Friday, May 30, 2008

5 - The station again, and another part of the city

I go down to the station in the afternoon, mainly to be able to catch a sight of the train of great speed that, rather imaginatively, is named 'the train of great speed'. I watch the sleek, earthworm-like, phallic shape pull out, even as it desists from doing so at great speed. I walk around the by-now-much-more-crowded Zurich Hauptbahnhof. It turns out there are additional platforms underneath the ones I've seen in the morning. Around the underground platforms is sprawled a massive shopping plaza that's almost hidden out of sight when you're upstairs.

**
The Toblerone arena that was being set up in the station foyer in the morning has much more action and bigger crowds by now. Screens show videos of the story of the founders of Toblerone, the history of the company, and the process of manufacturing chocolates. People help themselves to chocolates from bowls placed around the arena - I do too.

At one long table, people put their heads down and fill stenciled outlines of the words 'Toblerone' with colours. Many others huddle behind them to watch. 5-year olds happily spill colours outside the lines, sitting beside grandmothers who fill in slowly, easily; even as twenty-somethings rub the crayons back and forth in brisk, smooth motions. People who finish make way for other passers-by who start on another sheet. A bearded man is watching his wife and kid daughter bent over the table, immersed amid their crayons. He smiles at me, points at the '100-years-of-Toblerone' balloon, and exclaims 'Magnifique chocolate, monsieur'.

At another set of tables, people take opened-up-Toblerone-wrappers and fold-and-stick them into the characteristic triangular-prism-shape of Toblerone packs. A tower is being made of these prism-packs. A crowd cheers as it expectantly looks upwards at the tower-top where a volunteer atop a ladder adds new packs. An electronic counter reads 7571, indicating the number of prisms already in the paper-tower.

I watch at one of the tables as two women and an old man are intent in their folding-into-prisms act. One of them, a girl with flaming lipstick and pierced chin flashes a radiant smile and invites me - "Why dont you join in?". A young mother who's doing the folding-and-sticking while balancing her toddler adds - "Yes, please do." After much struggle with the cellotape and gum-stick, I wish I had a few more hands to keep the folds in place. I finish my first pack with an exultant sigh, in the time the young mother's done three. The old man at the table and gives me a "'Tis okay, you only need to get used to it". My second pack is much faster, though it looks like the folds will burst apart any moment.

**

Sometime later, as I exit the station, the mum-with-toddler-at-Toblerone passes by. She spots me amid the milling crowd , lets forth an exuberant smile and does a "Hello again. How've you been?". A couple of pleasantries later comes the "Have a nice day". It's fascinating to see the warmth and affability of the people I meet, and more so when it's put in the context of prim, formal localities I see everywhere.

After being in India, you dont quite expect uninvited greetings or good wishes - it's pleasantly surprising to be able to return compliments to people you hardly know. Even random people I strike up conversations with show an unprepossessing warmth I've hardly seen elsewhere. It's all the more surprising since most people, like their city, drape themselves in formal starched-plain exteriors that can make you feel underdressed.

**

I find a part of the city that doesnt look like it's dressed up in a suit-boot-tie. In a narrow lane behind the Limmat river, there's an open square that you could call the city's flea market. It's a counterweight to the culture of the rest of the city, even though it is very insignificant in size.

Here's everything that Zurich city would shudder at. Just outside the open-square quadrangle, there're cobblestoned pedestrian-only roads; there're Asian, Mexican and Turkish food stalls; there're cloth shops that have shelves packed with clothes, unlike the spacious designer-display-shops in the rest of Zurich. Inside the quadrangle, there're vendors in t-shirts, sombreros and long beards, people who look like they have no qualms about skipping a bath. There're also Ganesha statues, necklaces made of strange beads, jewelry made of feathers, stones that are a world apart from Zurich's primary-colour-identity.

12 comments:

lavender tulips said...

Sounds like you're enjoying it immensely & soaking it all in! Have a blast =)

QKumar said...

[Lavender T.] - Yes, twas massive fun! Esp. going around and seeing places like crazy! Only, well, there never is enough money to have even more fun. :-)

gee said...

Phallic.
Uh?

QKumar said...

[Gee] - Is there any other portion of the anatomy that you'd prefer? :p

QKumar said...

[Gee] - Yes, you may now enter a faux-Freudian interpretation of that startling usage.

lavender tulips said...

[Lavender T.] - Yes, twas massive fun! Esp. going around and seeing places like crazy! Only, well, there never is enough money to have even more fun. :-)

I disagree! I think the most fun you have, is for free :)

Harish Kumar said...

The most striking behavioural change is the uninvited greetings and pleasantries which give such a nice feeling especially when you are in phoren lands. That's one thing that I have tried to learn and 'implement' 'back here'. For starters, I try to wish everyone that I meet in the office in the morning. People seem to like that and invariably they do leave the elevator with a smile which can either mean that they like it or think I'm stupid!

QKumar said...

[Lavender T.] - Aww. {Blushes}. I concede that I've a rather high fun to expenditure ratio. :-).

[Harish] - I think one needs a sli thick skin to pull off unconditional politeness in India - mainly to resist prospects of being considered stupid. That way, IMO, tis great you seem to have made a beginning in implementation.

lavender tulips said...

High fun to expenditure ratio?? LOL!

You know I've often said thank you to yelaneer vendors, bus drivers, auto drivers, saree house door men & most them usually really appreciate a thank you. They smile & they nod their heads & its sweet. I was bullied to get on a train once & when I woke up I said good morning & smiled at the guy on the bunk next to us. He's the only weird reaction I've ever gotten. He ignored me completely & acted as if I was hitting on him or something.
Hahaha, that said, I'm always telling people off for cutting queues in India, or like pushing past me to get in an elevator. Some get angry, some just stare at me. Sigh...whole different world India is.

QKumar said...

[L.T.] - A lot of people are pleasantly surprised - my lift guy, my cafeteria people et al. Most frequent cause of weirdness is people thinking one is hitting on them.

The Qkumar charm puts such people all the more on their guard. Who would have thunk that that had a downside, eh? :-)

lavender tulips said...

Lol, you nutter. :)

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