I fell in love towards the fag end of my trip to Iceland. The girl who stole my heart was none other than the 9 year old daughter of my friend Magnus, Katrin.
In between sips of an excellent goblet of Napoleon Cognac and being educated by Magnus in the eponymous beverage (this story will be told elsewhere), while soaking sun in his splendid lakeside villa, I was chatting up with his wife, Margaret, when his youngest kid, Katrin skips in. Before that I have already had a pleasant meeting with the house dog and cat. Margaret was impressed that neither disliked my company. This could either be taken as a compliment or an insult, I preferred the former.
Magical mountains with smattering of white on the crests, the emerald lake and the twilight, all viewed through the panoramic glass bay windows, Magnus had, seemed like a heaven sent place. I had never felt this comfortable and right in the place anywhere else. So in comes Katrin. She proffers a simple ‘Hi’ and a kind of grimace on her impish face. I must have looked distinctly distasteful to her excellent upbringing. Try as much as I could, since I simply love kids and Katrin is adorable as a doll, she wouldn’t speak a word with me, and will only wrinkle her nose or twitch it like Sabrina, and smile once in a while. I soon realized that she did not speak any English, except ‘hi’ and ‘yes’. Since I couldn’t manage even that in Icelandic, I decided to start a conversation through Margaret, whose English is impeccable.
Soon enough, the room filled up with the lilting keynotes from the piano as Katrin grazed the keys with her tiny fingers. I did not understand anything at all, save that it was a beautiful piece, which she had learned through a system called, Suzuki system. Thereafter we shifted to the dining table, where once again I over ate. When I left after spending few hours at Magnus’ place, I wasn’t sure if I had been able to enter Katrin’s good books after all.
Few days later, a group of friends gathered at a summer house by the lake of Thingvallavatr (I hope I got the spelling right) to bid me goodbye. It was supposed to be a day of barbecues, boating and banter in that order. The Thingvallavatr episode will come later. When I reached the venue, what took my breath away was the simple, vast expanse of the lake and what made me really happy was to find that Magnus was there too along with Katrin and Margaret. Dressed in a red jacket, Katrin was no less than a ‘little red riding hood’. The first evening went off in barbecues and banter, but I caught up with her the next morning, when everyone was still fast asleep. Katrin, twitched her nose and rolled her eyes mysteriously, and finally said, ‘Yes’ to my boating offer. So, there we were, a 45 yr old bumbling Indian and a nine year old, sure of herself as ever, walking down to the boat pier. It was a blue boat with two oars and two life jackets. I was about to step into the boat, when Katrin put a restraining hand on my back.
She had by now, assumed the role of a strict boating instructor as any I ever had in the Navy. With stern expression, she pointed to me, (she too knew by now that we could only communicate through silence) and the life jacket, then at herself, putting on her jacket. I followed her instructions carefully. After she had checked that my jacket was tightened to her satisfaction, she bestowed me with a dazzling smile. Then she directed me to get into the boat, which I did. She pulled the boat into the water and then jumped in, as it was floating away into the water. She took the oars and gestured for me to sit still as she could sense that I was getting excited and was trying to dip my hand into the limpid water. She pulled the boat out of the narrow channel into the wide water.
I was enjoying this rather pleasure cruise. Katrin rowing, the gentle breeze babbling in my ears, Arctic tarns diving for fish, the endless lake simply fading away into the mountains, ducks squabbling, the summer cottage of my friend receding, the morning just growing out of the snow covered horizons. Lost in my reverie, I suddenly sensed some urgent gesturing from my front. Katrin was indicating that my holiday was over and she wanted me to take over the oars.
We exchanged places. I took the oars in my hand as if they were a pair of oversized gorillas. Bumbling as I was in such matters, the oars would simply slip out of my hands and nearly lost into the depths of the lake, but for Katrin’s deft hands. She put her arms on her waist akimbo and fixed me with a stare that could literally melt all the icecaps on Iceland. I understood I had a tough instructor and could not play the fool endlessly. So I rowed. But I was nowhere near her expectations or expertise. She sighed exasperated, with helplessness and sheer bewilderment I guess. She had the worst nightmare in her boat, who did not speak her tongue. While I was rolling in mirth deep inside, I had to maintain a very straight exterior. She gestured madly, with both hands, eyes, nose and head. The oar that she wanted me to row, that side her hand would wave and the other one would stop in a fist. So we would turn. When she wanted me to row both the oars then her both hands would wave gently. Eyeing my fright, she would even give me encouraging smiles and occasional ‘thumbs up’. Thus goaded, chided and coached we somehow returned inside the channel and into the pier. She jumped off from the boat and pulled the boat with me inside up-shore. I stumbled out so fast, feeling, oh so proud of having rowed and finally getting some approving smiles and thumbs up from the girl I fell in love with, that I nearly fell back into the water. So I ended up with another barrage of rolling eyes, twitching nose and arms akimbo.
With boating completed and still alive to tell the tale, I found Magnus on the verandah of the cottage with a grin splitting his face from ear to ear. As we reached him, he guffawed, ‘Well I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. A navy Commander with 21 years of sea service learning boating from Katrin!’
May be Magnus didn’t notice, but on that morning, I did learn a lot from his nine year old daughter. I learnt that however simple the task is, one must always be prepared for the worst and one must know one’s technique. I also learnt that a child has much more patience than a grown up man and a child has a lot to teach only if we are willing to learn.
Through the entire episode, though, I had to try really hard to pretend that I was a bumbling boatman. But what I gained out of my tomfoolery was a bonding with Katrin and now I am enthused to learn Icelandic and she to learn English and I promised her to show real India one day soon.