Tuesday, September 23, 2008

God Versus Pizza


Our wake up call comes right on time. Katie and Julianne don’t exactly jump out of bed. I can’t let myself lay back down because I know I’ll fall back asleep. This was the first sound sleep I’ve had since Wednesday night. Thursday night I was all worried about the trip and Friday night was the long, sleepless train ride.

We get ready and make it down to the lobby by four thirty. Our driver is waiting with the brown Vanagon. Susie and Sarah are nowhere to be found. We sit and wait. I’m antsy. We didn’t leave ourselves a lot of extra time. I wonder if I should go upstairs and check on them. I check the time. It’s just four thirty five. Still, we need to catch the train by five. Julianne says it’s fine. They’re coming. The driver says, “Late?” and this is all I need. There is no way I’m missing this train because I was being patient. I jump out of the van and run up the stairs. As I ascend to the second floor, I see that Susie and Sarah are on their way down. It’s okay. We won’t be late.

The driver drops us off at the station. We really were only ten minutes away from it like Susie said. The ride seemed so much longer to me yesterday morning for some reason. Maybe it was my lack of sleep the night before.

The Amritsar station actually has signs above the platforms, so it’s easy to find our train. Once again, my seat isn’t with my friends’ seats, only this time it’s worse. I’m not even in the same car. The place I’m supposed to be sitting is all the way down on the other side of the long train. My friends are in car twelve; I’m in car forty three. I decide I’ll just follow them into their car and sit by them, then when the porter asks for my ticket, I’ll ask if I can switch like I did before.

This train, the Shatabdi, is much nicer than the Chattisgarh. The seats are plush and clean and recline. I sit down next to Susie and the next thing I know, I wake up with a little tea service in front of me. There is a thermos and cream and sugar and a little package of biscuits. The tea even tastes good. I barely finish it when the porter comes by to clear it. I fall back asleep and wake up again when they are bringing us breakfast. There are little potato puffs and green beans with carrots. They pass out more tea and liters of water and mango juice. This train is nice. We should have taken the Shatabdi to get there too, but my friends wanted to save the money on a hotel for Friday night by taking the overnight train, and I joined the trip after these plans were already made. Who knew the Chattisgarh would be such a clunker anyway? I guess you just have to go to find out.

The trip is six hours total and we arrive right on time in Delhi. Susie stays behind in the station with Sarah and Katie. She needs to buy a ticket for something while she’s here.

Julianne and I walk out front. We’re going to try to split an auto-rickshaw ride since Defence Colony is pretty much on the way to Greater Kailash. There are all kinds of taxi and auto wallahs asking us if we want rides. Julianne says no to all of them until we get to the lane of green auto-rickshaws. They’ll take us for 120 rupees. Sounds good to me, but Julianne says no. They’ll take us for the metered price, but they’ll start the meter at 20 rupees. Sounds okay to me, but Julianne says “Why? There’s no reason they should start the meter at 20.” She walks to the prepaid auto booth and tells the man we need a ride to Defence Colony and Greater Kailash. He says, “No. Only one place.” So she tells him Greater Kailash since it’s farther. He writes up a bill for 68 rupees. We worry that the auto wallah will harass us when we try to go to two places instead of one, but he drops us both off without any problem. It pays to be persistent. So it only pays, like, the two American dollars we saved by going through the extra hassle, but still, it pays.

I am so relieved to be back at the Defence Colony. Even though it’s two in the morning back home, I call Scott. He told me to call him when I got back so he’d know I was okay. I surprise myself by getting totally choked up when I hear his voice. I can barely speak to him. That someone would want to talk to me at two in the morning is so sweet. And he’s not even groggy or crabby. He wants to know how my trip went and what I saw, and all I can do is bawl because he’s so caring and I’m so thankful for him.

I hang up with Scott and compose myself. I unpack my bag and flop down on my bed with the book on the Golden Temple that Mister Singh lent to me. It’s even better to look at the pictures and read about it now that I’ve actually been there. I didn’t have time to read a lot of the history before I went, so I’m catching up, getting the details of the Sikh’s struggle against the Mughals, then against British rule and finally against the Indian government.

I’ve only read a few pages when the phone rings. It’s Mira. She says, “Mister Singh call.” I thank her. I figure I’ll walk to the market and get a thank you gift for him, then stop by on my way home. I walk out and see Mister Singh standing outside my gate. Oh. He was calling in person. I’m glad I decided to come out.

He wants to know how the temple was. And the hotel. And the driver. Did the owner take care of us? He was supposed to take care of us. Did we have everything we needed? Were the rooms okay?

Yes, everything was wonderful. It was a perfect weekend trip, thanks for Mister Singh. I can’t thank him enough.

Good then. He is satisfied. We shake hands and he walks off back to C-82 while I go to the market. I find a basket of biscuits at the Defence Colony Bakery and buy a little decorated envelope at the stationery store. I think the envelope comes with a card, but when I get it home, I find there is none. I have to cut up a bag I got from a boutique to make the thank you card, but when I do, it’s cute. It looks like expensive paper. I thank Mister Singh for sharing his faith with me and for planning the trip for my friends and me. I tell him I will remember it for the rest of my life.

I will.

I take the basket and the card and drop it off with his guard, then return home where I watch a bad American movie about some college students who build a nuclear bomb. I had planned to catch up on my blogging, but this is just the brainless respite I need.

I’m about to take a shower when the young guy who helps clean my room knocks on my door. “C-82,” he says. I lock my door and walk outside. Mister Singh’s guard is waiting in the street for me. He ushers me into the courtyard. From the entrance I can see that Mister Kandhari and another man are sitting in Mister Singh’s living room.

“We have just been to the gurudwara for the election,” Mister Singh tells me. I see that my card is sitting out on his couch. They are all three running for some committee. They’re waiting for the results. They should receive a call in about an hour.

Mister Kandhari is beaming. “So?” he asks. “How was your trip? You didn’t come see me to tell me. I introduce you to my friend and you didn’t come see me!” I didn’t know I was supposed to. I tell him the trip was wonderful and the temple is amazing. “Is there anything like it?” he asks. No. There isn’t. It is one of a kind.

“Yes, she has given me a certificate,” Mister Singh says, referring to the thank you note I wrote him. He has already shown it to his friends.

His daughter-in-law brings us tea with ginger in fancy little cups and serves some of the biscuits I bought him. They tell me about the election. The third man’s son was just elected president. They are all very happy.

Mister Singh gets out another large picture book on the Guru Granth Sahib. Would I like to borrow it? Do I have time to read it? I actually do. I am interested in learning more about the hymns Sikhs sing. He tells me not to keep it with my shoes. To keep it nice. It’s a nice book. I assure him I’ll treat it well. He gets out another book that he’s sharing with his friend. It’s entitled “Essays on Sikh Values.” He says he reads it for about ten minutes each morning. There’s an interesting piece on Sikhism and yoga. Most Sikhs don’t practice yoga as part of their spirituality, but this piece talks about how the ancient practice and the religion are compatible. His daughter-in-law takes yoga classes. Am I interested in coming? A man comes to the house to teach her every morning at nine. I could come on Saturday. I wouldn’t have to pay or anything. They already take care of the fee.

That would be wonderful. I’ve been wanting to take some yoga classes in India but when I called the yoga centre, no one spoke English. “Hindi, madam. Hindi, madam,” was all I could make out.

“I have made some three new gardens,” Mister Kandhari tells me. I tell him I thought he had no more space, which is what he told me the last time I asked him if he was going to make something new.

“I know,” he says, smiling. “No space, but I just get in my head and I have to make. I have ideas in my head and I must make them. What can I do?” he asks.

“We’re going to go to Mister Kandhari’s house. Would you like to come with us?” Mister Singh asks. Okay. Why not.

Even though it’s just about a block away, we get into Mister Singh’s car and drive over. We sit in Mister Kandhari’s courtyard and he shows us his new compositions. There is one with a pine-looking tree in the middle and three straight rocks that rise up around it. He is fond of these rocks because they look like animals, especially the one on the left. You can see it has two eyes and ears and a nose. “Very clear. Very clear.”

He gets up and waters his garden, aided by his house helper who untangles the hose for him. He finishes and tells his house helper to move this newest piece with the animal figures in it up against the wall. I think to myself it seems to be balanced quite precariously on a tiny bucket. Just after I have this thought, it falls, mud going everywhere and the rocks falling out of their places. This is much like the moment when Mister Kandhari rammed the whole side of his car against that concrete pole. He is completely un-phased. He just tells his house helper to scoop up the dirt and stick the rocks back in the way they were. He steps away to water some more.

Just then I notice a flyer laying on his garden table. It’s for Dominos Pizza. I haven’t tried Dominoes yet, and pizza sounds kind of good to me tonight. I pick up the flyer.

Mister Singh says there’s a raga, a hymn, and the words to it are, “God, how can we know all your virtues?”

I’m looking at the flyer and noticing that the Dominos number is really easy to remember. It’s four four’s and four eights. Four four’s and four eights. I can remember this and order pizza tonight.

“God, how can we know all your virtues when we know our own faults? We know our own faults.”

Four four’s and four eights. A fault of mine would be that I’m totally obsessing about pizza right now. I guess it’s true; we do know our own faults.

Mister Kandhari returns to the sitting area. The men have to leave. They are going to the gurudwara to find out about the election. If they were meant to serve God in this way, they will win. If they were meant to serve in some other way, they will not win. Either way it’s fine.

I shake their hands and wish them luck. Mister Singh says, “I’m not worried,” and offers to drop me off at home. I can walk. It’s okay, I tell him. His friend wonders if I know how to get home. It makes me feel good that I do. Even if it’s only a radius of a few blocks, I have the Defence Colony C Block all figured out. Amritsar, now, that's a different story. I would have been lost without my friends of superior navigational prowess. But the rickshaw wallahs would have helped me out. There's always someone around to help, it seems.

I return to my room and decide not to order pizza after all. I’m in the mood for a rose milk soda and a veg burger from Kents. I can get pizza any time. The days are numbered when I will be able to enjoy my rose milk sodas.


Amritpal Singh Khalsa said...

Hi, I really liked your blog, and for so many reasons.

I felt as if, one of my friends' have written it.

It was so long, but so well written that I read it till the end.

I'm a Sikh too, and belong to the holy city of Amritsar. I moved to USA last year on H1, I'm a computer professional.

My father is in Army and serving in Delhi right now.

Vicki said...

Amritpal, it's so good to hear that you enjoyed the blog! Thanks for leaving a comment. I love to hear from readers!