A gesture in Frankfurt

Travelling is a chore. Air travel is a bigger chore. Unless you are privileged enough to be on a business class or something, you are doomed to a chicken-ish existence packed so closely with utter strangers. So it will not be surprising to know that I was not looking forward to the trip to NY from Bangalore, via Frankfurt.

But the process of voluntary transplantation to another location has its rewards -the chance to meet other fellow residents of this planet, the languages, cultural idiosyncrasies amongst others..what variety one comes across! The internal stimulus response system is bombarded with a hundred new things, if one chooses to ‘see’ of course.

The social climate though is a different issue. You see it in the eyes of folks who man the operations – a discreet wariness, perhaps always awaiting that crackpot who might take a different view of how things aught to be. Anything that is not pale skinned gets an extra dose of attention. Here of all places where diversity is the only option, anything that is not white is gifted an extra large dollop of scrutiny.

In all this one does come across those little gestures by which a single instance of the human species justifies its existence of the whole. This was in the boarding area of the connecting flight to New York. Since it was a little early the area was not manned; a random distribution determined entry and seating of passengers and each settled down according to their disposition.

A little later the counter to check and/or issue boarding cards opened. An official of the airline, Lufthansa in this case, went about asking everyone politely to leave the area so the boarding cards verification process could be started. I stood up to leave the area and he had already left to ask another. A sleeping middle-aged lady was next, my legs slowed down and attention sharpened. I was curious to see how he would react. And then I saw him, or rather saw it, a series of gestures that smoothly transitioned from one to another. The series went something like Oh no, moving to should I or should I not, then to ah there I see a boarding card and let me take a look and finally to let me not wake her up, will just verify and be done.

This might be a small thing to most. But to me it was this incident that stood out in the few odd hours of transit, such a tender gesture. Could be due to training or conditioning, like Airhostesses perhaps, where you know all politeness is script driven. This did not seem that way to me; by the rule book, he would not be wrong in asking the passenger to leave the area. Here it boiled down to the basics – nationality, race, color and language did not matter.

Milan Kundera, in Immortality, wonders where a gesture issues from, whether gestures have an existence apart from the individual manifesting it. Don?t remember if there was a conclusion there but gestures do seem universal, issuing from somewhere deep down, untouched by all time based conditionings.

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