Anecdotes of Europe #3: Story of a Knife

This story is about a knife.

I visited Switzerland pretty early during my summer stay in Germany in 2011. I have friends there with whom I stayed. When I was about to return by train, my friend Alex who had come to see me off  went into a tourist shop with me in the station as I bought a few little souvenirs. This is frankly the last type of place where you should buy things, because they are targeted towards tourists with money to spend on junk trinkets. But what the hell, I was pretty late and I wanted something. So I bought a few things (including a red T-shirt with a proud Swiss flag and ‘Suisse’ written across the chest, and which upon subsequent investigation revealed a tiny ‘Made in Bangladesh’ tag), and then my gaze fell on something that I just had to buy. Of course, it was a Swiss army knife. My birthday had been just a couple of days ago, so Alex became wonderful and said he’d pay for it as a gift. I was overjoyed.

On the way back, I started to completely drool over it and took a photo of it in the train. So here it is:

IMG_1389

After I returned to Germany, though, and had taken a better look at it, I was a little unsure of exactly how sharp it was. I couldn’t immediately think of anything to try the blades on. If you own a Victorinox, that is of course not a feeling you want to have about it. You want to feel content.

Anyway, on my next trip a week later with a friend named Vishal, probably to Italy, I took the knife along.

Sitting across the aisle on the train was a wiry woman who I didn’t like the sight of very much. Yes, just because of the way she looked. She was thin, wiry, had sunken eyes and thinning hair, and looked on the whole pretty sinister to me.

So on the train I pulled out the knife, of course.

If you are imagining that this caused some panic or distress among the passengers, no, that’s not how this story goes.

I pulled out the knife to show it off to Vishal. He took it in his hand, and I started to say, pretty proudly, ‘Be careful. This is very sharp stuff, man. Don’t cut yourself.’

Vishal was very impressed with the whole thing, you know, how cool and outdoorsy it is to have a Swiss army knife with you. And I was radiating tangible awesomeness as I took it back from him.

A couple of blades were open, and I started to close them.

Do you know how this closing works? The blades resist your closing for some of the way, then at a critical angle it suddenly snaps close. As this happened with one of the blades, my finger pressing behind it followed along with the blade, and landed smack on the cutting edge of another blade that was open.

I watched as blood started to flow immediately from a beautiful, long cut.

I remember the next thing that happened: my lips bent involuntarily into a serene, pristine smile, watching the accumulating blood.

This shit is sharp, I thought.

Vishal was visibly distraught. I was, too, now, realizing how stupid this was looking. I needed to stop the bleeding and the dripping and all the red nonsense somehow. Red is too bright a colour in a train full of people like that.

I pulled out some tissues that had come with some McDonald’s stuff I had packed along, and started dabbing my finger on them. I could not dab the tissue on my finger because it was too much blood, so I just had to lay the tissue on the seat and dab my finger at different spots, letting gravity do its job.

It was a pretty long cut, and the blood just kept flowing. In a few minutes, the tissue had become this:

IMG_1557

At this time, an Italian train attendant of some kind arrived in our compartment, to check the tickets or perhaps he was just going through, I can’t remember which.

I was worried now, and embarrassed to a far greater extent, and I asked this guy if I could have some first aid. People were looking at me now.

He looked blankly at my cut (it was just starting to look scary at this point), and shrugged and said there’s nothing he could do, and went on his way. Italians are rude, I thought. I had got too used to German politeness.

I was hating to touch the tissue by then; it was starting to remind me of a, well, you know what. But given the options, I decided that I’d have to resort to keep dabbing my finger on it until the bleeding stopped. This looked like first class idiocy now.

Suddenly, this wiry, sinister woman, who had observed the exchange with the attendant, called me across the aisle, and said that she had some band-aid with her.

She rummaged through her purse, pulled out a band-aid and gave it to me. I was immediately so sorry and grateful to her that I showered her with profuse thankfulness as I accepted it.

So the band-aid went on the finger, and the rest of the journey was uneventful. Except that I made a fierce mental note in my head, Looks-based impression: 0, band-aid-based impression: 1.

 

The other half of this story of the knife happened on my way back to India. This is a sad story about the loss of the knife actually. And there are three people who are responsible for it, to be revealed in chronological order.

When I had packed my bags for India, I had suddenly become too moronic to suspect that Swiss army knives would not be allowed in the cabin baggage. So it arrived in Hamburg airport happily nestled in my backpack, oblivious yet of its impending fate. I, therefore, was the first of the three persons responsible.

As I checked in to get my boarding pass, I met the second person responsible for the sad parting: the woman at the counter.

She was a thin, old-ish woman with pale hair. As I was putting my suitcase on the belt for the registered luggage, she told me that I’d have to get rid of all the previous airplane tags. She tried tearing them by hand, but it wouldn’t tear. I tried it, and I couldn’t tear any either. Then I remembered the knife. I told her, just one moment, and with one elegant flourish, I brought out the knife from my bag and snapped open the scissors in it, and got to cutting the tags away.

A sensible counter person would at the sight of this have gone into a wild-eyed tantrum, shrieking like a love-crazed yeti at me to put the knife away in the registered luggage.

You know what she did? She went completely gaga over my effusing superhuman coolness and watched me and my unbearably awesome army knife go at the baggage tags like some starry-eyed, giggly high school crush.

happy-oh-stop-it-you[1]

And this is why she was the second responsible person. If I were sorting these people instead in terms of their contribution to the misfortune, she would lead hands down.

I checked in my registered luggage, popped the knife back into my backpack and got on the flight. Nobody stopped me even at the cabin baggage check.

Oh wait, actually they did. It was because I had some liquid with me. I think it was a face wash gel which I had to throw away. Then they said I have more liquid. It was a bottle of water, and they said to throw it too, but I had memories associated with the bottle (that’s me), so I asked them if I could just drain the water, which they allowed. So I actually left all my stuff at that checking, strolled out of the airport, found a trash, drained the water and came back. But I remembered this little part mostly positively, because the girl who was requesting me to get rid of all these was very sweet and apologetic and she seriously asked me if I had been in the US for long (I had a serious American accent on throughout my Europe stay).

Anyway, back to the story.

My flight wasn’t a straight one to India. It was a cheap (the cheapest I could find) Aeroflot flight that connected through Sheremetyevo, Moscow. Suffice it to say that

a. There was another check of the cabin baggage there, and

b. Russians are more careful.

 

So I’m wearing my shoes after the security pat-down when this beefy, stern looking security woman watching the scans of the bags tells me that I have a knife, and I must take it out. She is, of course, the third person.

For a moment I don’t know what she is talking about, then I remember. And I think, aghast, no, not like this.
I gingerly bring out my Swiss army knife. She unceremoniously puts it to her side and tells me to move on.

You know what happens when an Indian suddenly faces the inexorable hand of fate like this? (There’s a pun here with face and hand. It’s called a slap. It’s what fate usually does to you.)

We reset to our default Indian bargaining mode.

I ask her if it is not allowed. She says it is not. Then I ask her with please. She said there is no way that knife is allowed in the cabin.

I think of a last-ditch try, although in my head it sounded really lame. This is your last chance anyway, I told myself. Then I looked up at her and blurted out: ‘But it was a birthday gift! From a friend!’

She did not even look up as she repeated the same thing. I think she was starting to think now that maybe I had some serious terrorist ideas.

I walked slowly away from the checking, gazing longingly at my Swiss army knife, knowing it was the last I would ever see of it.

 

Epilogue

My friends from Switzerland visited us later the following year in India, and I had told them of the unfortunate story and told Alex to bring another Swiss army knife, a better one, for which I would pay. He brought it, and I have it now, and it’s awesome and sharp and cutting-edge technology. I don’t test it on myself any more though.

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18

Well, today I had to go to college for some work. Going to college for me is not as easy as you might be tempted to think. It’s 80 kilometers from a place that is at least 15 more kilometers from my house. No, I don’t do it everyday. Yeah, that means I stay there. But it’s our summer hols now, full three months of it, and there’s no college. I had to go there because of some work.

So I was returning from there by train, local train. I had to get off at Dum Dum. It was pretty empty when I got on it. Pretty empty means that if you run and be bad-mannered and shove a few people around, you have a chance of getting a seat. I got a seat.

Where I sat was at the end of a compartment, a sort of half-closed space with the seats, and most of them were occupied by boys slightly older than me. They looked like they were travelling together.

One of them cracked a very, very poor joke and started laughing hysterically, drawing his breath in with loud squeals. Very weird. Everyone else was quiet. Nobody laughed at the joke. The joke was conceived when these guys saw a cow outside half-running beside the railway tracks. Then this guy said that there was a meeting in the forest where every animal came except one. Which was it? When no one could answer, he said it was the cow, because it was running over there. That was the joke. As one of them correctly pointed out, it wasn’t a PJ. It was an NJ or a no-joke.

After a while I found out that they were from Jadavpur University, and two of them were from my school, two years senior. Same section, in fact.

A lot of time passed by, we were talking, and then they mentioned a math problem. Not very tough. How many 3-digit numbers have their cubes ending with 44? Well, I gave it a hurried initial thought and said none, because I thought that there was no digit which when cubed gives 4 in the unit’s place. But they said there would be many numbers.

I started thinking again. I realized that 4 cubed gives 4 in the unit’s place. No other digit does that. So the unit’s place digit of the number must be 4. I took the number as a string of 3 digits represented by x, y and z. Then the number was 100x + 10y + z. I tried to cube that expression in my head, but my formula wasn’t right. I was thinking (a+b+c)^3 = a^3 + b^3 + c^3 + 3(ab+bc+ca), which wasn’t right. I thought in that line for a long time, with the wrong formula, and couldn’t get anywhere. Then I took out my phone, and started the calculator, and found out the cubes of all 2-digit numbers ending with 4 and various leading digits, and checked how many ended with 44. This I did with the idea that the 100th place digit wouldn’t affect the last two digits of the cube. Which was right. I did this for a while, then thought some more, and got an answer. But it wasn’t ‘a lot of numbers’. The number wasn’t a lot. So I didn’t know whether to tell them or not.

All this time, the train had stopped at some station. Not a very small station. The guy who had originally mentioned the question had got up to stand by the door. I had felt like asking the name of the station once, but hadn’t.

Then the train started moving, and I looked out of the window, and slowly, floating past it, I could see a covered stairway leading from the platform and sinking down. That was familiar. I had seen it on my way to college that very day. And I felt a little queasy. Then I saw the Metro tracks outside the station, running parallel to our tracks, and the words DUMDUM JN. written on the platform wall in large letters. It went right past the window. And I thought, man, I have missed it. I felt pretty queasy.

I kept thinking about it for some time. That was bad, missing my station like that. I wish I’d asked a guy sooner which station it was. I hadn’t paid any attention at all all this while to these stations and all.

Then after some time, I asked the guy opposite me, ‘Is the answer 18?’

He said, ‘Yes.’

Then I asked, ‘Is there another station where I can get off and catch a Metro?’

He said, not really, but why didn’t I get off at Dum Dum?

P.S. It later took me a whole lot of time to get home that day.

1Life.


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