He joined us on the flight to Adelaide in Singapore. I found myself sitting next to him – he had the window seat, Anya the aisle, and I was in the middle – and we began making small talk.
He was an Indian Australian who had been visiting family and friends and was now on his way home and it soon became obvious that Australia was for him very much home – and not only because he had a good job and was married to a Caucasian Australian.
There was also namely the issue of air pollution.
‘The air pollution’ he exclaimed, ‘it’s bloody awful!’
To emphasize the point, he told me about a visit he had made shortly before leaving India to see the famous Taj Mahal.
‘It is one of the most famous landmarks in India and I had never seen it. Well I went there but I still didn’t see it! The air pollution was so bad! It was as thick as a fog. I was in a group and if it wasn’t for the tour guide I don’t think any of us would have found it. When we got there, all I could see was this wall in front of me. I put my hands on the wall and held them there for a while…that’s as close as I got to the Taj!’
Anya and I had spent years travelling in India (something I hadn’t got the chance to mention) and we had experienced dramatic changes in that country’s history, some of them far from positive, including the air pollution. On our last visit, our flight had been diverted because of the thick cloud of smog over Delhi.
So I could well believe what he told me about the air pollution and hence his recital of his experience at the Taj Mahal, meant to get a reaction from me, fell flat and our discussion moved elsewhere.
Later, as the lights were dimmed and everyone hunkered down for the night, I put my sleeping mask on and lay back and tried to drift off into a slumber …..and instead, found myself reliving the memory of our visit to the Taj Mahal… so many years ago….