Out into New Delhi on a Sunday morning and immediately, I have a feeling I’m not in Kansas anymore. And I’m sure Kansas is mostly just fine (minus their voting record), but the vibrant electric shimmer of India is a world unto itself. It was the centerpiece of the trip around the world my wife and I took in 1978-79, the most different place I had ever been before that time and still after. I returned in 2011 to introduce my daughter Kerala to the state she was named for and that was such a special time, actually chronicled in my 2011 blogs.
And now back again. Today began with my host introducing me to the tuk-tuk driver, who bows to me and calls me Guruji, showing the deep respect his culture gives to teachers. Not the kind of response cab drivers in Kansas would tend to give. We weave in and out the horn-filled traffic, past the armed soldiers who are there to protect the VIP’s in this Embassy neighborhood and the driver and I mutually joke that they knew I was coming. Also on the side of the road are various monkeys. Again, not a typical Kansas site. A short stop at the Gate of India and the sellers hawking their wares, women in saris, Sikh men in turbans, tourists with cameras and that’s me, taking it all in. A nice Spring temperature, sunny skies and only a faint hint of the severe bad air I felt arriving last night.
On to the Gandhi Museum, a peaceful oasis amidst the hub-bub and inspired display fo this extraordinary man’s life, with photos, dioramas, quotes and footsteps outdoors leading to the place where he was shot and killed in 1948. His timeless thoughts on justice, freedom, women’s rights, simplicity, truth, simple technologies and more as relevant 70 plus years later and even more so.
Lunch at the Chimney Restaurant, perfectly-cooked naan and paneer dishes with both Western and Indian diners eating at affordable prices and then drop by the American Embassy International School where I will teach the next few days. Another oasis of peace and prosperity while next door are the camps where impoverished folks live. But without being overly romantic, the kids out in the streets playing cricket or dismantling some pieces of sidewalks are out in their natural environment so happy and free and doing what children from time immemorial have done. Inside the school, they have to name an area a “maker’s space” while outside the whole world is just that. Apparently the school also invites the “street kids” in each day after school is over for classes in English and other subjects.
So the gap between rich and poor continues in India and I was accosted by my first child begging that I’ve met in quite a long time, reminding me of that disparity that has been a large part of Indian culture for a long time. But slowly changing with some growing prosperity.
Tonight I met a friend at the hotel where Obama once stayed and then went on to Jazz India fest to hear some outdoor music from drummer Dave Weckl (from Chick Corea’s Return to Forever group), with some inspired young Indian musicians, the best an electric bass player who unleashed an astounding array of sounds and techniques in her breathtaking solo.
It was a great day to start off the week. On we go!