An uncle had sent a letter stating he would be visiting us for a few days. This uncle had visited us only once many years ago, and, besides, we had later shifted residence and it would have been difficult for him to locate our house merely with the assistance of the postal address. Mother asked me to receive him at the airport.
I was thrilled. The reason: I have travelled in trains and buses but never in an airplane; and given my meagre means, I am not likely to fly in an airplane ever. So, to me, going to the airport was the next best thing to flying in an aeroplane. At least I would be able to see those magnificent flying machines from close quarters.
There was, however, a problem - a minor one at that. I had met this uncle only once before and that too several years ago; would I be able to recognise him after so many years? There were photographs of his in the family album but they too were very old. But, then, I was confident I would be able to recognise him .... he had distinctive features; quite a roly-poly person whom you could not miss. But would he remember me? That was unlikely .... he had seen me when I was a kid with not a hair over my upper lip and, now, I had a nice shrub growing. Of course, the transition from a kid to a grown-up had brought several other physical changes as well which would have rendered me unrecognizable. That did not matter; if I could recognize him where was the need for him to remember me.
So, there I was at the airport feeling very important.
The plane arrived; the passengers alighted and made their way to the terminal to collect their luggage. I scanned the passengers and immediately picked up my uncle. There he was, no doubt about it; exactly like I had seen him years ago, perhaps a little more stouter.
I waited for my uncle to come out. He had collected his bulky suitcase and was wheeling it out on a barrow. "Hi Uncle," I called out delightedly.
He looked at me, shook his head vigorously from side to side, and continued on his away. There was no sign of recognition in his eyes.
I was puzzled. A horizontal shake of the head implied a "no". Why was he telling me "no"? I followed, called out again, and again received a vigorous sideways shake of the head. I persisted and met with the same kind of response for the third time!
I admit I am a defeatist. But here was a situation where, even though I would have liked to, I could not give in easily. I had to escort my uncle home, else I would have to go without lunch .... I could not expect mother to be forgiving if I failed to execute this particular task.
So, I braced myself. Instead of calling from behind, I overtook my uncle and stood obstructing his path. He had to halt; a mere sideways shake of the head was not going to work this time. Before he could say anything I blurted out an introduction and informed him that I had come to escort him home. He surrendered meekly this time. I picked up his suitcase and made for a waiting autorickshaw. He followed me without a murmur.
I did not like to ask him about his queer behaviour but wanted to figure it out myself. As the autorickshaw skirted through the traffic I pondered over my uncle's behaviour. Everyone has their eureka moment, and just as the autorickshaw approached my house, I had mine. Of course that was the reason, there could be no other! Uncle was quite capable of carrying a single suitcase; he would not have required the services of a porter to carry it for him. A porter offering to carry his suitcase would, therefore, have received a sideways shake of uncle's head. Uncle had taken me for a porter!