This morning, breakfast was a rather unusual affair for me. Unlike the familiar routine of sitting on the dining table with a bowl of cereal and the newspaper for company, I had the rare chance of dining with a military intelligence officer.
Uncle B is one of my father's oldest friends and a highly decorated intelligence officer who has served the country for over twenty-five years. I had never had the chance to meet him before (owing to his profession), so the first few minutes of conversation were general ice-breakers.
As we both warmed up to each other and questions regarding my future plans started to pop up, I decided that it was only fair that I ask him the same.
"Do you still have to go for field operations, Uncle B?" I asked, rather timidly.
"Oh no, I don't have to do that anymore. I've been there and done that now!" he said with a casual wave of the hand. I imagined him hunting down and killing terrorists and evil enemies-of-state, and the thought was unnerving and simultaneously enchanting.
Uncle B has these light brown eyes that dart from one spot to the next, keenly observing everything about everything; part of the job I guessed. I stared at him and listened to his fascinating stories as he told me about all his adventures and experiences. Owing to his job and upbringing (his father worked for RAW) he has had the privilege of having traveled to over 45 countries in the world.
"What about Afghanistan? Iran? Syria? Israel?" I asked, not being able to contain myself. I have had this life-long dream of seeing Kabul and Jerusalem, and had yet to come across a person who had visited these places.
He smiled a secret smile, and I knew that these were things he wasn't allowed to talk about. Even if it were just with a harmless little dentist such as yours truly.
"Let's just say I've seen it all, and that politics will be the death of human civilization. This world is a messed up place, beta," he said, shaking his head. "Kabul used to be a place filled with some of the richest people in the world. Now, they have all migrated to Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, and all that's left behind in the city are ruined families and UN officers trying to salvage whatever little is left. The city is in shambles. Do you know that more than 70% of the passengers who fly in from Kabul to New Delhi everyday are patients who need emergency medical care? There is nothing left in that country," he said.
"I know. Sort of. I mean even Hamid Karzai's wife came to Delhi a few months ago to deliver her baby, didn't she?" I asked.
"Yes. He, himself studied in a school in Shimla; did you know?" added Uncle B.
We chatted for another hour or so, as I picked at my empty cereal bowl and he recounted more interesting tales from his life and work, until it was time for him to leave.
As I waved him farewell, I realized what a significant life he had led, and I felt like a selfish little speck of unimportant dust on the map of the world.
It hit me, for the millionth time possibly, how simply fixing teeth isn't enough for me.
I'm searching hard and fast for deeper meaning, and I'm quite certain that has a lot to do with ink, paper and my passport. The three most important objects in my life.