As the Boeing leapt into the celestial darkness, leaving behind the Santa Cruz “Milky Way”, I felt a sudden spasm of excitement.

Then as I relaxed in my seat I remembered something. I looked at Sayeda, my sister, who was going to Berlin with me, to see if she was also thinking the same thing.

  • waheeda in salwar kameez

When our eyes met, I could see that she was. “Remember how as children we used to plan these foreign trips?” she said reminiscently.

It used to be great fun, this planning of our imaginary trips to London, Paris, and America. “We liked to imagine we had our own planes,” Sayeda went on, “because the family was large, and because we wanted to take our parents along, well, here we are going to Berlin,”

In a sense, our going to Berlin was a dream come true, but only part of it. The other part going with our parents we were still dreaming about.

The nostalgia perhaps sprang from a feeling of insecurity. We were, after all, two Indian girls going alone to Berlin.

Twenty years ago it would have been considered as something unheard of in our family, if not downright impossible.

  • waheeda portrait

Our first stop was Beirut, at 6 a.m. (local time). We had a hurried cup of coffee. The next halt, Rome, was more interesting: we caught a glimpse of the Vatican, which was then in the news owing to the preparations for the election of a new Pope.

We landed at Frankfurt at 10 am. It reminded me of Mysore. Clean beautiful roads, with fast-moving traffic. Mr. B. R. Chopra joined us here and we flew on to Berlin.

At the airport, Mr. Chopra was whisked away by the members of the Festival Jury. We later learnt that jurors were not supposed to mix with members of the film delegations.

Our stay in Berlin, where we put up at the Hotel Savoy, was made delightful by the German people’s warm hospitality.

But I was impressed even more by their human qualities. They can put you at ease with just a smile. The young German lady who was to look after us and show us the city was happily surprised when I told her the names of places and things I wanted to see.

“And, of course, I would like to go shopping alone in the Kurfurstendamm,” I said. She was delighted.

  • waheeda posing

June 27 was my lucky day. For the first time in my life, I watched TV; I saw the U.S. President, Mr. John Kennedy, from the roof of a cafe, also for the first time; and in the evening I attended the screening of my picture, “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam,” at the festival.

This year the attendance of Hollywood stars was very poor. But my disappointment was mitigated at seeing President Kennedy.

There were a number of parties in honor of the delegates, mostly after midnight. We had begun to wonder whether the German’s slept at all when we discovered that we ourselves could do with only something to do with it,” Sayeda observed.

The delegated were presented to the audience at the screening of their pictures. I wore gharara and khameez for the occasion.

It was an instant success. The wives of some of the jurors came up to ask me if I knew how to stitch a gharara-khameez and would I please show them how?

And the sari everyone admired it for the grace and elegance it lent its wearer. Our Indian costumes were easily the most popular.

“Our European dress is so poor, compared to Indian dress, as far as variety is concerned,” a juror’s wife said to me.

  • waheeda in berlin

“Basically, European dress never changes. Sometimes the pleats go up and sometimes they come down. The length of the skirt varies according to the whims of the people.”

I am sure, in her assessment f western dress, she was more frivolous than fair. I visited East Berlin. It stood as a reminder of the war.

The old buildings damaged by bombs, the rubble, and the ruins are still there. If one could create artificial wisps of smoke amidst these ruins, the picture would be complete.

But new and very beautiful buildings are coming up in some quarters of East Berlin. Still, after the affluence of the Western sector, the contrast was glaring.

To An Indian: Food Problem

To an Indian, food poses the biggest single problem in Europe. If you don’t eat pork, well, there is hardly anything else on the menu.

We concentrated on chicken and were soon fed up. And you may consider yourself lucky if you can get a glass of water. The first time I asked for a glass of water, at the Frankfurt aerodrome, I was met with the polite query: “Why do you want water?” I said, “Well, I want to drink it.”

It was suggested I try the washbasin tap the only place where they had plain water. We were offered soda water, which is hardly satisfying if you are thirsty.

In Berlin, we managed with a few gulps of water after lunch and dinner. We decided to leave Berlin on June 28. “But why do you want to go so early,” everyone asked.

“We want to see Paris,” we said, “before going to London.” “Oh! Paris. Well, then you are excused,” was the general reaction.

  • waheeda with guru dutt at berlin festival

We landed in Paris to find that Mr. J., the gentleman who was supposed to meet us at the airport, hadn’t arrived. He was also supposed to have done our hotel bookings.

Phew! Those first two hours in Paris! That confusing conversation with porters and officials, our English trying to compete with their French, and that very, very unnerving sudden realization that we were on our own in a strange city among people whom we didn’t know, it was enough to send us into a state of near panic.

We had to queue up for a taxi from the airport after having carried our luggage most of the way. We decided to go to the Hotel California where our reservations were supposed to have been made.

“There is no booking for a Miss Rehman,” said the receptionist. We gave him J’s name. After an agonizing half-hour of suspense, we managed to get rooms.

Hours later J. rang up to find out if we had arrived and if we had got the accommodation. Our brief stay in Paris was full of misadventure, mostly owing to our ignorance of local customs.

I had not, for instance, known about the customary Parisian indifference towards any vehicle of human thought, except French.

It’s a salutary thought that Frenchmen and Englishmen should have fought each other at various times in history, without bothering to learn each other’s language. Besides, the English constitute 80 percent of the tourists in France.

Paris and its people, I had heard a lot about both. Perhaps I did not stay there long enough to discover that charm which the city and its people are supposed to exude.

  • waheeda with south american actress fose

The city is positively beautiful but the people, I am sure, could well do with a little more politeness. Whenever we were stuck for an address on the road or had trouble getting a taxi, those who helped us were Poles, Englishmen, Germans, Scandinavians, or Hungarians.

If you have ever met a stony-eyes policeman, turning a deaf ear to your entreaties and dismissing you with s shrug, you should know how I felt.

On a conducted tour, I visited Notre Dame and other historical places. What impressed me most was Napoleon’s tomb, built with red marble from Austria.

We left out hotel on June 30 to fly to London. During our stay, we had the pleasure of talking to J. several times, mostly on the telephone.

It was more than just a conspiracy of circumstances that we couldn’t get his help when we needed it most. When we left our hotel in a hurry to catch the plane, we couldn’t contact him.

On reaching the airport, we found that an airline strike was on. All flights had been canceled and now the problem was to get back to the hotel.

There was a long queue for stranded air passengers at the taxi stand; and, while I guarded the luggage, Sayeda stood in the queue.

When her turn came I went struggling with our baggage, to the taxi. This created trouble. The policeman thought we were queue jumpers.

He rudely brushed me aside and I angrily tried to explain that my sister was in the queue. But he ordered us both back. We were quite tired after having waited for 2.5 hours for our turn, and I did not want to go through it all over again.

Sayeda became very nervous. “Waheeda.” she said anxiously,” “don’t quarrel with the policeman.” The argument would have gone on, but for the timely intervention of an Italian gentleman who came out of the queue, shoved our luggage into the taxi, and pointed out to the policeman that he had made a mistake.

  • waheeda after movie premiere

“Hotel California, Rue DU Barry, Champs Elysee,” I told the taxi driver, not a little jubilantly. At the hotel, we were told that our rooms had already been given to new guests.

“You said you were flying to London, so we gave the rooms to someone else,” said the man at the desk. “We did not know that there was a strike at the airport,” I said.

“So you knew that there was a strike and you did not inform us when we were leaving?” I asked. “Well. I thought you knew it, too.”

“But I don’t understand French. How could I have read about it in the papers?” He expressed his inability to provide us with any accommodation.

Exasperating Experience

“That’s all right,” I said cheerfully. “We will spend the night here in the reception hall.” We got a room.

J’s secretary rang up to find out how we were. “Stay wherever you are,” he advised, a little belatedly, but we had to be in London the next morning for the opening of my film there.

We asked him to get two seats for us on the evening train. He said it was impossible. After wasting half a day to get someone to help us book the train reservations, Sayeda and I went out to buy the tickets ourselves.

After knocking around for three exasperating hours, interviewing mute railway officials, and watching innumerable shrugging shoulders we managed to get two seats for the 9 p.m. train.

While we were packing our luggage at the hotel, J’s secretary rang up again to say that he had got two tickets for London on the next day’s evening train.

Later J. himself came on the line and wished us goodbye. We arrived at the station early and had to wait outside the platform. The porter kept up waiting.

He seems to be too occupied with everybody else’s luggage, and there were only a few minutes left for the departure of the train. We decided that we could do without a porter.

  • waheeda in indian ambassay

The suitcases were quite heavy and I, particularly, felt very miserable. On the platform, we saw the luggage trolleys going in a different direction.

We got confused. Then two Indians, one a Sikh from Kenya, came to our rescue; we thanked them and boarded the train.

At Calais, we embarked for Dover, across the English Channel. Our friends took good care of us and invited us for a cup of coffee in the restaurants onboard.

What a change it was to meet courteous English people at Dover. We felt as though we were back in India. From Dover to London we traveled with American, English, and German women.

Comparing notes about our experiences in France, we all agreed that the French were positively rude. We were amused when the young ladies asked us if we lived in huts in India.

We assured them that civilization had reached India long ago! Before we parted at Victoria Station I gave each a present. They were happily surprised.

Our stay in London was brief. The spell of travel is over. There are no more German faces around, glowing with friendliness. The French with their peculiar way of looking at women intently and menacingly are a none too happy memory.

Those exotic moments in a perfume shop in Paris, those agonizing hours at the airport, those prayers to God that if only we reached home safely we would never travel again, are all over.

They have left a feeling of satisfaction that we made the trip entirely on our own. And, perhaps, we shall do it again someday.- Filmfare1963

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