It was our day to Mt.Titlis.
We had to take the Swiss Rail from Lucerne to Engelberg from where we could go up Titlis.
As expected, like the immutable fact of every second and every hour, or more like Swiss clockwork, there were trains leaving for Engelberg, as we had been tonelessly informed by the man/boy behind our hotel desk ’ at every hour, 10 minutes past the hour ’. We were on time to take the next one leaving in 20 minutes.
We walked all the way down to board one of the carriages at the farther end of the platform. We were keen to give a miss to the noise and crowd of Indians who were travelling in groups and in joint families. Bad combos both.
We expected them to fill into the carriages nearer the beginning of the platform. Well, we were only partially successful, but even then, it was a relief. Ok, I will stop this typical national self loathing of the travelling Indian and get on to the encounter or rather the connection, that happened.
The train glided smoothly across the beautiful swiss countryside. Though there was no loud hum of our country folks, there was this sort of musical huff and puff, tang and tong of either japanese or korean coming from the man with the group of either japanese or korean sitting adjacently across to us. The man seemed to be, in a general manner, clarifying or explaining the various aspects and points of this trip and of others they may have done, to his group of three women who were nodding.
We were soaking up the view of the lakes, cottages and snowy mountains that were like cool water to our parched eyes. Suddenly he popped into our space, “Appa?” he uttered or rather enquired with a totally incredulous look in his face. I had no clue what this was about.
“Appa?” he asked again looking at Siddhu. Now I understood that he was asking whether Siddhu had uttered that word ‘Appa’. In that totaly incredulous look I certainly could make out the friendliness and curiosity. It warmed and cheered me immensely.
I explained to him that, yes, Siddhu had called me ‘appa’, as it meant father in our language, Tamil. He was wonder struck. He repeated the word ‘appa’ so joyously and said ‘appa’ is father in Korean too. And when I said ‘appa’ and ‘amma’ were father and mother in Tamil, he seemed close to being joyously thunderstruck. He exclaimed that they were exactly the same in Korean too. He turned to his group of women and obviously expressed to them what they had just heard. They all seemed much cheered and happy but though not as joyous as him.
‘TTamil?’ he repeated. I explained to him we are from India, rather south India, where we spoke Tamil. I explained that though Hindi is spoken by majority, there were more than 25 languages spoken in India and in Chennai, where we were from, we spoke Tamil. He nodded, as if he understood. He said that he has travelled to India but not to Chennai. He said, “ India is very big, yes?…yes!”. He continued, “ In India there are very very rich people and very very poor people, too much difference!”. He was a Korean Naipaul!
His joy was contagious. It had infected me too. I now continued from where we had left off. I said, “Thatha’, ‘Paati”. He looked at me. I was not sure whether there was confusion in his face. He repeated, “Thatha?”, “Paati?”. I explained that “ Thatha’ and ‘Paati’ are words for grand father and grandmother in Tamil. He repeated that and shook his head and looked at his women. They all shook their head. That obviously didn’t make any connection. He instead said something that I could only make out as two words. Heena clarified that it could be something like ‘ayya-appa’ and ‘ayya-amma', or so we imagined. We were glad anyway.
Heena, now thought it a good idea to play a song to him which she had herself picked out from the web with her characteristic creative resourcefulness and played to Siddhu for its typical oriental melody and music. She wanted to play that song to him and find out the meaning. It was in her phone collection. She browsed and browsed and finally got it. She played the song to him who had been keenly leaning across and waiting for her to locate the song. The song started and his smile kind of stayed in the same position for a brief longer than normal. He went back. He said, ‘ Ah…oh, that is North Korean song …..and we are South Korean.’
Heena said, “Oh!?”
That brought a hiatus to the conversation between us. But it was obvious that they were equally amazed as us, with this striking similarity of words and their meanings between two distant lands and cultures. Was it just coincidence or more than that? Perhaps this was more amazing to us to imagine that there could be a linguistic link between Tamil, a language spoken only in a small area of the south with a language spoken in a land so far away in geography. It also made me wonder whether there were any other cultural links between the two.
We reached Engelberg after about an hour or so. Then as we were on our way out, he looked at us and said, “ Appa!, Amma", and grinned a joyous good bye.
We had a wonderful time at Titlis.