Geet and I met Sunny for the first time during our four day tour to Switzerland. He was a puny nine year old, wearing thick glasses with a constant expression of sad aloofness. Initially we took his stoicism as lethargy but that did not make any sense. We were visiting the country of the Alps, where Yash Chopra made Bollywood actresses dance in chiffon sarees in negative temperatures. Everyone in the tour bus was excited except for Sunny who had nothing but contempt in his eyes. Maybe he was too young for this tour.
His father Dr. Bhattacharya sat with him on the last seat of the bus, right behind me and Geet. His mother Mrs. Bhattacharya was busy clicking pictures of every cow, tractor and tree on the road as if the world was going to end soon and she was bestowed with the task of passing the relevant proof of the existence of Homo Sapiens to the next dominant specie. She took rest from the clicking frenzy only to stuff her family with snacks that she had brought in kilos. The tour operator shared the history of Switzerland with us in the background.
A few hours into the bus and we understood the reason why Sunny was so stolid. The initial two days were Alps-less and we toured Zurich, Geneva, Schaffhausen, Lausanne, Lucerne, Interlaken and Bern. As our tour operator poured all his general knowledge on us, we realized that his words were molted lava dripping in Sunny’s ears.
“Sunny!!! Bhaat is the name of that large fountain in Geneva?” Dr. Bhattacharya asked his son.
“Jet something,” he replied.
“Think properly Shona!” Mrs. Bhattacharya said stuffing her son with cashew filled cookies.
“Jet d’Eau,” he said after a while. His parents clapped. Geet and I looked at each other.
“What does Bern means in Swiss?”
“How many Cantons are there in Switzerland?”
“To commemorate whose memory was the carving of the dying lion created in Lucerne?”
“Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. I wish I was with them.”
“Bhaat? Anyways, Chapel Bridge is situated across which river?”
And this went on and on. We were horrified at what the poor child was going through during this ultra educational tour. I was sure that when all this would be over, Sunny will be permanently scarred and a slight inclination by his future wife to visit this romantic destination will be answered by shrieks of madness.
I remember talking to Dr. Bhattacharya during the journey where he expressed his shock that he had to wear seat belt in the bus. I argued that it was commendable that Swiss laws valued human life. I do not remember much of what else we talked about, only that Sunny slept peacefully during that one hour. Geet hailed me as a hero.
After our two days journey through the cities, it was time to visit the Alps. As our bus lifted higher and higher above the sea level, the frenzy of walking on snow that had footprints of Bollywood stars imprinted on it reached an unnerving crescendo. The bus snaked through a thousand tunnels and we saw villages on the edge of lakes surrounded by picturesque blanket of greens. People were straining their necks to get a first peek of the peaks and if the suspense would have carried on for another half an hour, we would have ended up with a new mutated specie that would have been a cross between a human and a giraffe.
Mrs. Bhattacharya was holding her camera so close to her bosom that anyone would have thought that she had a third eye there. In addition, she was jumping in the aisle with enough glee to give me a heart attack. I held Geet’s hands and chanted Hanuman Chalisa. Then everything happened very quickly.
“Boooooooootiphool! There there! Alps!!” Mrs. Bhattacharya screamed seconds before the bus entered a tunnel.
“Bhere?” Dr. Bhattacharya screamed back staring disappointingly at the insides of the tunnel. Sunny shut his eyes tightly pretending that he was asleep.
Soon the tunnel ended and the scream repeated itself. I saw a pair of buttocks jumping up and down in my line of sight and quickly realized that my armrest was not in place. I pushed it down in the nick of time and seconds later Mrs. Bhattacharya tumbled on it instead of my lap.
“Sorry,” she chirruped.
“If I would have been one second late, we would have spent the rest of our life searching for sperm donors,” I whispered in Geet’s ear. She looked with disdain at Mrs. Bhattacharya.
“What is she? A horse with crackers tied to its tail?” she squeaked.
“Control your emotions. The Alps are here,” I said, rotating her head to the window.
We stayed at the village of Engelburg, surrounded by snow covered Alps and minutes away from Mount Titlis and an hour’s drive from Jungfrau. We saw sulking Sunny during dinner. One look at his face and you could tell that the educational tour was spreading like slow poison inside him. Thank God the food was Indian.
The next day we had to take a train to the highest railway station in Europe at 11,000 ft. The prospect was endearing and would have left anyone wide-eyed. As the train spiraled up the tunnel, I spotted Sunny through the gap between the seats, sleeping peacefully. His father was frantically trying to wake him up while his mother was talking pictures of the darkness outside. I poked Geet and made her conscious of the sight. And then both of us started laughing. We laughed till tears ran down our eyes, till our faces turned red with the effort to suppress our laughter. Everyone was staring at us. The tour operator gave us uneasy looks. Our unchecked spurts of laughter took a good fifteen minutes to subside.
Later, I felt nothing but pity for the child. In a bid to train their child to become a Superman, Mr. and Mrs. Bhattacharya had ruined his holiday. Wasn’t the kid supposed to enjoy this precious time with his parents? We bid Bhattacharya family goodbye at London airport and that was the last time I saw Sunny. I hope his relationship with his parents does not hit rock bottom, although the chances of this happening are slim.
It has been three years since I visited Switzerland but there are a few moments that are etched forever in my memory –
– Sunny’s lost gaze
– Geet and I laughing hysterically in a tilted train inside a mountain
– Geet and I sitting in the balcony of our room in Engelburg with a blanket draped on both of us, looking at the fog drifting over the mountains.
– Sabotage of Mrs. Bhattacharya’s attempt to cut my family tree.
[All the pictures are taken by me]