I noticed him for the first time while we were together boarded a dimly lit bus from suburban Tokyo to Narita airport. I had not slept for last 24 hours, largely due to anticipation of going back to India after 8 months. I was looking forward to getting some sleep in plush seats of Keisei line loco and came armed with my new ipod as well. But something about this person made me feel as if i had travelled all 5000 miles in few seconds. Whether it was his 80's suitcase (with S.M written on the handle) or his golden brass buttons on blue blazer, something told me he was much closer to home than anything on that bus. His cap too reminded me of endless middle aged gentlemen in Delhi who would venture out in biting north indian winter for their chartered buses enroute to performing daily chores as North Block clerks/section officers. Matter was finally clinched when conductor engaged him in a small talk - bingo! he had a jhangi/multani accent. I would now call him Mr Makhija (from S.M on his suitcase) from Geeta Colony.
Rest of the bus journey was pretty boring, i kept my ipod on shuffle mode since i was too tired to make any efforts in choosing the songs. Makhija too started snoring much to chagrin of a young looking japanese woman sitting directly behind him. Bus veered past concrete jungle that Tokyo is into green landscape of Narita and surroundings and landed us directly in front of Thai airways gate.
We took our bags and started walking towards yet to be opened economy class counters. As we waited for Thai airways employees to complete their little christmas celebration, Makhija appeared quite interested in starting the conversation. "Going to India?" he asked. "Yeah, and you?" "Bangkok jaa raha hoon" replied Makhija. His bald head shining in lustre from numerous christmas trees that adorned the concourse in that terminal.
We parted soon after he uttered his destination, booking counters were now open and we were soon ushered into security check.
I glanced at him while i waited for my turn, he was standing in "Foreign Passports" queue. Fortunately my work permit status ensured speedy immigration check and soon i was on my way to departure gate.
I had arrived full 3 hours before departure so some airport shopping was always on cards. However 20 odd kimonos, 5 liquour and endless souveneir shops later I was bored and tried to head back to departure gate.
There were 50 odd people already waiting near the gate. It was a usual sight that one comes across on any international flight. Excited first timers, sensible business travellers, hassled mothers of infants, even more hassled mothers of young children who are busy saving their kids from next catastrophe. Makhija looked at ease as well, perhaps this was not his first voyage to Bangkok in recent times. I was sitting few seats away from him, trying to kill minutes before boarding. He was watching TV on his japanese mobile phone - some NHK program, sight didnt amaze me. If you spend few months in Tokyo and commute on metro, you will come across many men and women flexing their eye muscles on mobile TV. Suddenly his phone rang, it was irritating ringtone, one that is associated with old MTNL landline phones. His neighbours were startled to say the least. Then something went wrong, somewhere between his TV app and his call - his phone tanked. Ringing didnt stop and neither did his TV. For a moment Makhija appeared lost. When his countless attempts to revive his phone failed, he went for the jugular.
Took out the battery and heaved a sigh of relief. Somewhere I felt relieved too. Was I embarassed as well?
Makhija turned on his phone and called the moron whose call destroyed decorum of our lounge.
It was a plainspeak - "Behanchod is time pe call kyun kari? .. Accha theek hain, Main dekh lunga, Abhi phone rakh" No Bon Voyage No Good Days. Sometimes I think we are the worst people when it comes to phone conversations, atleast Makhija was no exception to my belief.
Couple of announcements later, boarding started. Ritual of boarding includes standing at the end of a long queue with your passport and boarding ticket firmly tucked in your shirt pocket. Makhija was 4-5 spots ahead of me. Soon he reached the boarding counter and passed on his boarding pass to the Thai airways employee.
And then i saw his passport with "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" embossed on the green cover while he waited for the lady to complete her drill.
Sadiq Mansoor was going to Bangkok and so was I, atleast enroute to my final destination.