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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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura April 3, 2013 at 8:54 am

Wherever it comes from, I love your writing!

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:35 am

Thank you Laura :)

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Arianwen April 3, 2013 at 8:55 am

I love random conversations like this. It makes me wish people back home would chat to each other more on public transport. It would certainly make life more interesting.
Arianwen recently posted..Liebster blog award

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Sofie April 4, 2013 at 7:22 am

I totally agree. It always strikes me how anti-social people in Belgium – well, porbably in western Europe – are. We cross each other on the street without even smiling at each other. We sit next to each other on the train or bus, not attempting a conversation but ebing annoyed because the other one takes up to much space. I have the feeling we too often see others as intruders or maybe even threats than as possible future friends. Such a pity.
And I must admit I’m sometimes guilty of acting this way myself.
Somehow, when I’m abroad, I find it so much easier to talk to people. I think it’s because I don’t have to deal with the ‘troubles’ that are inherent to being at home. I’m in ‘vacation mood’.
One should always be in vacation mood.
Sofie recently posted..In search of the light: Artisanal fishing in Senegal

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:43 am

Sofie, the same is true in the U.S. (and I am guilty of it as well!). Think how different things would be if we all spoke with each other without the fear of being judged…

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:36 am

Totally agree. The things you learn and take away when you have these kinds of conversations with strangers- it’s amazing!

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Jade April 3, 2013 at 8:59 am

What a character! I hope one day I am sitting on a plane and I meet such a guy to tell me about the world and God.
This is so beautifully written :)
Jade recently posted..Just a quick post to say…

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:37 am

Thank you Jade :) I must say, it was sort of refreshing to talk with someone who had such strong beliefs that life worked a certain way… so much different than my own constant questioning.

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Patti April 3, 2013 at 10:47 am

I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, instead, I live my life with the thought that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, we are not privy to the reasons. Sometimes the reasons become clear much later. Sometimes, the universe has a twisted sense of humor, but I think the universe brings opportunities. At some point you’ll come to understand why he was next to you on that plane. If nothing else, maybe because he played a word game with you and it helped to pass the time. :o)
Patti recently posted..Meet the Innkeeper – Cusco, Peru ~

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:38 am

It definitely helped to pass the time… I loved talking with him, he gave me a lot to think about.

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Rhonda April 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm

What a fascinating plane seat mate! I am not one for organized religion, although consider myself both religious and spiritual , but I love the story about how God is Nowhere also does say God is Now Here. What a perfect example of how we see a place based on how we are, not on how it is. Thanks for sharing.
Rhonda recently posted..Foto Friday

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

Yes, totally, it was a situation of seeing what we see based on the perspective we take. Couldn’t imagine having this conversation anyplace but India :)

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Rhonda April 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm

lol..now that is the truth!
Rhonda recently posted..Foto Friday

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Lindsay April 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm

“Oh, no, I’ll be writing about you no matter what.”

Ha! Laughed out loud at that part.
Lindsay recently posted..TALKING about teaching in Beirut

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:40 am

Haha, yep, I sort of laughed to myself while thinking it!

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Sarah Somewhere April 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm

What a dude :) Enjoy Nepal guys!
Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Yucatan Road Trip: FOMOF (Fear Of Missing Out on Flamingos)

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:40 am

Thanks Sarah, we’re enjoying it already :)

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Hannah April 3, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I love encounters like this, the stories within your story. It certainly made for a beautiful post!
Hannah recently posted..Reflecting on six months of travel

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:40 am

Thanks Hannah :)

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Colleen April 3, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Reminds me of a conversation I had last week with a man standing on his head on the beach in Thailand, complete with mention of vibrational energies. When he turned himself right side up he opened my notebook and wrote down instructions for my life. This is why we travel…
Colleen recently posted..Dispatch From a Small Thai Island

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:41 am

What did the instructions say?!?! You should keep that piece of paper!! Totally agree, this is why we travel.

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Daynne@TravelnLass April 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Just tuned in. Thanks for a most delightful morning treat!
Daynne@TravelnLass recently posted..A Dash to Nha Trang: Day 3 – Bliss and Ack!

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:41 am

Thank YOU for reading.

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Laurel- Capturing la Vita April 3, 2013 at 8:04 pm

That was so beautiful. My deepest draw to traveling is encounters just like this. Thank you for sharing your chance encounter with us. Lovely to have discovered you.

“And I think to myself: Oh, no, I’ll be writing about you no matter what.”
Fantastic!
Laurel- Capturing la Vita recently posted..Top 25 Airplane Etiquette Rules- Don’t Ever Fly Again Without Them!

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:42 am

Thank you Laurel. I agree that these chance encounters are what make the world such a mystical, magical place.

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Ali April 4, 2013 at 7:40 am

Your already wonderful writing gets better with every post. Beautiful!
Ali recently posted..Introducing Beyond Vacation

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

Thank you Ali! Hope you are feeling better :)

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Steve C April 4, 2013 at 8:30 am

“It’s what I’m try’n ta say” Ya never know what’s around the next bend in the road.

Serendipity, one of the main enjoyments I get from traveling. And the best thing, he wasn’t pushing one religion or another. I’m not sure there’s a “reason” for things like this happening, but when you put yourself in the position for things like this to happen, they sure make life (travels) more interesting.

Also, the nowhere / now here is another example of two people looking at the same thing and coming away with a completely different understanding. Who-da-thunk that one?

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 8:45 am

No, he certainly wasn’t. He even said at one point “I am Hindu but what is Hindu? I do not believe in religion, I believe in soul.” And then I wanted to hug him because that is what I believe in too.

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Hannah @ Getting Stamped April 4, 2013 at 10:19 am

I love stories like this! I love your writing, keep it up!
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Kim April 5, 2013 at 12:09 am

Thanks Hannah :)

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Lizzie April 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

When I recently went from very long hair to having my head shaved, I got a lot of questions.

“Why did you shave your head?”

“To support my friend who is undergoing chemo. In return for this answer, I would ask that you say a prayer for Susan.”

“What if I don’t believe in God?”

“If you would believe for just today, Susan and I would be most appreciative.”

I’m not at all religious, but “there are no atheists in foxholes”, and I always seem to be in a foxhole. Love your posts. Thank you.
Lizzie recently posted..Art and Life Intersect

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Kim April 5, 2013 at 12:11 am

Yes, and a prayer doesn’t have to go to God… it can go to anything that hold spiritual meaning… I’ve never met anyone who didn’t hold something sacred. I’ll pray for your friend Susan, Lizzie.

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Joe Bigliogo March 13, 2014 at 10:54 am

It’s highly presumptuous of you to assume on someone a belief in god, or worse, that they can somehow manufacture belief at your request. When it comes to being honest with yourself it’s as if you think your brain has a switch that it’s okay to turn off. As an experiment, if I told you to genuinely stop believing in god for a day (I mean really think god doesn’t exist), or to believe in a different god, could you? Belief is not something you can manufacture by force of will. And btw, there are atheists in foxholes, many in fact.

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Tyrhone April 4, 2013 at 11:55 am

He sounds like a character, I wish I was better at airplane conversations. I inevitably just end up sitting in silence scared that I’m going to get into an unwanted convo. Great post :)
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Kim April 5, 2013 at 12:12 am

Thanks Tyrhone. I’m not too good at airplane conversations either. I have a feeling I couldn’t have avoided this one even if I’d wanted to.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I love this story, this guy sounds like such a character!
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Kim April 5, 2013 at 12:12 am

Thanks Andi :)

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Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) April 4, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Great stuff Kim! I wish all plane journeys had characters like that. Have you ever read Yes Man by Danny Wallace (much better than the film) ? It starts off by him meeting a similar man on the bus in London and changed his life forever. Maybe Vipin and the man on the bus are one and the same!
Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) recently posted..Four reasons to volunteer while you travel

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Kim April 5, 2013 at 12:15 am

No, I haven’t read it but I will add it to my list!! I’m intrigued…

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Ashlee Ayers April 5, 2013 at 6:02 am

This reminds me of a story I heard about a pastor showing a series of pictures to children during church. Showing them scenes of mountains and oceans and pictures of animals, he would ask them, “What do you see?” They would reply with what they saw and the pastor would ask them to look closer to see that the pictures were indications of God’s love for us. When he showed them a picture of a squirrel and asked, “What do you see?” a little boy replied, a little irritated, “Well, it’s a squirrel but I’m sure you’re going to say it’s Jesus or something like that.”

Once our eyes are opened to God’s love, it’s hard to ignore that it’s all around us. I’ve been praying for you and Brian since I found your blog two years ago, and I’ll continue to pray for you for the next two, as well. :) Safe travels and well wishes to you both!

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Kim April 6, 2013 at 3:09 am

Thanks Ashlee, they are appreciated. And that squirrel comment from the little boy is priceless!

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Noe Garcia April 5, 2013 at 6:33 am

LOL….

Kim, this is a beautiful post. I love when you encounter this type of random people, and I sometimes think – people might see me as the Random one most of the times.

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Kim April 6, 2013 at 3:09 am

Noe, maybe someone out there in the world has written about you? ;)

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Rob April 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Hey keen follower of your blog. Noticed the Yes Man comment above, just started my own blog and strangely the first post I have just done is on how Yes Man changed my life. Buy it! Great book :-)

http://hungryescapade.com/2013/04/02/themomentthatchangedmylife/
Rob recently posted..The moment that changed my life

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Kim April 6, 2013 at 3:10 am

Hi Rob. Congrats on the new blog… I will check it out (both your blog AND that book. Definitely on the list!)

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Candace April 6, 2013 at 11:11 am

My friend! So many things to love about this post (and yikes, that was definitely not meant to be a play on your blog name :) But! 1) I obviously love this interaction and can totally visualize the moment. India has a way of making such conversations happen, doesn’t it? 2) I love that twist from God is nowhere to God is now here – very, very cool. and 3) This right here: “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.” SO GOOD! And, I have to say, so very true. Hope you and Brian are living it up in Nepal! xo
Candace recently posted..sketching malaysia: through the island of pulau ketam on two wheels.

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Kim April 6, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Candace! Thank you lady :) I know you understand about the last line. Loving all of your amazing sketches. XO

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Laurie April 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Another fantastic piece of writing Kim. When I finished a big smile was across my face. X

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Kim April 6, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Thanks Laurie, I’m so glad.

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gina shaner April 11, 2013 at 8:59 am

Kim,

I just want to say…you are the coolest person I know! You inspire me to great lengths and your stories and photos are a constant reminder to me that I don’t have to just dream, but I can live them. I may not be quite there yet, but I am working towards it. You are a little birdie on my shoulder reminding me. :)
G

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Kim April 12, 2013 at 3:28 am

Gina, that is so sweet (and I am not cool)! I’m so glad, though, that my stories are inspiring you to work towards your dream- that is what I hope for each time I sit down to write.

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Bama April 14, 2013 at 6:18 am

I’m always cautious when a random person opens a discussion in a rather strange way. But as you experienced, it often ended up in a very interesting conversation. All we need to do is just keep our common sense there during the conversation and everything will be fine.
Bama recently posted..Taipei: Thriving Amidst Uncertainties

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Kim April 16, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Yes, I agree. There is always the treat of the conversation taking a weird turn. Luckily that didn’t happen!

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) April 15, 2013 at 7:08 am

Oh Kim … I loved this post. I love all your posts but this one … this one stayed with me ALL day. Enough to come back to comment. I am not remotely religious – but I am spiritual. This is … oh so many layers. Like India I suppose.
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Knowing When to Defer a Trip – Walking the Fine Line Between Fear and Common Sense

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Kim April 16, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Yes, absolutely like India. I think it’s one reason I loved the conversation so much. There was so much said (and so much unsaid).

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Charukesi April 29, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I can well imagine this conversation (being Indian) – here’s to meeting more such interesting people in your journeys!

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Kim April 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Thanks Charukesi. I loved the conversation and I love that you can easily imagine it taking place as an India. I loved India so much.

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