It happened on a rainy chilly winter night in New York City. I was attending a panel discussion about the culture of the Indo Caribbean communities in New York City and beyond, organized by the members of SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association). It was one of the first events I went for and this invitation had come to me from an online friend I’d known for years but whom I’d never met!
In fact, I was looking for a change from my usual routine of classes, cleaning, cooking, and commuting, more than the discussion as such. As it was a particularly dreary evening, it took quite an effort for me to get ready and leave the comfort of my apartment. Anyway I put on all the different layers of clothing hoping it would be enough to keep me warm during the evening and after rechecking my train route options and the weather forecast, I gingerly stepped out of my cosy apartment around 6.30pm.
The event was scheduled to start at 8pm and we were expected to be there by 7.45 or so. Since it was a new route I looked forward to the subway commute and was not disappointed. I had to take a train to GC station and then switch to another train to reach this place in Manhattan. The second train was new to me and it had a different feel to it altogether. This was a relatively posh locality and the difference was so obvious. The trains were better lighted, majority of the commuters were Americans and there were no beggars. I began to feel slightly out of place but given the fact that New Yorkers don’t look you in the eye if you’re a stranger, the feeling did not last long.
Soon I was walking towards the venue and I realized it was still early. I had almost 15-20mins to kill and so I walked aimlessly through the streets. Thats when it started to drizzle and I could not help but break into a wide grin. I love the rains and it always cheers me up instantly. Most people often find rains a nuisance, especially if they are outside & traveling. It is quite understandable especially when its already cold outside and everyone is covered in layers of clothing!
For me its different though. I’ve always loved the rains and often I’ve felt as though the skies were sending me a message gently reminding me that I’m cared for. Like as though a Guardian angel was watching over me. This may sound crazy but there have been several times in my life when I’ve felt pained/hurt or lonely/depressed and suddenly the rains have come rushing to my aid filling me up with good cheer & joy.
Soon it was almost 8 and I walked back to the venue and proceeded to the first floor of the building where the discussion was scheduled to take place. There were already quite a few people and I looked around curiously wondering whether my friend was among them. She was not. So I chose a chair in the 3rd row from the front and started to observe my surroundings.
The venue was a large longish hall which also seemed to be a gallery of some sort. There were a few paintings displayed on the back wall of the room and I slowly walked over to see who the artists were. It seemed to be part of a show that had just ended a day before and the artists were expected to collect their works before the coming weekend. Most of the artists seemed to be Asians and I guessed it was some kind of Art Show promoting perhaps a particular group of Asians. Some of the works were amazingly detailed and exquisitely colorful. I was lost in one such painting showing a semi naked woman in the arms of her lover when someone tapped on my shoulder.
It was my online friend. We had known each other for over 3 years in the online world but now we were actually meeting each other for the first time. Somehow there seemed to be a familiarity we shared and soon we were catching up on our lives as though we were bosom pals meeting after a long break. As the discussion was about to begin, we exchanged our contact numbers and promised to meet again before getting back to our respective seats.
The discussion was quite interesting and the topic was completely new to me. I was rather surprised to learn that the Indo-Caribbeans are the largest ethnic group in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. They are the second largest group in Jamaica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and other countries. There are populations in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, French Guiana, Grenada, Panama, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Guadeloupe. There are also small groups often called “mulatts” who are of Indian descent in Haiti.
The panel had an interesting mix of personalities ranging from the owner of RBC Radio, a historian, film director, community organizer, journalist, documentary photographer & a social entrepreneur. Each of them had interesting personal stories to share combined with a little bit of funny trivia and some facts. Later everyone was invited to sample some of their cuisine but I excused myself as it was quite late and I had a long day ahead of me.
After saying goodbye to my friend, I was walking to the subway station when suddenly I heard the light, soulful strains of a violin and I realized it was coming from the station. I hurried towards the station so as to hear more of the lovely melody emanating from there. As I entered I noticed a tall thin Chinese man on the other side of the station, leaning against a pillar and playing his violin with a casualness I could only envy!
His music was so enchanting that I missed a couple of trains just to listen to him some more. Finally when he finished his piece, I broke into loud applause even though there were only a handful of people waiting in the otherwise silent station and this created a kind of stir among the others. Slowly the others joined in and soon the near empty station began reverberating with the sound of our applause. The Chinese man smiled & humbly bowed in our general direction but he saved a slight wink for me. I grinned back in acknowledgment as I stepped into the train that had just entered the station. As the train gained momentum, I looked back at my Chinese friend one last time and waved. He waved back.
I never had a chance to go to that station after that night and never saw my Chinese friend again but his melody will always remain with me. Music had connected two strangers that night in that near empty subway station in Manhattan!