Strangers when we meet!

Sometimes an interaction with a stranger can be a rewarding experience, staying with you like a warm memory or leading to unexpected insights.

As the Shatabdi pulled out from Chandigarh, I had just heaved a sigh of relief to note the empty seat next to me, when a pleasant looking lady came across and asked if she could sit there. She politely explained that she was uncomfortable with the guy sitting with her at her assigned seat. I normally look forward to burying my nose happily in a book or getting down to some writing during a journey.

But this one time I had one of those atypical moments – and not only did I nod a welcome, but also happily engaged in conversation with her through the journey. Such was the intensity and engagement of our conversation that both of us were genuinely surprised when we reached Delhi; time had flown!

With the outskirts of Delhi came a reality check, and a bit abashed, the lady, who admittedly had done most of the talking and shared some personal stuff too, sheepishly said that she had told me some things she had never shared ever with anyone. But this did not seem to bother her at all. In fact, she seemed very happy having spoken at length to me. For my part, I was very touched and felt richer for having shared the story of her life, an admittedly very interesting one that made me think deep and long. We exchanged numbers but never really tried to connect.

Another time again on the Shatabdi leaving from Delhi this time, on a whim, I sent her a text, telling her I was on the train to Chandigarh. She instantly responded that she was on the same train, the same coach! As it happened, she was just a few rows ahead of me. We both were amazed at such a chance, but this time I was busy writing my column and she, attending to her Mom who was accompanying her. So we did not seek to recreate the magic of that first meeting of strangers. And perhaps you cannot replicate it when you are no longer strangers!

We have all grown up with warnings against talking to strangers. We have also seen enough crime shows to know that interacting with strangers can lead us into trouble. And yet, at some time each of us has had an enchanting encounter with a stranger — shared a warm conversation and happy moments, even spilling some secrets to a genuinely interested ear!

Research proves that people’s moods improve and they feel happier on a day when they have interacted with a stranger rather than riding their commute alone, listening to music or reading. Experts state that even a brief talk with a stranger can sometimes help boost your sense of well-being and your outlook on life! And then of course some strangers can move on to have a deeper connect and become an important part of your life – as a friend or even as a life partner!

But such long-term benefits apart, there are other unexpected momentary pleasures in talking to strangers. Kim Stark, author of ‘When Strangers Meet’ says that it can lead to a special form of closeness and communication that sociologists term as “fleeting intimacy”. This can comfort us as well as leave us feeling somewhat fulfilled and content. Kim believes that it is easier to communicate with strangers because we do not expect to meet them again, nor do we have any biases against them. And so, not fearing any consequences, we tend to open up and be honest, sometimes sharing intimate secrets as well. And quite often, a secret begets a secret, and we find ourselves having a warm interaction with someone we don’t even know! In such a scenario, with our defenses down and sharing secrets, you could be rewarded with a rare insight! Is it any wonder then that so many books, movies and songs revolve around meetings and encounters with strangers!

However, not every interaction with a stranger may turn out as desirable as we expect it to be. Hence it is very important to take the precaution of figuring out that you do not end up sharing your life details with a sociopath! Kim advises that we must use our perceptions as mature adults and make choices rather than to give in to fears and biases.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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