Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Last Sunday

Sunday October 5

The phone rings at five a.m. It’s Mister Kandhari waking me up for our Sunday morning gurdwara visit. I throw on some clothes and walk over to his garden. I’ve beat him getting ready today. He’s still putting on his socks. I haven’t worn socks since I got to India. This is probably why I’m ready before he is.

He calls to his house helper to get the tea ready. It is sweet and milky, and we eat it with biscotti. Mister Singh joins us and partakes of the tea and biscuits, and then we’re off. Today we don’t pick up Poonam. I ask where she is and Mister Kandhari says she didn’t call this week.

My last visit to Bangla Sahib is very routine. Mister Kandhari pops out of the car and heads off to the langar, and I follow Mister Singh to the shoe check. On the way into the temple he introduces me to a friend who is serving a soupy, spicy lentil dish out of an enormous pot in the area in front of the parking garage that is under construction. I don’t quite understand what this extra food is for, but the man is clearly taking pride in dishing it out. He hands me a small bowl made from dried leaves and a chapatti and ladles in the hot stuff. This thing with eating spicy food so early in the morning is something I’ve not quite gotten used to. It is jarring. It’s not even six o’clock and my mouth is on fire and my stomach is saying, “Does not compute.”

We walk inside the temple and sit down to listen to the Japjee being sung. I’m not as tired today as I was last week; I can stay conscious when I close my eyes. So I close my eyes and breathe and think about what Mister Singh said about wishes. I wish, because what can it hurt? I wish Mister Singh’s wife would get better and not feel miserable. I wish Baloo’s leg would heal okay. He’s the dog with one ear who is friends with Acha and Baby. I saw him limping the other day, poor guy. These are my two wishes today. I wish them over and over, and in between I just listen to the singing.

Soon enough it’s time to go downstairs and start serving. I sling out loaf after loaf of bread. The woman passing out too many slices isn’t here this week, so I don’t get in trouble by proxy. I pass out sensible helpings to the people sitting on the grass mats.

When my arm starts to shake from holding the basket, I know it ‘s almost time to go. I follow Mister Singh back to the shoe check and we meet Mister Kandhari back at the car. They would like to take me to Lodhi Garden today. Every Sunday there’s a members breakfast. I can meet the other members and have something more to eat. As long as we get back by eight thirty, I say. I have a scheduled Skype call with Scott, and then I’m planning on going to church. It’s my last Sunday here, so I’ll have to say goodbye to everyone there. They say no problem. We’ll be back even earlier than that.

It’s just about seven thirty when we pull up to the brick wall that runs the perimeter of Lodhi Garden. Mister Kandhari parks the car and Mister Singh walks off briskly. Is he hurrying because of me? Mister Kandhari trails behind.

We walk over a bridge and into a large rose garden where people are spread out on blankets, their heads touching the ground between their thighs. This is a yoga class, Mister Singh tells me. They come here every morning. If I were staying, I could also come. He interrupts the instructor and tells him that I am here visiting from America and I have been doing yoga since the age of five. Mister Singh has misunderstood something I told him earlier this morning, that I’d been in dance classes since I was five and I’ve done a lot of stretching because of it. Now he’s announcing that I’m some kind of yogi to this classful of ardent yogiites. The instructor steps off his mat and motions for me to lead the class. I tell him I couldn’t. I’m wearing jeans. He insists. I am mortified. I sit on the blanket and do a stretch. The whole class follows. I do a second stretch. The class mirrors my motion. I’m teaching a yoga class in India. After two stretches, I stand up and bow. “Namaste!” I fold my hands and say hastily. They clap for me as I step back off the instructor’s mat.

Next, Mister Singh leads me through the roses past a short rock wall to an area where a ring of banquet tables are set up. “Members, members!” he announces. “This is my friend from America! Vicki!” I feel like slinking back to the yoga class and leading more stretches. A man with a curly mustache comes up to me to say hello. Mister Singh tells him how I just led the yoga class.

“Do you know what yoga is?” the mustachioed man asks. I think it’s a rhetorical question, but he waits for an answer from me.

“Um, exercise and concentration,” I venture.

“NOO!” he exclaims. “Yoga is ancient practice from the Vedas. It is the way to unite your body and your mind. What does your mind do?” He wants another answer.

“It wanders?”

“YES!” he exclaims again. “But yoga makes your mind controlled. You overcome. You find peace. You master your mind. And THAT is yoga,” he tells me and bows, hands folded.

Mister Kandhari wants me to eat. He shoves a plate in my hand and scoops some potatoes in a watery sauce into one of the little sections. Then some peas. Then a chapatti. More spicy vegetables before eight in the morning. I dutifully eat my helpings of these foods, then he asks me if I want more. “What do you want? You want sweets?” I tell him I wouldn’t mind some rice pudding since it looks like they have some and he leads me around a loping tree to the other side of the table where they are serving kheer from a giant foil tray.

I eat my pudding and get introduced to dozens of people, one after another extending welcoming greetings. “We do this every Sunday,” Mister Singh tells me.

Soon enough, it’s time to go. I follow Misters Singh and Kundari back to the car and they drop me off at the Ahuja Residency in plenty of time for my Skype call to Scott. He prefers with the bombings that I avoid the auto-rickshaws, but people are expecting me at church and there haven’t been any attacks this weekend. Chances are I’ll be safe.

Chances are much higher I’ll be safer if I just stay home. My mother would like it if I hid under the desk until it’s time to go. It’s safe down there—except for the occasional beetle who can wonder by and leave you a case of necrosis. Safety is not something you take for granted here, but the risk of something happening is also something you can’t let paralyze you. It’s a balance.

I set out towards the market to catch an auto-rickshaw to church, but halfway there a car pulls over. It’s Ursula, the pastor’s wife, with her two little red-headed children in the backseat. “Are you going to church?” she asks with her British accent. “Do you need a ride?”

I certainly do. No risky auto-rickshaw for me today. Ursula is a godsend.

Church goes by quickly and there is much milling about afterwards. Ruth, the woman with eight children, invites me over to her place for tacos while one of her children stands with her head resting on Ruth’s thigh, eyes glazed over. The kids have all been very sick this week. High fevers. Ruth will understand if I don’t want to come over and risk getting sick. I say it’s okay, but later change my mind. I don’t want my last week in India to be spent in bed with the kind of body-wrecking fever I had a month ago. Besides, Mister Kandhari asked me if I want to go back to the orphanage with him today and I told him yes. I catch an auto home and the ride is, thankfully, uneventful.

Back at home, there is nothing much to do. I watch some tv, read some books on Sikhism and generally laze around, procrastinating on my blogging which has become a little tiresome by this time.

I walk to the market and order a dahi vada at Sagar, then walk home, stopping to pet Acha and Baby and Baloo, whose leg seems a little better. Maybe that wishing at the Bangla Sahib worked some magic.

Mister Kandhari never calls, but I talk to Jonaki and Skype with Scott. I’m still trying to get used to the discovery I made yesterday: that I’ll be leaving on Friday night instead of Saturday night. Because my flight departs at midnight I had the days mixed up until I looked at the ticket and figured out that leaving at midnight on October 11th means I need to get to the airport at eight o’clock on October 10th. I won’t have my final Saturday in Delhi as I planned. This day, Sunday, is my last weekend day in Delhi. I am marking lasts: my last visit to Bangla Sahib, my last service at Delhi Bible Fellowship.

The day is over before I know it. Tomorrow will be my last Monday in Delhi.

1 comment:

Josh said...

i suppose blogging can get tiresome (there's a reason i've never done so myself)... nonetheless it's always been a pleasure to surf by and see how you'd been doing, get to know a place (however superfluously) that i somewhat doubt i'll find myself in anytime soon...

hope the pilgrimage to WalMart and Best Buy has gotten you back to a more, uh, Iowa mindset... :)