A Conversation on an Indian Airplane

by Kim on April 3, 2013 · 58 comments

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On the plane from Mumbai to Delhi I sit next to a huge man, he’s at least 6’ 5”, dressed in a traditional kurta and salwar. He wears sunglasses and has long, straight hair, an unorthodox look for an Indian man. There are elaborate rings on every one of his fingers. He looks like Sacha Baron Cohen playing a parody of a 70’s Bollywood Star.

I’m a writer,” I tell him when he asks.

And I am a devotional singer,” he says, “I perform all over India and sometimes internationally.”

I write on the Internet and for magazines,” I say, “I’m working on a book.”

He nods his approval.

Our plane charges toward Delhi. We talk about America and India and traveling. Vipin, I’ve learned his name, talks about God. “God is vibrations, Kim. God is emotion. Whenever you feel an emotion you should know you are not far from God.”

The stewardess delivers our meals and he prays over his before handing half of his sandwich to me. I try to refuse it, I have my own meal to eat, but he insists, saying, “I am watching my weight. I’m on the Herbalife diet, have you heard of it?”

And for an instant I think that the whole conversation has been a ploy to get me to buy Herbalife supplements.

Yes, I’ve heard of it,” I say, and my voice has an edge to it.

It works well,” he says, “I used to be much bigger. I’ve lost 16 kilos.” I sit stiffly, waiting for the sales pitch, but it doesn’t come.

He turns to me, his sandwich gripped now in his giant hand. “Write this down,” he motions towards the pen and paper that I pulled from my bag when I became aware that our exchange was going in a noteworthy direction.

Write GOD IS NOWHERE.”

I write it down.

Now, tell me, what does it say?”

I look at the sentence. “It says ‘God is nowhere’.”

No,” he said, “look closer.”

I look closer. “Well, Vipin, it definitely says ‘God is nowhere.’”

Ah,” he says with a sigh, “No, no, no! It says GOD IS NOW HERE!” He takes my pen and draws a slash through NOW/HERE, then leans back in his seat triumphantly.

Oh,” I say. “That’s very clever.”

Not clever,” he says. “It is just a matter of looking.”

He smiles at me, takes a bite of his sandwich, chews. “All is written, Kim. It was written that we meet here today, that we sit together, that I talk to you.”

Are you a teacher?” I ask. He laughs and shakes his head. “There is only one teacher, the rest of us are students.”

Maybe I’ll write about you,” I say, waving my pen in his direction. “Maybe you’ll be in my book someday.”

Really?” he asks, and I can tell that it pleases him. “If it is God’s will, you will write about me.”

And I think to myself: Oh, no, I’ll be writing about you no matter what.

But as I sit down to write today I see what he means. Because I’ve shown up here, as I do each morning, my fingers perched on the keyboard, my coffee warm beside me. I’m here, as I always am, ready to do the work. But this is the morning I realize it isn’t entirely up to me what comes out.

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