After a 14 day ride up north from Bangkok, I finally reached Chiang Mai yesterday.
The great thing about travelling on a bicycle is that you get to transition from one place to another. The shift in place is not sudden like a train, bus or an aeroplane journey where you travel from point to point.
And with the slowly changing landscape, food, flora and fauna, I also noticed another discerning change.
This change was about people.
I bicycled mostly through rural Thailand. Even though people did not speak English at all, they offered helped in the best manner possible. They would smile more often. Without any reason I would find myself smiling at them as I passed by their field of view at a leisurely pace. And over the past two weeks, I learnt to smile at strangers.
As I reached Chiang Mai yesterday afternoon, I stopped at a public park to rest.
Being the second biggest city in Thailand, it has a sizable population. Tourists thronged the city to celebrate the Thai new year ‘Songkran’ in huge numbers.
Sinking in the feeling of having safely reached the city, I smiled, just like I did at the village folk in rural Thailand.
I looked into the eyes of people passing by and smiled genuinely, like a child.
I was happy and I wanted to share the energy.
But I was met with reserved smiles, guarded hearts looking at me curiously.
For a moment I wondered,
‘Why aren’t people smiling?’
Equally perplexing was the way people were reveling in the streets with uninhibited laughter and festivity of Songkran celebration. People were splashing water at pedestrians and passer-by and laughing their hearts out.
But the kind, natural, sincere smile was missing everywhere I saw.
In a few hours, I had to accept the reality of how a city gets used to individuality, at the expense of a collective community.
My smiles became much guarded in a day, just to not make other people uncomfortable.
In my eyes however, there still was unbound happiness and wonder.
As I walked past a big building in the city today, the security guard and I exchanged a glance. And we both smiled at each other in perfect consonance. What a welcome change it was !
Deep down I know, he still has a little part of the village in his heart,
As do I.
While we cannot change a city’s culture,
We can surely influence the culture through our interactions, our immediate surroundings,
In the little world we dwell in.
As I write, I am looking at a flower and wondering,
‘The flower is only looking to transform itself from a bud to a bloom, not worried about where it is in the world.
It only expresses its energy and graces the little world it dwells in.
We as creators of culture are confronted with a choice.
And in the interest of more smiles,
We should always yearn,