for love in America? Is this true?”
So many questions. I reply, smile; observing her facial expressions. Her questions peaking my curiosity. What is her story? Discovering we are similar in age, she is also married (but unlike me) has 4 grandchildren. I am drawn into a small sliver of her world. This is why I travel.
For a brief span of time, in the halls of the flower market in Bangalore, I am drawn into another’s experience. “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber
A few days later my husband and I fly from Bangalore to Port Blair, capital city of The Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Disembarking, humid tropical air envelops me. My eyes try to take in the vast array of surrounding color: from the bright pinks, reds, oranges and yellows adorning Salwar Kameez and Saris, to the lush green vegetation and blue water. India is a feast for the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch.
“I just called, to say, I love you….. I just called to say how much I care….and I mean it from the bottom of my heart.” Song lyrics from the karaoke machine and singer in the open air hotel lounge join with the island wind and warm evening air. I create actions with my hands and arms, gesturing toward my husband and singing along. In my periphery vision I’m aware of a few other groups of visitors, but don’t pay too much attention.
After dinner we return to the lounge. Sitting across from each other, an empty chair on my left, a young woman asks to sit down beside me. “Hello,” she says, reaching her hand out toward mine. “This may seem a bit strange, but do you mind if I join you? I noticed you miming along and singing the words earlier. It was so much fun to watch. Can I ask you some questions?”
She introduces herself, finds out our names, where we’re from. She is 25, recently married, from Mumbai, on a get away with girlfriends. We chat; shocked that my husband and I have been married 30 years! She and her girlfriends gather around. Can we please tell them all the details of our ‘love story’. How we met: was it arranged, did we fall in love, how did my husband propose? Questions, conversation, lots of laughter, and then… dancing! 6 of us singing, moving, shoes off, across the hardwood lounge floor.
The following day the ferry takes us over to Havelock Island. More color: from abundant, lush green foliage to blue water, grey stormy skies, bright pockets of sunlight and rainbows. Short bursts of pelting rain soak the ground, followed by radiant rays of sunlight. Tiny crabs dart here and there above the tide line along Radhanagar Beach, families and tourists make their way out to the ocean surf. People in Saris, Salwar Kameez, shorts, jeans, swimsuits; tenderly dip their toes, run into the water, boldly dive under waves… laughter, joy, sunlight, warmth, humanity.
On our final day the slow ferry transports us back toward Port Blair. At first, passengers stay in their assigned seats, but then, sunny skies and balmy weather beckon. We follow others up to the top covered deck. Music, Bollywood style, begins to play. Most keenly aware of my ‘foreignness’ I sit back and listen; glancing around from my perch on a corner bench to see what’s happening. A fellow guest from where we’d been leans toward me. “I know these lyrics, these songs. I love them. I’ll dance, if you’ll go with me.”
We tentatively move, slowly at first, on the side line. Within seconds our hands are grasped and we are drawn into the circle of women. “Hello, where are you from? Please dance with us.”
Laughing, watching, moving, as women my daughter’s age draw me in. Gesturing, following; all while the ferry sways across the ocean waves. Cameras, iphones, cheers and chants as we dance together. Even more laughter, shouting and singing as my 6’3″ husband joins the group. Younger men join, reaching out their hands to his, drawing him into their circle. “I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us.” Mary Oliver
Disembarking the ferry an older woman touches my hand. Her granddaughter leaning toward me, “My Grandmother has some questions.”