Switzerland in winter is all white. All you can see is snow; Alps covered with snow, trees and twigs covered with snow, slanting roof tops of some of the swankiest houses in the world and even the ordinary ones covered with snow, the roads, the rail tracks, tram tracks everything is covered with pristine white – Snow.
During one such snowing afternoons, I went to a pub in Hardbrucke (a place in Switzerland, Zurich canton) – Big Ben… not for drinks but for the veggie nachos they serve there and suddenly I heard a famous Hindi song in a very English diction – From the far right of my table, I could hear a white man strumming the guitar strings and humming –
Dilbar mere kab tak mujhe aise hee tadpaoge,
Main aag dil mein laga doonga woh ki pal mein pighal jaaoge,
Ek din aayega… pyaar ho jaayega…
The food no more interested me. All I wanted to do was, rush to him, and ask him, from where did he learn the song, had he ever been to India and why that song only – So many thoughts fleeted across my mind and the creamy, buttery nachos became soggy and bland… I now wanted to strike a conversation.
But the flash moment was soon over. I took over a path that led to railway station and waited for my train to Altstetten. It was still a good 10 minute wait at the station and my mind was still ruffling with thoughts… when suddenly, I heard a deep baritone: “Hello!”
Startled I looked around and saw the same white gentleman. My looks changed faster than the timer – surprised, perplexed, happy, thoughtful and confused. Finally, I said: “Hello!”
White Gentleman – It seems you want to talk to me.
I – That’s true. Ouch! But how do you know this?
WG – Coz I have been noticing you, right from the time you entered the pub. Ah! come on. Don’t be scared. You’re an Indian, right? Don’t worry. I am not going to harm you. Do I look like an animal? I noticed you coz you were the only one to react to my song and I think you know the song quite well.
[Now, I could breathe. I felt at ease and the train to Altstetten had arrived too.]
I – Oh! I simply got scared. The train has come and I must rush in.
WG: Sure and if I am given the pleasure of your company, I won’t mind.
WG – Altstetten will come in just 2 minutes.
I – Yes. Short journey you see.
WG – But I prefer the long journeys, like we have in India.
I – You’ve been to India?
WG – Yeah! I still go there. Once in a year to Banaras. I have travelled the whole of India and loved Banaras. I love the mystical feel of Banaras.
I – Wow! I’m meeting someone for the first time who has travelled India but is not an Indian. Simply superb.
WG – Banaras is more than that. It is among the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. It is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together. I am in love with Banaras.
I – Seems like you are in complete awe of the city.
WG – Yes! Madame, we have reached Altstetten.
[I was disappointed. Slowly as the conversation was beginning to tick, we had reached destination. It couldn’t have been shorter, it could have definitely been better.]
WG – I have to go to Farbhof.
I – I too have to go to Farbhof.
WG – Come, I will walk with you.
[I wanted to say that I can walk with you for all my life just to listen history that I always find enigmatic. I am a history lover and what better way to learn history than to hear it from someone else.]
I – So what’s behind the song? OK. You were reciting it in a very heavy English accent but its back from the 80s. And rarely an Indian might sing it, let alone you. I am still shocked that I heard it from a foreigner – a song in Hindi.
WG – (with a deep breath) I learnt it to impress my girlfriend, my unrequited love, which finally took me to the by lanes of Banaras, the mystic city where I finally learnt to let go.
I – I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings.
WG – Don’t be. Some experiences in life only make you strong. And this experience took me to salvation. I owe my journey to Banaras to this. It’s been wonderful.
[It was still snowing. There were very few people on streets. The tram was plying by its time. Nothing had changed much from the time I left home to the time I was reaching home but still I felt heavy, I felt that a lot had changed. The pristine snow appeared to be a reflection of human emotions. The snow so pure, so white in the morning was now appearing to be sad, it looked like a set of crying emotions frozen in time where I was a mere spectator. I didn’t say anything.]
WG – They call me Vinzenz Lexicon.
And before I could say anything further, Vinzenz moved on. How else does it matter to him whether I was Divya or Dorle. He was on his way to salvation, trying to break away from the worldly ties. The snow was still there, as pristine as the hermit I had met today. They sure called him Vinzenz Lexicon but for me he was a mythical wanderer of Banaras who bumped in to me in a far off mountain country.
(Full text of the above post was first published in bagofbrains)