All world languages would be incomprehensible if not supported by gestures and smiles – I suppose you will agree with me if you have had to fave empty faces when you are desperately trying to seek directions to the loo or the bus station, or when asking for directions to a hotel in Papua New Guinea or wondering about the cost of hiring a Land Cruiser on Socotra Island, but otherwise there is a lot of fun in trying to understand and err—being understood. It completes what can be called a proper communication!
One such experience with this kind of ‘smile-wave-point’ communication happened on the Rinca Island, West Flores (Indonesia) after my first encounter with the Komodo dragons. It stays in memory for various reasons.
1. All visitors to the Island that day (totaling 15 in number, including five that made up my group) had had the good fortune of seeing the dragons. (I was told, much later that visitors have several times returned without seeing them)
2. Everyone was tired from the long walks and the constant “ooooh…aaaaaaah” upon seeing the beasts. (Excitement can lead to exhaustion)
3. Everyone missed home, friends, material comforts, shower, coffee…
4. Everyone as aware that the only faces they would see for the next two days would be that of the crew and the little groups in which we had arrived, namely 4-5 people per boat.
But the fifth reason was mine alone!
Having barely exchanged words the entire day (my conversation with Mathias the guide limited to asking about coffee, lunch and the Island) I had reasons to seek out the two new faces that suddenly appeared on Rinca Island (one of them had even taken my pic at the airport) and who now sat in the tiny ‘cafe’ (that dared to call itself a restaurant) on the Island, nursing a Bintang (Indonesian beer) looking very pleased with the world.
Heck, the sight of them was enough to want to start a conversation! I guess it was acceptable that a woman travelling by herself needed to talk, for whatever reason! But before I could start a conversation, Mathias introduced me to all others who trooped into the cafe for a quick something. He wrongly explained that I was an Indian (one could see that of course), travelling alone, come from far away (his ignorance of distances was forgivable) and was ‘researching’ Komodos! I wasn’t, of course, but when ten pairs of eyes are admiring your fortitude one doesn’t want to spoil the moment for them by telling them your real motive.
But I was curious to see the reaction of the “guys.” For some reason, they were smiling, a vacant, but encouraging kind of smile that suddenly made them (the one in black more than the other) look even more handsome!
Eventually people wandered away, wanting to make the most of the fast fading lights. Then HE came over to me.
HE gave me his hand. Warm, strong, friendly, determined (there is a lot to be said about a handshake). HE was nearly ten inches taller than I and his green eyes (not blue as I earlier thought) smiled down at me. He murmured a name. (I shan’t mention the name here). The hands wouldn’t let go…not that I had another hand to shake, of course. Only when I thought it was a decent enough time to withdraw, I said, rather shamelessly that I did want my hand back! His smile widened, as though disagreeing with me. The grip tightened. Well. I tried.
There was no harm in holding on to a hand for ever, right!
Only when Tomas, the other slightly lighter and shorter other, came over to give me his hand, did we let go. “He doesn’t speak English” Tomas declared unkindly. “He is Slovakian”.
I couldn’t care if was from Timbuktu. We were trying to have a conversation with our eyes and hands till then, but this revelation changed all of that. When he hugged me, our hearts spoke as well!
And suddenly the big, warm Slovak and I broke into a conversation.
It was all good fun, of course! Flirting is an ancient art, mastered by all and sundry and used in the most bizarre situation, and I suppose the situation I found myself in wouldn’t get any bizarre! Here I was, away from the world, shaking hands with a handsome Slovak who spoke no English, on an Island reachable only after several hours of boat-ride through the unpredictable Indonesian sea and enjoying every bit of it. Somehow, I felt drawn to the warmth these guys practically radiated, adding only to the already hot and humid weather.
We walked around a bit, taking pictures, talking and understanding too…Tomas helped with the translations too and in that short interval of time between evening and night when I missed my brothers a lot, three people from three corners of the world were bonded in a moment where tongues mattered little.
They chose to leave the same evening, back to the mainland for they had an early morning dive planned out. They pulled off their shirts and jumped into their boats, waving till they disappeared out of sight.
Before that, however, we managed a few pictures. Well, I had more than I bargained for. Instead of just having the protective arms of the big, silent Slovak, Tomas also joined in for a “group-hug”.
Heck you don’t need to know Polish to understand what that means!!