“As-salamu alaykum; Are you from Egypt?”; echos in my ears; someone was shaking me awake with all his might. Opening my eyes, am startled for a moment; a strange bearded face with deep-set eyes, probing me from so close a distance, that I could feel the heavily tobacco laden breath on my cheeks. I shudder and stammer, finding it hard to place myself and decide, where I am or how I ended up with this strange staring man. Something in my eyes or voice might have conveyed the message, the man, loosens his hold on my shoulders; sits back in his seat, and a faint smile forms on his lips. Looking around, I find myself in a train, and things start coming back to the mind. Finding myself free for the weekend, I had planned on a trip to Kyoto and had boarded this local train. That still didn’t help me with this situation with the strange man. Nothing of this sort had happened to me in a long while (being shaken awake on a train/bus is not uncommon, where I come from, but here in Japan, where physical contact of any type is a rarity, I never would have imagined this happening to me).
but here in Japan, where physical
contact of any type is a rarity,
i never would have imagined this
happening to me!!
A moment’s hesitation and couple of awkward apologies later, he asks again; “are you from Egypt?”. Now, this was a first time; I was used to being asked from which Latin American country I am from, or where in South Asia did I belong to, but never did anyone ask me, if I were an Arab. Wondering, what in me, made me look Egyptian to him, I answered negative. This was the beginning of a conversation which went on for a good 15 – 20 minutes, till he had to get down from the train. He was an Egyptian car dealer here in Japan to find good/cheap used cars and was looking for other people from his country to hang out with. He told me about the different difficulties he had to encounter in Japan, and how not knowing Japanese was making life harder for him. Neither could I help him in his quest to find other Egyptians, nor could I teach him what little of Japanese I knew, in the 20 minutes; but, if I were to be a judge of human emotions; the man left a little happier, with the realization, of the hope of finding other people from his part of the world, a little closer; now that he has met someone akin to himself.
The train would take 30 more minutes before it reaches Kyoto, and I settle back in the warm seat, with the book that I have been trying to finish for some 2-3 weeks now. Don’t know if it was the book, or the soothing warmth of the train interior or the sweet rocking tuk – tuk of any train journey, I was nodding off to another slumber before the train hit the next station.
I was in this half oblivion, when another pair of hands shook me up, and I opened my eyes to a woman’s face, again so close that I had to twitch back and evade the evident spit spray that was to follow. “நீங்கே தமிழ் தனே?” (You are Tamil, right?), straight away, in Tamil, comes the question. Well, she was a lot closer to ground zero than the Egyptian car dealer. A negative answer and a short conversation followed. She was from a university in Chennai, and was here for a conference, and would leave back in a week. She was not happy with the food here and wanted to know of places where she could get food more similar to what’s made at Home. Here, I might have been able to shed a little light, but she was not satisfied enough and left an unhappy person.
Kyoto was some 10 minutes away
and mission ‘don’t doze off’
looked not very impossible.
After being woken up twice in not that long a span of time, I was determined not to fall asleep again. Kyoto was some 10 minutes away and mission ‘don’t doze off’ looked not very impossible. The train kept rolling forward; it was evening and people were heading home from work, and the train was getting more and more crowded. With the crowd jostling against my shoulder, and every other persons’ bag nudging me on my shoulder and head, it took me couple of seconds to realize that I was being tapped on the shoulder by someone from behind. Turning back, I find this middle-aged Japanese man with a broad cheerful smile…. let him wait for a moment, rewind a little bit to the very beginning of this interesting journey.
Earlier in the evening, after finishing my work at the laboratory, I got to Tsu station and got tickets to Kyoto. Unlike other times I have traveled to Kyoto, I decided to ride the longer JR line, and got tickets for the local train, that would take me to Kyoto in about 3 hours with 2 stop overs and train changes. The JR platform at Tsu station is very different from the more popular Kintetsu platform, and I was the lone waiting passenger. Across, on the Kintetsu platform, things were different, a big group of school kids were engrossed in some game, which involved a lot of shouting and cheering. Finding a seat, I settle down with my book. Couple of minutes later a notable break in the hullabaloo from the platform across, draws my attention. The group of high school kids were done with whatever they were up to, and were all staring at me, not one or two of the group, the entire bunch was gawking. I am used to being stared at by individuals, but THIS, was a first time experience. Not sure of what they were looking I turn around to check for something/someone behind me that is so gravitating, that the kids stop their stupid game and start gaping at. At this point couple of kids take their phones out and start shooting my pictures. Most in the group follow this example, others start waving at me, and doing stupid dance moves. Later, i learned from a friend that, NHK was running a feature on India, and had shown excerpts from Bollywood movies.
Back on the train, the beaming Japanese man asks, “you are from India, right? Are you on facebook?” Another small talk follows. This man, a film maker, wanted to know more about Indian movies and film industry. He had seen quite a few Hindi movies, and knew about the happy colorful song sequences. He said he was working with a Japanese epic movie project, and would travel to India later in the year. The train reached Kyoto, and we said goodbye, but not before he found my facebook profile on his tablet, and sent me a friend request…