On a vacation to Switzerland I armed myself with word translations in French , German and Italian with the backdrop of knowledge that these are the main languages spoken in the country.
Landing in Zurich, I took the train to Berne and then took the connecting one to Interlaken where I was supposed to stay. Getting down at the Interlaken west station I walked out following the map. I passed a girl sitting at the bus stand just outside the station , wanting to be doubly sure that I was heading in the right direction I asked her in my limited german the way to the COOP was as it was the landmark for the hotel. Hearing this the girl looked at me and smiled ,stood up folded her hands and asked “Aap India se hain?” (Are you from India) With utter disbelief and typical jaw dropping expression I just nodded in affirmative. Talking to her I came to know that she was an ardent bollywood fan . She even inquired if I had met any of her favourite bollywood actors in person. This pleasant encounter was a proof of the ever pervading influence of bollywood and Indianess in a far off land .
Next evening there was a fireworks display outside Casino Kursal I was enjoying the fireworks and so was a Dutch family with their kid who were on a holiday. They wanted me to take a family picture of theirs against the backdrop of the fireworks. They introduced themselves and upon learning I am from India the father commented , Is this not like Diwali? I asked what ? You burn crackers and have fireworks like this at Diwali time. I asked him how he knew that. Ever since school time I was fascinated with India and have always wanted to go there . This was another chance encounter that helped me see my own country in a new light.
Two days later I went for dinner to an Indian restaurant in Zurich it was filled with people from various nationalities. As I entered the restaurant with my Mom who was in an Indian attire of the Saree, we felt all eyes fixed on us as we entered through the glass door. Were they invasive ? No they were not. We only felt genuine appreciation in their eyes. Then the girl called cuckoo, who served us politely asked if we were from India ? We said yes. She told us that the guests at the restaurant were all feeling delighted to have an Indian family amongst them. Her saying this was confirmation of what we felt looking at the faces of the guests whom we passed by on the way to our table. That experience made us so proud to be Indians.
Another interesting incident happened at another restaurant at dinner time the next day. A group of guests were seated two tables away from us . Then one of the guest from that table walked up to our table spoke a line in Hindi “Switzerland mein aapka swagat hai” You are welcome in Switzerland . We said thank you.Then he just walked away .A few moments later returned and asked “Aap chutti manane aayein hai ?” (You have come for a holiday?) We said Haan i.e Yes in Hindi. Then he disappeared again . This time my eyes followed him and discovered him reading something from a small notebook. We were curious about his behaviour. Then he reappeared and spoke another line in Hindi . This time before he could disappear again I requested him to sit and how he knew Hindi. To which he let his secret out. He pulled out the same notebook and showed it to us . He told us he had joined hindi classes and seeing that we are from India ,thought it to be a great opportunity to practice with a native language speaker.
Soon it was time for us to bid farewell the beautiful country of Switzerland. At the Zurich airport the immigration officer asked me “How was our stay and how did we find Switzerland?”
To which I replied Oh it is one of the most beautiful country I have been to . It is like Paradise.
With a surprised look he asked. Is it even more beautiful then Kashmir? As I have heard that the only place as beautiful as paradise on this earth is Kashmir .I was instantly reminded of the famous couplet by famous Persian poets couplet about Kashmir
Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.
If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this
Hearing a foreigner refer to an ancient Indian Persian poet’s couplet about Kashmir floored me completely. I boarded the flight with the realization that Indianness is a culture,a state of mind and being that is spread across the globe and not confined by boundaries.