Sunday, 5 June 2011

Tribute to the people of India


            Let’s see how this goes- I’m still at a stage when one game of solitaire exhausts me completely and recovery requires five hours of staring at walls.  But here’s my attempt at a tribute to the Indian people.  Obviously, I stuck out as a tall, blonde beanpole and I felt like as a bumbling American as I tried to respond appropriately to the flurry of natives that surrounded me.  Never before have I had to depend on other people so much for clean water, edible food, safe travel advice, language translation and directions.  However, the people of India did not disappoint.  Since my arrival, I was greeted with such grace, warmth and hospitality that I felt safe and cared for even when I had no idea what was going on.  Throughout my travels, I was constantly humbled as strangers stood when I walked by, to bow their heads and greet me with “Namaste”.  When I was at Qutab Minar and the temple, I wasn’t sure why a half a dozen young kids came up to me and touched my feet.  When I later realized touching someone’s feet is a traditional sign of respect, typically reserved by elders, I was humbled and honored.  Playing peek-a-boo with the baby in line at the temple broke down all cultural barriers when I saw him kick his feet and clap his hands with excitement when he spotted me in the distance later that afternoon. 
I’ll never forget my surprise as I was presented with a pot in front of an auditorium of little geniuses at the valedictory ceremony for the math Olympiad.  I never expected to find “a long-lost grandma” when I met the cute and tiny famous Indian mathematician.  I spent plenty of time with the deans at my undergraduate institution as I signed up for extra classes each semester but never did I receive a dinner invitation like I did from the dean at the top college in Delhi.
All the girls at the hostel and the staff at the college would never hesitate to put down whatever they were working on to help me resolve the latest source of confusion.  They told me I had a lovely accent when I butchered attempts at learning Hindi and told me I was beautiful last week when I looked like a ghost and felt like death.  All the doctors’ good-heartedly put up with all the questions my nurse mother made me ask.  (When the blood test results in the US came back to confirm that I only had shingles, my dad joked “those Indian doctors knew that just by taking your blood pressure!”).
            As always, my words do not do these people justice- I hope you go to India and experience their hospitality, playfulness and generosity for yourself.
            And in closing, I want to add that people in the United States aren’t half bad either.  When I finally made it through customs and baggage claim at JFK, my brother and mother were there to greet me.  I found the car packed to the brim with everything a person could possibly need with barely room left for me- five flavors of gatorade, water, home-made chicken noodle soup, watermelon, banana, poptarts, pillows, a bucket if I wasn’t feeling well and more.  All I could really appreciate was the water and the endearing ridiculousness of her excessive packing, especially considering they left our house at around 3 AM.  I returned to constant phone calls, dozens of e-mails, texts and facebook messages.  Thank you so much for everything- there were moments when I thought I’d never survive the plane ride then I remembered my Indian friends making offerings at the Hindu temples and all the people in America praying for me- even people I didn’t know.
            For nostalgic reasons, I’m sure I’ll find some reason to post something but I think this is pretty much the end of this journey.  However, I hope this won’t be my last encounter with India.  Thanks for sharing this wild ride with me!