Scenes from the Great Global Clich
The heady combination of vile food, unlikely travelling companions and worsening jetlag makes for many insights, some of them clich?s that come back with surprising freshness.
FROM ISSUE #50 (06 JULY 2001 - 12 JULY 2001) | TABLE OF CONTENTS
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A headlong run around halfway around the world throws up countless opportunities to reflect on this crazy global village of ours. Surprises, clich?s and rich experiences abound, even aboard transcontinental aircrafts and in departure lounges. Not to mention on endless highways through the hinterland of America.
It begins with a young woman on RA217 to Delhi, the first leg, the tiny step that begins the journey. I heard her unmistakably Canadian tones as she joked with the RNAC departure clerks. The first surprise, they laughed back. Here, I thought to myself, is a woman of substance! On board the aircraft (a Boeing 757, corruption-free for your comfort) we chatted over my first of several dozen dreadful airline meals, and by no means the worst. Young Ms Mishra was from the fair burg of Toronto, her parents having left Gorakhpur many decades ago. She was a student politician, incredibly bright and more to the point: she had been outside Kathmandu on 1 June, 2001. No, not as some callow experience sponge with a backpack and a copy of the Lonely Planet-she was a volunteer health worker in a village near Baglung.
I lapped up her insights and experience, marvelled at her comments and thoughts, found her full of humanity, understanding and intelligence. And, now, it wasn't just the forty-something male trying to impress the twenty-something wunderkind. Her parting comment, "I've learned more about caste in five weeks in that village than any book ever taught me," was both fascinating and somewhat worrisome.
From Delhi to London, my travelling companions were almost exclusively of a type-elderly Punjabi, mostly Sikh ladies who'd clearly never been near a modern jet aircraft before. They clogged the aisles and banged on the doors of the washrooms, oblivious to the little red circles that told us to wait our turn. They shrugged their shoulders helplessly when addressed in English, or even the chaste Hindi of some of the flight attendants. I was mystified, but soon got to the bottom of things. For they were, of course, on their way to the births of grandchildren, first grandchildren usually. And that meant uprooting oneself from the village or hard-earned haveli in Delhi, braving remarkable barriers of technology and language, and making the dash to be at the side of the children. Remarkable and somewhat touching, the good side of globalisation, or so I told myself as I stood waiting to use the toilet.
In Canada, home, amid the ersatz cowboy paraphernalia of Calgary International Airport, I marvelled at just how Asian everything was. The immigration officer was a Tamil. He gave me a suspicious glare when I told him that I chose to live in South Asia. It was a penal sentence. But he stamped me in, muttering comments about "dirt, filth and disease." The taxi driver was a Hmong tribesman from Laos. It turns out that this unlikely oil town near the Rocky Mountains is the biggest Hmong community in the world. Abandoned by the Americans despite the support during the Vietnam debacle, the Hmong have a new home, devoid of bamboo, tropical fruit and their beloved hills. "My son is a professional skier," said the driver with resignation.
Finally, to the great American state of Montana where I sit atop the foothills of the Beartooth mountains, the Great Divide to the West, the sprawling, arid Midwestern Prairie in the other direction. I'm here to visit good friends, from South Asia naturally, and their adopted Nepali daughters. After years of taking on the world's aid and development challenges, they've come to rest here, in one of the more stunningly beautiful places I've ever seen. And the talk, naturally, is of the palace massacre and the Mask theory, and Dipendra and Devayani, and all the rest. All along my endless journey here, I've been asked about the killings in tones usually reserved for discussion of soap operas and the latest celebrity gossip. Nepal, it seems, has arrived in the global village. And what a way to do it.