You may remember Vishal from my last Europe anecdote, the guy I had travelled to a few countries with. In the same weekend that we visited Rome, we also visited Venice for a day. (We also toured Pisa and the Vatican City that weekend. Yeah, hell of a trip.)
So as we arrived in Venice on the train over a bridge through the seas, I went completely and helplessly monkey over seeing nothing but water outside the train window. It was surreal.
However, as we got off at the station, I started getting a little impatient because I didn’t get the ‘Venice’-y feel from the place that I supposed should have struck me the moment I landed (I had gathered these preconceptions from reading books such as The Thief Lord, with its vivid and evocative sketches of the city). The station we had arrived at (Santa Lucia), looked ordinary and forgettable. I was starting to expect just such an ordinary city outside the station, and was feeling somehow tricked. Vishal went into a queue to ask some questions at a Trenitalia booth about his return Deutsche Bahn ticket. So I decided to take a quick look outside the station. I went out of the doors and bumped right into this:
Canal, bridge, boat, Venice. The whole deal.
A voice inside me exploded: ‘Ohmygod, this is Venice!’
I scamper into the station and announce excitedly to Vishal something to the end of ‘Ohmygod this is Venice! Canal, bridge, everything, it’s just like Venice! Ohmygod!’
We went back outside after a while. I had already planned a detailed itinerary. We would take the vaporetto (the waterbus or big passenger-carrying boats) that started from right in front of the station and travelled the length of the canal weaving through the whole of Venice. We would get off at the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), look at all the spots there (there are quite a few), take the boat again to the Lido beach, come back by evening to the Piazza again, and take a walk at night through Venice’s famous narrow, Kolkata-esque winding alleys back to the station in time for our train. The problem was that this was the early part of our stay abroad, so we were still hesitant at all occasions of parting with our Euros, which in quick mental calculations always turned out to be really expensive in rupees. We had therefore gone into some deliberation over managing our primary expense, the vaporetto ticket fare. € 6-7 each is good for tickets that last an hour, so that should get us to the Piazza. But we again needed the waterbus to get from there to Lido later, and back to the Piazza in the evening. We were not sure of spending so much for the tickets in one day and were confused as to whether there could be a better way, with the longer duration or group tickets, but nothing was working out to our advantage. Anyway, we were not sure of anything, and at this time we were just looking around, really excited and all, posing for photos in the open space that you see in that picture, when the first part of the karma story happened.
All of a sudden a young couple came up to us. They looked Indian. They came up and asked us, ‘Are you Indian?’ I felt a little irked at this. I never liked making a big deal out of my nationality while I was abroad, or going and deliberately meeting other Indian people. Anyway, we said yes.
Then they held up two cards and said, ‘These are magnetic tickets for the vaporetto. We bought them, but we have to go somewhere else now, so we have to leave quickly. We cannot use these any more. These are 12-hour cards valid until 9.30 at night. You guys want them?’
Something smelt fishy to me. I am always immediately suspicious of such things, especially in this case because they had searched us out. So I was pretty disinclined at this, and asked them to clarify what they were saying. They repeated the explanation, and said they had been looking for some Indians to give this to, and had found us. They seemed to be in a lot of hurry to get out of there.
Finally I asked, ‘How much do you need for them?’ And they said, ‘Oh, no no no! You don’t have to pay anything. Just take them.’
We were like, whoa!
We accepted the tickets and thanked them furiously as they left. Then we walked to the vaporetti platform. There was a magnetic reader where you could stick your ticket to check it. It confirmed that both the tickets were valid till late evening. We grinned like maniacs at each other. What were the chances that exactly two people, Indians, would find themselves in excess of the exact tickets we needed, at the exact time we arrived, and found us to give them to us, for free? I remember that I went really hypocritical on myself at that time and started feeling really happy about the whole thing, not so much for the money, but for the happenstance of events, and the gesture of the couple, that they found us out because we were Indians, that we Indians do such things. I didn’t know then that this momentary gladness would embed itself in me for a long time.
I checked later that they had saved us near about a total of € 36.
Anyway, we travelled along the canal to the Piazza and saw all the places we wanted to visit, we went to the Lido beach where I had a nice dip and some really nice Italian pizza, came back to the Piazza, all with the same tickets, and had another adventure trying to walk back to the station that maybe I’ll tell you some other day. And all of this in some small extent owed itself to two kind-hearted people who had taken the time and effort to find some people to give their tickets to.
Around a month and half after this, after Vishal had returned home to India, I decided one Friday to go to Prague, Czech Republic on my own for the weekend, because nobody else was available to come along.
Prague was a beautiful place, made more memorable for the experiences in the awesome little Travellers’ Hostel I stayed in (hopefully I’ll write about it some time). In the daytime I went to visit the Prague Castle, the biggest castle in the world. I bought a ticket that included all the buildings inside the castle perimeter. I took a long time going around some of them, and as in most places in Europe they were beautiful.
It was late afternoon when I realized that 3 or 4 items were still unvisited and thus un-punched on my ticket, but I had not enough time to possibly cover all of them and then walk to the famous old Charles Bridge while there was still some daylight left.
I was about to exit with my unfinished ticket anyway when I caught sight of a group of Indians. They looked like students. I surveyed them as I remembered the Indian couple in Venice from long back and this idea started to crystallize in my head.
I ruminated for a while more, then I walked up to them and asked, ‘Are you Indian?’
The rest, as they say, is history. I can still remember feeling the universe let out a blissful purr as long-forgotten karma balanced itself again at a different place and time.