'Sanyaa had just returned
from a trip to France. She was thrilled to have seen all
the sites and the monuments, and a culture that was different from
her own. It was her first trip to Europe. Her friends came to see
her, and they were sharing stories. Layla had been to Leh and Ladakh
with her parents and Pam had just come back from the Andaman Islands.
"So, how was your trip? Did you see Disneyland? Is the Eiffel
Tower truly daunting? Did you get any souvenirs, Layla asked.
"The trip was
fantastic, replied Sanyaa. "The India Gate in New Delhi and
the Arc De Triomphe in Paris look so similar. And, the Eiffel
Tower is indeed impressive. But the city is quite crowded now.
My parents say that it was not that populated ten years ago. Anyway,
we also saw the Louvre and Notre Dame. But most of all, we
gorged on French fries and had lots of ice creams and cakes. It
was fun, she added. Sanyaa had been thrilled when her father announced
one morning that they were going to France during the summer vacations.
His friend had also
decided to take his family to Paris that month, and so, the plan
was finalized. Sanyaa packed her bag with a lot of care, keeping
some winter clothing besides a scarf, nice walking shoes, a hat
and lots of colourful dresses. She also carried her diary. She was
going to record all the details of her trip, write a report and
put it on her page on Facebook.
When D-day arrived,
the two families reached the airport. "We were a group of nine;
four adults and five children. Munish Uncle has two sons, Samarth
and Madhav. And Sanjna and Shivang and I were the other three children.
We were very excited, and kept running about while our parents fulfilled
the formalities of checking in the baggage and getting the boarding
cards, she elaborated.
"When we landed
at Charles de Gaulle, we were transported into a different
world. The airport was huge; it had long travellators or travel
belts on which we could stand or walk slowly on, to get to the next
portion of the airport area. There were innumerable escalators and
lifts all around. It was amazing, she said, her eyes shining with
wonderful memories of the time. "When we had collected our
bags, we had to get to our hotel which was in an area called Porte
de Champerret. In Paris, like in many modern cities, maps are
very useful. The entire road, rail and metro network of the city
is laid out clearly on these maps, she pointed out.
to go to the information desk and ask for directions. We tagged
along and heard the conversation. There were three options. We could
take a cab, which would be expensive. It was going to cost at least
60 euro per cab, which seemed like an awful lot to pay, by Indian
standards. We could opt for a bus, which would not be that expensive
but it would take time. And then, there was the Metro, she explained.
The group decided to take the metro.
According to the train
map, they had to go westward from Charles de Gaulle. The
map showed the rail lines marked in different colours and with different
alphabets identifying them. A thick light blue line called the RER
B would take them up to a point called La Chapelle. They
had to get off there and take a thin but dark blue line, and go
up to a place called Villiers, which was in the north-west part
of the city. From here, they had to join a thin jade line, and their
destination was the fourth stop from there.
Layla and Pam were
quite curious to see the map. "Do you have a copy? It will
be wonderful to see this network that you describe, stressed Layla.
Sanyaa went to her book shelf and brought out a file marked - "Parisian
Sojourn. Inside it were a lot of souvenirs, including a map of
Paris, a map of the metro, photos of the Eiffel Tower, post cards,
a guide map of the Louvre, cards of paintings therein, tickets to
Disneyland Paris, small Eiffel Tower souvenirs and key chains.
Sanyaa brought out
the RER map and laid it out on the bed. It was a great maze of lines
cutting each other all across the city. There were blue lines and
green lines; red and pink lines; yellow, orange and mustard lines
and purple and brown-coloured lines as well. The children hadnt
seen a map like that before. "Wow! This is awesome
complicated. How do people even learn to read it, asked Pam, a
"I know, it seems
a bit over-whelming but with a little practice, each line is clearly
visible, with every station marked quite well, Sanyaa insisted.
"The map is pasted on all trains and notice boards all over
the city. One needs to just read it carefully to decide which train
to take and from which station. It is very practical. Then, there
is the city map, which highlights all the main roads and streets,
"We had both
maps and were quite confident of locating our hotel as we got out
of the Porte de Champerret station. Despite our best efforts,
it had taken us nearly two hours to get there from the airport.
We had too many bags, and had to drag them all across the underground
subways. Then, there was the question of managing Shivang, who is
but a baby. Besides, Anu aunty had a knee problem and she walked
really slowly but she was great fun and cracked jokes all the time
and made us laugh, Sanyaa narrated.
"When we got
out of the station, there was yet another issue. We did not know
where our hotel would be. Munish uncle took out the voucher and
read the name of the hotel. It was called Chanel and it was on
Berthier Street. We looked around for the name but could not
spot anything. The road on which we were standing was called Avenue
de la Porte de Champerret. It said nothing about a Berthier. Everyone
was getting impatient and anxious. Mom was tired of carrying Shivang.
Anu auntys knee was aching. And, Samarth, Madhav, Sanjna and I
were completely fatigued from lugging all those bags, she pointed
out. "We were all going in different directions. Some of us
wanted to cross the street and check on the other side. Yet others
were dissecting the map. Samarth was checking out further on the
same side of the road.
It was one big cauldron
of confusion. And then, by consensus, we just crossed the street.
Dad went to check the far end of the street on one side and Munish
Uncle went off to the other end. We were sitting on our bags and
waiting for them.
Behind us was a lovely
florist shop with huge glass windows. The door was open, and the
smell of the flowers wafted out. Our attention was diverted and
we began looking at the big flowers kept in large colorful vases,
when Samarth said - Hey Sanyaa. You know French, dont you? Why
dont you go in and ask for directions? I was a bit taken aback.
I did know a little bit but would I be able to do this, I asked
myself, Sanyaa confessed to her friends.
"Anyway, I went
in, and for the first time in France that day, greeted someone in
French. The florist beamed at me. I then told him that I was lost,
and asked him if he knew where that particular hotel was. He started
grinning, and took me by the hand. He brought me up to a street
behind his shop. There, written in beautiful red letters was the
name of our hotel. Pretty little flower pots were hanging out of
the windows of the building. I almost cried with joy. I thanked
him profusely and began running back to the main street, she described.
"Using the native language had helped. I should have thought
of it earlier, she added. Her friends smiled. And, Pam had the
last words - ``It doesnt hurt
.to try, she said.
Sangita P. Menon Malhan,
I am a short story writer, located in New Delhi, India. For most
of my professional life, I was a journalist with a national newspaper.
I am currently a freelance editor and translator. The stories I
write are primarily for children and the youth. Their readership,
so far, has been Indian, and therefore, the stories have Indian