Saturday, May 20, 2006
Dancing with Cricket...
Whether we are crashing a courtyard game of cricket, or spending an evening as the guests of a wonderful Delhi family, we have squandered no opportunities for friendship and fun here in India.
It’s hard to say who has made more friends: Bret, with his sackful of toys (including a 1986 Back to the Future car from McDonalds), or JT, who teaches Secret Handshakes and magic tricks to the children who scamper alongside us to practice their English skills and to maybe nab a coin or two if they’re lucky.
When in the Pahar Ganj, we discovered yesterday morning that it is far more preferable to travel by bicycle rickshaw. A gaggle of rickshaws delivered us to meet our bus and instead of clomping through the busy road avoiding auto rickshaws and sleeping dogs, it felt as though we were floating down a river, careening past the busy streets and over the cow patties and puddles that are characteristic of this busy neighborhood.
We had another full day today, going first to Humayunum’s tomb (sp.), an expansive monument built for a Mughal emperor by his wife in the 16th century. Derek told us that after the two designers deemed it complete, they were immediately executed.
We also met with officials from the United States Educational Foundation In India, (USEFI) to talk about study abroad programs and grant opportunities for future travel to India. They told us that 80,000 Indians go to American schools each year; but only 1500 come to India to study.
Our last stop was the Bahai temple, a lotus-shaped building with a luminous marble exterior. One must be silent inside of the temple, and aside from the sound of bodies shuffling in and out of seats, no noise could be heard. A docent for the temple told us that the building was in the shape of a lotus because the flower has high symbolic power for Hindus and Buddhists. “The lotus is the national flower of India. It grows in a dirty swamp. But it is not in the swamp; it is above the swamp,” our docent said. “The Baha’i faith gets rid of all social prejudices. If we can rise above the prejudices, world peace is in our path.”
We had a strange dust and rainstorm fall upon us as we walked from our bus back to the hotel. I learned just now it is the first winds of the monsoon. We arrived damp and covered in dust and other roadside debris, shaken and miserable. But happier times were ahead, and we spent the evening with Gaurav and his family (see earlier entries) at a beautiful social club in the embassy district of Delhi. We stuffed 17 people (no kidding) into two vehicles. Of course the “how many clowns” joke emerged and we had a rollicking good time as Gaurav drove us to the club. The grounds were beautiful, and families languished on the grass or in small clusters of tables. They had arranged for all of our group to have dinner with them. Gaurav’s mother, Manju, welcomed us warmly and ordered dinner and within a half an hour plate after plate of curry and chicken tikka and breads emerged from the open-air restaurant along the perimeter. We had a beautiful time, and the rain stayed away, although rumbles of thunder across the city could be heard from time to time. The best part about this evening is that we are all seeking many more like it when Gaurav, his wife Gunja and baby girl, return to Virginia in a few weeks. Bob’s cogs were already cranking along these lines and he has invited them (as I had) to come to Greenville later this summer. In discussing differences and similarities between India and America, Manju said that for her, strengthening ties with family and friends was what was most important to her. “Now, I have just widened my circle,” she said.
So have we, Manju. So have we.
We have just arrived in Agra by train. The trek from Delhi to Agra was easily one of the most easy and streamlined transitions this country has seen. Practically flawless. Thanks to Derek and our tour guide Chung-pa (sp.). We’ll visit the famed Taj Mahal tomorrow (no, not of the Donald Trump variety!)