“The bird that would soar above the plain of prejudice must have strong wings.”

–    Kate Chopin (American author of the nineteenth century)

I sat in a quiet park in Amsterdam, Netherlands, relishing the evening breeze and silence. I couldn’t help contrast the sparse crowd with thickly packed parks back in Mumbai- the world’s second most densely populated city with almost 32,000 people inhabiting every square kilometer. Here was a welcome break- the rustling leaves on Cherry, Elm, and Oak trees sang a soft song while the crows quietly nibbled on the grass. The only other sound I heard was the metro rail at a distance and children rushing on bicycles.

Suddenly, however, I was awakened from my trance-like state by Paula Eekelschot who sat on an adjacent bench and introduced her partner Harry Klerk. I was about to learn a sacred lesson: remain loyal to one’s tradition with respect for others’ culture.

Harry looked similar to Herman, Lucas, and other men I met during my stay at the Netherlands. I’d invariably get lost after my long walks in the morning and an hour of cycling in the evening. Since I had my host’s residential address on a piece of paper, I’d request for directions from strangers, and soon return safely to my room. If I walked, they’d drop me in their cars, or if I were cycling, they’d lead me to my residence. Each man I met had a serene and charming temperament; besides, they went out of their way to help me. Around seven thousand kilometers from home, I surprisingly never felt I was with strangers in a foreign country.

Paula is a burly Dutch woman, around sixty-five years old. We met a couple of times and exchanged pleasantries during my evening stroll. Today she radiated a melancholy and sat on a bench adjacent to mine. Harry, in contrast, is a tall, lanky local, and looked younger. He patiently nodded while Paula rambled on about her miseries. In this quiet park, her booming voice set me thinking about our different cultural backgrounds.

To be continued….

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