Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lost and Found

Twenty years ago , the family had an opportunity to visit Germany for a year, thanks to an academic visiting assignment at the University there.  A memory from those days.

It is intriguing to note  the correlation between education and stress. The parents and the son, then 12, were aware of the language problem, and although one attended  German speaking classes in the heart of Mumbai for a while ( a bit difficult with kid's schools, and one's job simultaneously) , everyone except the youngest, the daughter ( 5 years of age)  was a bit apprehensive about language.

Supremely unaware of countries, distances, languages, modes of transport, she had a healthy confidence about anything and everything.  When someone teased her saying there was a problem with the aeroplane and how would she then go, she grandly announced that she would travel to Germany by rickshaw .  On the day of the flight, she filled up a big bottle with juice, and packed a tiffin box, announcing that this was,  in case the aeroplane got stuck  while "driving" and we all got held up.

While the University had many English speaking folks,and the son went to a formal school and eventually learned excellent German, she started Kindergaarten, truly unaware of where she had come. She clearly liked what she saw. She blended in so well with the kids, and was soon speaking the local dialect , inflexions and all, with her friends, sometimes while playing, and sometimes ,where she even learned to fight in colloquial German with a hefty  Yugoslavian little boy who hogged the slide and didn't allow the little girls any time there.

One weekend we were at the local equivalent of something like Big Bazaar (those were the pre-Mall days in India), but which was almost 20 times bigger , and sold everything from food, to socks to even vehicles. Endless rows and aisles, there was shopping and then there was a cafeteria where you could grab a bite.

It was around lunchtime, when it suddenly became clear that the daughter was missing. You normally saw her looking at the books and toys, or she tagged along with one of us, but she just wasn't  seen.  Her rich ebony/wheatish  , glowing complexion, and her beaming smile, and willingness to talk fearlessly to anyone in effortless German (which only her brother understood :-)...) meant she stood out.  And this was getting worrisome.

The three of us, searched for her in all the places we could think of, including near the doughnuts (the counter was taller than her), but no. All kinds of thoughts went through the mind. We then went to the store announcer to report that she was lost . We even told the announcer lady to call out and speak in German to her so she would understand that we were looking for her. Between the desperate looks on our faces, creative gestures  from me (with my bad German) and the son trying to explain to the lady , a bunch of announcements were made.  No result .

Finally, the three of us fanned out, one to the front entrance , one to the back, and I decided to go aisle by aisle to search for her. The usual aisles were checked, and I would now check out even the impossible ones like machine tools, and gardening implements, and what not. There was also a possibility that she would be simultaneously wandering and possibly just missing me somewhere.  Those were not the days of cell phones, and even if I found her , it would take a minute to run to where the rest of the family was looking for her.

 Like we have a saying in our language, all our mouths had run dry.

Almost 5 minutes later, I found her .  She was in the aisle that had all the fancy kiddie bicycles.  She was sitting on one with training wheels and fancy attachments, and trying to execute a u turn in the aisle : her way of test driving it.  The row was not meant for doing U-turns on bikes, and she was much involved in performing the minute backward and forward peddling to make the thing turn. Impervious to the panic she had caused.  

Much against her wish, I asked her to follow me to the desk. She refused to get off and rode the bike to the customer help desk.  Some lady there said something sweetly in German and lo behold, she got down from the bike. By now the word had got around, many folks were looking for her, and the family  came rushing in from searching elsewhere.

While she and her brother kind of took it in their stride, and she in particular thought unnecessary noise was being made over , what for  her, had been an excellent morning ,  this entire growing of tension, uncomfortable thoughts in the mind, and then this sudden massive release of tension, resulted in a somewhat hypoglycemic state for the grown ups.

We herded the family together, and proceeded to the bakery section, where everyone had some excellent apfel strudel , juice and the grownups gulped some coffee. Rested a bit, thanked the lady in customer service, then collected our purchases and left for home.

On all subsequent visits, the staff recognized her, and there was much smiling and ruffling of hair.

That was the last time something like this happened.  Someone mentioned to us that when you go in crowded places with small kids, it is a good idea to use a kid's leash and attach it to their waist.  You hold the other end.  

I absolutely refused.  German efficiency be damned.

Holding hands with her and  going to sections favored by her , was a better way of doing things.....

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1 comment:

  1. it is a good idea to use a kid's leash and attach it to their waist. You hold the other end

    showing, Germans are excellent engineers.

    I don't know about how good human being are they.

    :) I like Germany somehow, though never been there. :)