It pays to be cautious when you are in foreign territory
In Europe, your skin colour easily gives you away and you can be easy prey if you are not a trifle careful. People quickly recognise you as Indian, and if you aren’t one, then possibly a Bangladeshi or a Sri Lankan. Most Pakistanis have a much fairer complexion anyway and, therefore, you are unlikely to be identified as such.
For all the discipline, cleanliness and the good things of life, climate included, many parts in Europe aren’t really as safe as you might think. While I was on the tube from Cologne to Brussels Nord, there was an announcement that came several times before we alighted, cautioning passengers about pickpockets at the station.
Thankfully, my co-passenger was the friendly sort. She was from Brussels Nord and walked me all the way up to the hotel. And as we trudged up the steep incline, there were many eyes on me, most of them with a Turkish-Arab background, and quite a few Blacks as well who it was clear were up to no good. She was kind enough to advise me not to go out late evenings as it was not a very safe place for visitors. I heeded her advice and remained indoors, already quite tired by all the travel.
In Dusseldorf, I was shadowed by a couple of men, one I’m certain of Arab descent, and the other a German who puffed non-stop. I had a little time on my hands after a visit to the printing fair and chose to walk around near the hotel, looking for souvenirs inside a few shops. I really had no clue I was being followed. It was only when one of them hastened up to me before I entered a store and asked me to come outside to talk that I quickly understood what was happening.
Fortunately again, the owner of the store happened to be Indian and I made sweet conversation with him hoping the guy would back out. But he was loathe to let go and trooped inside the store, his eyes on me constantly. Since the hotel was close by I managed to get by, but only just. He had almost caught up to the entrance and finally left only after the hotel manager came to my side. That was when I spotted the German puffing away wildly. He had driven up to the kerb to pick up his friend. And I wondered what it was they wanted from me.
Well, the store I trooped into was run by Batra from Delhi. There was a discount sale going on and that had caught my eye. It was while talking to him that I realised the goods were all from Delhi and, would you believe it, China! He had come to Germany when he was 19, probably in the late-1970s. His married daughter was helping him with the business. And they seemed to be quite prosperous. He said he was sending money to his folks back in Delhi and looking after others who constantly harried him for monetary help.
Pictures show the Turkish neighbourhood where I stayed overnight on my return Cologne; Batra posing in front of his store in Dusseldorf; a group of Indian girls talking excitedly to their families as they stand in awe before the Cologne Cathedral; and another group of young engineers from BGR Boilers, Chennai, led by S Venkataraman, the GM. They’ve been in Germany the past three months on work and it was their day out.