It’s now February 17th, a few days after Valentine’s Day, and I’m opting to do internet (and view my own and other people’s facebook photos and profiles) instead of watching a movie as I babysit for Joanna and Rachel Daley, the 6 and 3 year old daughters of a Canadian couple who live and work here in Vellore. The girls are wonderful. I wish that I could have with the Pannai kids with the same degree of intimacy that I have with these kids. I don’t think I’ve written anything about Rajesh who’s in 3rd standard and has been out of school since january with a broken foot. I’ve been hanging out with him, reading stories and going through some of his school lessons with him. There’s some of the intimacy there that I have with Joanna and Rachel. I think part of what’s hard is simply sheer numbers at Pannai. I have to say, though that Rajesh is one of my favorites. Smile. But don’t tell that to anyone else. Grin.
Life is good. I just got back from Bangalore and I head to Thailand in less than a week to see my very good friend Tanya. I’m so excited about it, but I sort of wish that it were a little bit more spaced out from this last trip away. It’s all right. Smile. On the bus to Bagayam (the other side of Vellore where the Daleys live), I got to thinking and looking and seeing. Buses are good for that, if I have a seat that is and am not desperately trying to stay balanced as the bus lurches along with my feet crowded next to each other and one hand hanging on to the pole that stretches along the length of the bus’s roof and the other clenching my purse next to my body. Anyway, I got to thinking about some funny things. Like how the whole world seems to be a urinal for men here, unless it’s marked otherwise (which some places are). And every wall is a billboard unless someone has taken the time to paint “Stick no bills” in black letters, which if you ask me is a sort of funny saying anyway. Anyhow, I have more thoughts, but I already have a long email from valentine’s day for all of you. A descriptive one at that. So I’ll save you the reading.
I’m sending love and peace from here.
Valentine’s Day, 2007
Hi! It’s hot outside, but the fan is moving the air around in the office, which feels nice. I got back to Pannai from Bangalore on Sunday evening. It feels good to be back, but I want to share a little bit more about Bangalore. One of the things I did that felt really good and that gave me a little bit of a view into a different part of Bangalore was to visit my dear friend Arulmani’s brother. Arulmani is one of the tutors here at Pannai and is really a wonderful advisor and friend to me. Her brother and his family moved to Bangalore earlier this year, and Arulmani sent me with a package for them, so I phoned up her brother who came and picked up the package from where I was staying with Saridha. He then invited me to come to his home the next morning (Friday).
I step out of the house, pulling the door shut behind me. Cool air lifts the hairs on my forearms as I walk down the street, past the park green with grass, trees and flowering plants, turn the corner and reach the main street. I hail an auto and show the driver the address I have. He doesn’t know the place and asks me for fifty rupees. I tell him that I won’t pay more than forty, and he agrees. I lean back against the black seat and watch as the shops and city passes by. We reach the landmark given with the address, the ex-mayor’s house, but I know the place is not right – the houses are too big, too beautiful. But the taxi driver does not know where to go. We stop at a pay phone. I pick up the receiver and listen to the dial tone as I insert my one rupee coin and dial the number. Arulmani’s brother, Anand, answers and then talks to the auto driver. When he hangs up the phone, the driver explains that Anand is coming to meet us, and he waits with me until Anand arrives. I feel well taken care of and hand him fifty rupees before he drives away.
Anand, tall and dark, is with his son whose nickname is Royal but whom I have the bad habit of remembering as Roman (Arulmani is very fond of him and has told me all about him and shown me numerous photos of him). We walk through a narrow street with buildings rising up on either side of us, many of them could use some new paint. Strings of orange triangles with black OM symbols hang across the street and on some of the buildings, but I am too shy to ask what they are. After three or four minutes, we turn into a smaller lane and Anand and Royal point me to a small doorway. I enter a dark room where two small bodies lay sleeping on mats on the floor, Royal’s sisters. Royal’s mother, a beautiful woman with chiseled cheekbones, golden skin and a warm smile, greets me and asks me to sit down. She immediately begins to prepare something for me to drink while Anand gets some photo albums for me to look at. The girls wake up bleary eyed and untangle themselves from their blankets still wearing yesterday’s dresses. They are shy, but I insist that they show me what their Aunty Arulmani sent them: balls that light up when you bounce them, a pop-up story book, head bands and sparkly coloured pencils. I admire the gifts and ask them about school.
Anand returns from the shop, to which I hadn’t realized he’d gone, carrying hot food wrapped in newspaper – dosa (rice pancakes) and idli (steamed rice paddies shaped like flying saucers) and sambar (sauce) to go with them. Breakfast. I sit on the floor with the children and eat. The food is delicious. All too soon it is time for me to go. I have to be back at Saridha’s at 8:30 to catch the bus to school with her.
“Come again,” Anand tells me. “If you’re free tomorrow, come with us to a program at our church. The next time you’re in Bangalore, come and stay with us.” Arulmani had told me of the hospitality I could expect, yet it feels so warm, it is so genuine. I smile and assure them that I will come again. As Anand walks me to a main road to catch an auto, I thank him. “No thanks,” he tells me. He has simply shown me the hospitality and generosity that is so common to people here. He has welcomed me into his family as a long lost friend. I know that they have felt as honored by my visit as I have felt by their hospitality.
I hope that one of the things I practice and learn while I am here in India is this sort of generosity and hospitality – giving to others without expecting anything in return. Being generous with my time and resources. Welcoming others into my home and my space. I think of all that I saw and did in Bangalore, this visit to Anand’s home may be what I liked best. It was India at its best, I think.
Something else that was interesting about my time in Bangalore was me realizing how much I can adjust to different people; how I can act appropriately in different settings even when this requires different ways of behaving – being a foreign guest with Rita James, being a friend from Pannai for Saridha, being a woman in India who is interested in children while interacting with the teachers and students at Asha Kiran School, being the friend of a sister to Anand and his family, and being a foreigner who is invested in India with my friends from the U.K. with whom I stayed. This is life and this is me, so multifaceted. Somehow I am the same person through it all, even though my dress, mannerisms, actions and accent all change. Smile. In any case….. Life continues to be good. I hope you are all well.
Love and much peace,