An Encounter Worth a Tale
Malaysian Airlines Flight 178 to KL saw me seated next to an old couple. They looked a bit traditional and they smiled as I plonked down in the aisle seat. I wondered if they were visiting Malaysia as we prepped to take off.
Once we were airborne, the crew came asking about the food preferences and the old couple did not seem to understand. The old man seated next to me said vegetable and the crew member was trying to explain in English that he would try to get a veggie meal. So I explained in Sinhala to the man who spoke a little bit of Sinhala and said he needs to book the veggie meal when booking the ticket. He was Thamil – I could tell from the accent and from the pottu & mukuththi in the nose of the wife next to him. The crew member said they need to pre-order which I had already explained to the old man. He then proceeded to tell me that he and his wife were headed to Bali for their son’s wedding. They had two sons and both were abroad. One son was coming from Australia to Bali for the wedding and he had booked the tickets for the parents.
He began explaining that he was originally from Jaffna and that he had always been vegetarian though his wife eats cake and things with egg. I had in the mean time offered my cake and peanuts to them while the crew foraged for a veggie meal. They initially refused but I insisted. The crew finally arrived saying they can give one veggie meal from what the crew eats and they will give cake and biscuits to make up for the other. So I translated to them in simple Sinhala and they agreed.
The old man was very pleasant and polite and while waiting for the food he said he worked hard to send his kids overseas but for them life in Sri Lanka was best. I did not get to ask whether he had faced adversities due to 1983 and the riots against the Thamil people of Sri Lanka. I felt that may have been why they sent their sons abroad. This was the tale of many parents of Thamil origin. This man did not seem to be bitter about it – he felt his sons had made good choices. Perhaps the wounds remained veiled.
The meal arrived and it was kiribath with soya curry and seeni sambol. I explained to him and he and the wife shared the meal along with the cake and biscuits. He ate a little bit and offered the rest to his wife.
Afterwards, we chatted a bit more and when I was disembarking I told them to enjoy Bali and have a safe connection. I felt it was the first time they were travelling by air and I hoped they did not miss their connection.
It was one of those things I usually don’t expect on a flight – to chit chat with people. I usually listen to music or watch a movie. Yet this was a very surprising and pleasant encounter and I felt a small tug somewhere for people like them who in their old age were happy that their children were doing well in life and that the sacrifices they made were worth it.