On arrival at the US international airport, I rushed to pick a luggage-trolley, ahead of the other guy in the me-first style we are used to. My son asked me to relax and wait for my turn.

Thereafter, all through the forty-minute drive from the airport to home, he briefed me and my wife on the do’s and don’t’s while in the USA – be courteous, helpful, mingle, make friends, be a Roman when in Rome, etc. l took these in the right spirit and followed them.

To begin with, I threw to winds my customary dress code, and switched over to shorts, the fashion there then. Back home any senior citizen in that attire would have attracted a second glance — less in admiration than in ridicule.

We knew we should say Hi when there was eye contact with a passerby. We practised this during our solitary out-alone daily morning walk. One weekend our son joined us. When we greeted unfailingly all the six or seven morning walkers who passed by, he clarified to us. “Appa, when I briefed you, what I actually meant was that if there was an eye contact then you should greet, and not make it a point to establish eye contact with everyone who passed by.” “You are too late, Sunny,” we corrected. “All of them are regular walkers and we have already established a rapport – not only with them but with their accompanying dogs as well.”

One day during the walk, a lady stopped her car and asked us if we saw her Beagle which had been missing since early morning. We said we had not, but promised to get back to her on spotting it, if she cared to give her contact number. The very next day, we spotted a dog — or, the dog spotted us, to be precise. It followed us through all the rounds, and up to our doorstep despite our changing the route deliberately. We guessed this must be the poor dog seeking our help to get her to the owner. We rang up the lady. She rushed in but said this was not Beagle. We felt sorry for her.

The following weekend, during the course of window-shopping in a mall, we stumbled upon a shop that traded in pet animals. We went in and saw one cage marked Beagle. “Here is the Beagle that the lady had lost,” we told our son victoriously. Guessing that I was all set to dial the lady’s number, my son hastened to clarify: “Dad, Beagle is a breed and not the name of a dog. Get it?” Saddened though, we consoled ourselves that we had at least the intention to be helpful – and well-intended is half done.

Within the national community, we got opportunities by the dozen to interact, thanks to the host of bring your parents also kind of invitations that my son and daughter-in-law received. On all such occasions, my solitary aim was to look around for someone to make friends with; somebody in my age group – the senior citizen clan or thereabouts. So far the count has reached three. One is a scientist on oncology, with quite a few publications to his credit. The second is an industrial engineer by qualification and electronics engineer by profession – a replica of my younger son’s biodata. The third is an eighty-year-old, and music brought me closer, with a slight difference – he was good at singing and I, at listening.

The neighbourhood. The take-off was a little slow but sure. Confined to home as we are for the most part of the day, the interaction has been more with the homemakers than with their spouses. Beginning with a hi, how do you do guys, the weather is pretty warm isn’t it, the relationship graduated to exchange of home-made eatables each one specialized in, followed by exchange of information. One of them has adopted two African-American children and two Caucasian kids. Another has sponsored the education of two Nepalese children up to the college level. The senior is about to reach college level and she sought our views on getting him admission in a medical college in India.

With the date for our departure nearing, Cathy, Sandra, Julia, Eleana, and the other neighbours have all become so friendly with us that they, on their part, pine to visit India, and we, are eager to welcome them. They no longer identify India with snake-charmers and elephants. As for Aunty, she had already mentally re-decorated our guest room for such a possible visit.

It is a small world, isn’t it?

(Courtesy: Photo by Kunal Sahu on Unsplash

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Sundaram Venkatesh

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