Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beyond Borders

The world has shrunk. I partook of dinner tonight with a bunch of people so drastically different from each other in so many ways-yet completely at ease. They were from different countries; they spoke different languages and had varied career paths. And yet, conversation at dinner was so easy going, so happy and so very insightful-it made me realise this-the world has definitely shrunk.

As a child, I remember prancing around in the monsoon rains which battered Mumbai from June-September every year. Like clockwork, the rains would start around 15th June and finish before the October heat came creeping in. There was so much constancy in something as mundane as the monsoons, that it brought a strange security to my heart. One cycle would end and the other would begin and before a year had passed by, the rains would be at my doorstep again-beckoning me into its refreshing buoyancy and filling me with unparalleled joy.

But now I notice a distinct change in all weather patterns. Rainfall happens every year, but now it has a mind of its own. Like the world, it too has changed. Like the world, the weather too follows its own schedule-surprising the people of this world at every turn.

Everything about the world has changed-whether for the better or the worse is not for me to judge. But yes, drastic changes have taken place in Gaia’s every nuance . The child playing in the rain could only dream of the faraway lands beyond the seas-places she could only visit in her wildest imaginations. After all, flying anywhere was no mean task. Maybe I was living in my own little shell because of whatever challenges life had placed my way. Maybe I was too scared to actually venture out. But the dreams were always there-accompanied by the knowledge of the difficulty in achieving those dreams. As mentioned, air tickets were expensive, there were only a few flights plying in and out of the country-travel to foreign lands and meeting exotic people were luxuries beyond my reach.

And then the world changed. Somehow, I reached Singapore. And then, everything was different. Slowly and surely, more airline companies came into the picture and before I knew it, airplanes were crowding the skies. Flights to hitherto obscure and unreachable places, suddenly spurted into the scene. International business even between small time traders started booming and flight ticket prices became hilariously reasonable. People who could not even think of air travel quickly became frequent flyers and started earning flying miles too!

And since I started reporting for SBB, I started realizing just how small my world was earlier and just how much my horizons had expanded. And THE world as a whole was becoming smaller and smaller with every new technological advance and every fresh international business venture. At every conference I have attended so far, in India and abroad, I have come across Indians, Americans, Middle Easterners, Australians, Italians, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese delegates intermingling with each other as if there was no race, religion, country, culture or language separating them at all. To them, everyone was a brother born of the same mother business. They were all out there to get a job done and o that common ground-everyone was a friend.

And tonight, it hit me-the wonderful weirdness of this phenomenon came crashing through to me. An SBB training programme in Singapore had just concluded for the day, and being a Singapore –based employee, I had to attend the dinner. So away I went-tonnes of business cards in hand. While I ate dinner, I chatted away with a French lady based in London, an Australian steel procurer who came to Singapore to learn about the industry, another Australian trader based in Shanghai who was very proud of her global friend circle which included but was not limited to Americans, Britishers, Italians, Germans, Shanghainese, other Chinese, Australians and Indians, a Chinese trader with a totally American accent, another Chinese trader who was totally Chinese in every way (accent included) and a quirky Spaniard who now lives in Shanghai with her French boyfriend and speaks over seven world languages. Added to this odd group, were my colleagues-a Chinese origin Singaporean, a Singaporean of Indian origin and an Indian who is now a Singaporean permanent resident. And this was just one table!

Suffice it to say, we had a lot to talk about. Everyone was so awed with the pot pourri of cultures at our table and there was eagerness all around to know more about them. We spoke of how Catalonian Spanish differ from other Spanish people and the constant silent warring between their egos, of how Spaniards are bad at languages as a rule, about the wonders of the French Riviera and the seafood delights in that part of the world, about one lady’s travels to Germany and how she gained 8 kilograms in a month gorging on German bakery produce and cream layered cakes. We debated on the non functional heating elements in Shanghai winters, compared it with winters in Russia and how much of a welcome break any cold would be from the heaty drudgery of Singapore. We marvelled at Singapore’s vibrant city life and colourful activity and spoke about how Russian Babushka dolls (stacked one inside the other) are actually called Matrioshkas. We went on drifting effortlessly and excitedly from one topic to another, till all curiosity was quenched for the time being. Even so, I had many more questions to much representative of the world was at my dinner table-surely one dinner would not be enough to know it all! But I had to rush back home to my boys, so I exchanged cards with my tablemates and said my goodbyes.

Earlier, I used to find it useful and easy to classify my experiences, but of late, I have begun to find the exercise a bit too futile. Lately my experiences are so vague and varied, yet so meaningful, I can’t peg them as “this” or “that”. This was one such. I made new friends from at least five different countries in a matter of an hour and some of these individuals I will probably be in touch with for my business stories. Some of them will fade away, as all things inevitably do with time. But for today, just for today, the world has become much smaller for me. I have leapt across territorial boundaries over seasonal vegetables and strawberry flan and I have travelled to other countries on fork and spoon.

A truly magical world this has become-shrunken and small. Where possibilities abound and limits are unheard of. Where people and lives have moved beyond all traditional hurdles-including themselves. Beyond oceans, beyond mountains, beyond skies, beyond land. Beyond music, beyond silence, beyond work and beyond business-with open minds and faith in dreams-beyond difference-BEYOND BORDERS.

-----Shreyasi M

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