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Co-passenger Syndrome

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By Rahool Gadkari:

I fear that I’m suffering from an incurable disease. I reckon it’s rather serious. No, no doctor is likely to have a cure. Have I given up? Well yes, almost. A sliver of hope does remain though, like the crack in the door of a dark room that lets in just enough light to prevent thoughts of entrapment. So what is this almost irremediable problem? I have co-passenger syndrome. You haven’t heard of this before? Here’s a quick definition:

Co-passenger syndrome: It is a condition in which a person suffers from having been made to repeatedly sit with the most un-talkative, unintelligent and downright boring people in airplane, bus or boat journeys. Symptoms are believed to vary from mild frustration, depression, and aggravated cynicism to rage.

Sounds rather frivolous, doesn’t it? Unfortunately this rather innocuous sounding problem, which afflicts one and all, drove me up the pole very recently. After spending hours standing in lines for buses, airplanes and even boats, rather I should say – hours of standing expectantly, the nervous excitement I felt before finding out which exciting, liberated, worldly wise, intellectual or artsy soul (preferably all of them!) would be keeping me company for the duration of my journey, always led to bitter disappointment. I would feel a sense of being deprived, deprived of what I used to I think was my fundamental right to an interesting conversation, if only to overcome the mind numbing boredom I inevitably suffered from en route. “You’re expecting the sky”, a friend of mine told me. “This is a dream dude, a dream that shall always remain a dream”, another one pointed out.

Let me expatiate. On a recent flight back home (a long haul one, mind you), I was checked in and waiting to board. So like any curious soul, I started scanning the wait area. Which one of these people would I be sitting with? Would it be the overly talkative American teenager, who seemed also to be a compulsive texter? (Please – NO!) Would it be the old man who looked like he would go to sleep before the flight even took off (bless his soul)? Or maybe, just maybe I thought, as my eyes wandered and settled upon a particularly striking French girl, I might just get to sit with her! Maybe she was the panacea that I was looking for (presuming she didn’t turn out to be a real bore – a thought I quickly brushed away as being ludicrous). The promise of a potentially delightful partner lay ahead! With that thought, I prematurely ended my hawkish examination of the pre-departure area. After what seemed to me to be an extended wait (but was probably more like 30 minutes), we got our boarding call. The line formed and slowly proceeded towards the aircraft. The usual confusion ensued en route to finding one’s seat, and I finally got to the right one — 23B. 23A was empty and a quick mental check told me that my French girl was behind me in the line. The heart was positively overrun with hope. I sat down quickly and waited. A few moments later, a queer looking chap (shaved head, wearing dark sunglasses inside the airplane, a down jacket, a fanny pack and carrying a rainbow coloured backpack. The outside temperature was +28 C. Imagine a bald Feroz Khan dressed like this to create the right image, minus the charisma) tapped me on my shoulder and said those dreaded words — “I’m in 23A”. But wait, this can’t be right, I told myself, the French girl hasn’t even passed by yet. Frantic, I asked him — “Are you sure you have the right seat?”, to which he whipped out his boarding pass and confirmed 23A. Resigned to fate I hoped (nay prayed) for better luck next time. As my French girl (I’d developed an inexplicable fondness for her) finally passed by, my Moroccan co-passenger (we’d exchanged pleasantries by then), shouted aloud — “Paris, Paris” in a French accent. “Oh, you know the girl?” I asked him. “No no” he said, “She looks French man! Isn’t she lovely! ”.

I should’ve given up then and there. Having eventually seen the light and fallen into a fitful sleep, I found myself being woken up by my neighbour — “Dude, I think the plane’s not moving!”, he said to me! The absurdity of that comment took me a while to recover from, but having done so I finally managed to convince him that the plane was indeed moving (and pretty fast at that!), and then thankfully fell into a deep sleep. This experience of mine stands out as being perhaps one of the funniest of the lot, but as I said earlier, I’ve had more than my share of “experiences”. From the American lady who asked me, and very innocently at that — “India is right next to Dubai somewhere, right?”, to the lady who spoke only Telugu (and managed to say only one word — “Atlanta?”, which after much gesticulation I managed to convey to her wasn’t my final destination), to the lady who spoke only German (I got a lesson in sign language that time), to finally a young accountant, who for some reason never stopped talking!

Journeys are meant to be fun. A good companion can go a long way in helping them become fun. After all, for how long can one look outside the window (in a bus or a train) or read/watch movies in flight. A good conversation is very often the difference between a great journey and a forgettable one. I find no better place to re-connect with people than when I’m travelling. For if you think about it, talking to someone new offers the same challenges as finding a job, from the initial uncertainty in establishing contact (the job application), to the initial exchange of pleasantries to establish commonality/qualifications (the interview), to finally getting into an engaging chat (the offer). So, if you can crack a job interview, you can most certainly strike up a conversation. You never know what to expect and who knows what doors might open up, only because you took that first step.

Taking some liberties with Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence equation, I’ve come up with my own formula for the how enjoyable your journey can be:

E = mc2


E = enjoyment of journey,
m = mass, quantified by the how much interest/intellect/humour etc. your fellow traveller exhibits,
c is a constant (or at least should be) equal to your commitment to letting yourself indulge in conversation.

So just maybe, I can cure myself of co-passenger syndrome. Journeys are inevitable in our fast paced globalized world, might as well make the most of them while you’re at it! As T.S. Elliot said — “The journey, not the arrival matters”.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Rahool is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, and the University of Pune with degrees in electrical engineering. He writes part time and presently lives in the United States. To read his other posts,click here. Reach him on Twitter @RahoolGads[/box]

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  1. Angad Gadre

    You should ride the Indian railways more often, it might cure you!

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