(Okay! Caught up with the backlog, now posts will go up more slowly.)
In our previous episode, Sage learned to make paratha and saw a real deer having a vision quest. And now, part two!
At the Delhi Airport, I wheel Todd’s suitcase inside and he drags mine, which has a ruined wheel from the muddy walk to the enclave (but the walk was still totally worth it). Checking the baggage is easy and swift, and then we’re free to wander the airport. The food court has a McDonald’s and a Subway, but it also has a Cream Bell with a very Taco-Bell-ish logo that sells ice cream but not tacos. We decide on a North and South Indian vegetarian place with a robot at the front. It welcomes us as we walk in and we stand there for a moment wondering if it’s going to tell us where we should sit, but it ignores us instead. (Writing this, I wonder how fast the previous sentence will seem as dated as teenagers playing Atari games in the book Less Than Zero. “How could they have not known it was a stationary robot? EVERYONE knows what a hostess robot looks like, duh. Hand me my jetpack, I’m going to work.”)
At the table to my right sits a sits young woman in red with a filmy red veil, her hands covered in intricate hennaed designs. She’s wearing a large nose ring. If I were that woman, that filmy red veil would have been covered in sauce thirty seconds in, but she finishes eating and stands up with nary a drop on her gorgeous sari.
We finish soon afterwards and walk to our gate. The last time I flew regularly on airplanes, there was still a smoking section in airports and on planes. The non-smoking section was up front and the smoking section was in back. There was a curtain separating the two. A MAGIC curtain! (I mean, I say that, but the bathroom was always in the smoking section and I remember being ten years old and holding my breath and making a mad dash from the curtain to the bathroom so that I didn’t fall over from smoke inhalation. So the curtain must have done SOMETHING.)
I am tickled to note as we walk to our gate that the airport smoking section that I remember has turned into The Shame Hole Of Smoking. Seven men stand as far apart from each other as they can get (which isn’t far, it’s about the size of a Toronto condo living room) while one fluorescent light flickers like the girl from The Ring is about to appear.
We wait for the plane. I doze for a bit. I am extremely proud of myself when I recognize the elevator music version of the song Zindagi Kuch Toh Bata being played over the PA system. A dad and a one year old come sit near us and the baby is crying quietly and saying, “Mamamamaaaaaa mamamamaaaaaaa mamamaaaamaa maaaa” like it’s a religious chant. The dad snuggles him and rocks him and murmurs in Hindi. When the mom shows up, the baby’s face lights up and he reaches for her and the world is all right again. I chuckle in my head, recognizing this moment from my own son’s reaction when Todd Came Back Into The Room After Being Gone For Awhile and wish I could wave in rueful recognition to the dad.
Our domestic flight from Delhi to Raipur is uneventful but when we land it’s with a startling bump and the three teenage girls behind me all squeak together and then giggle hysterically and I feel happy. After picking up our luggage we go outside to meet Todd’s Hindi teacher, Mitali. Though we’ve never met in person before, I feel like I know her already and her warmth and generous spirit make her feel like a sister from the moment we hug hello. She introduces us to Ravindra, who has kindly invited us to give a workshop on Sunday for people working on social entrepreneurship.
Raipur is as different from Delhi as Miami is to Toronto. There are fairy lights everywhere, and we pass two different wedding processions. There is a feeling of celebration and joy in the air. We stop at a small courtyard. Young women are washing the floor with dung, and we sit on benches in the warm breezy night air and eat delectable local dishes. (This is the point that I’d normally turn to Todd and ask what the names were but he’s out so, my apologies, we’ll have to go with my bad memory and if you’re one of my storytelling students, avert your eyes from the lack of detail!) Ravindra tells us that the entire courtyard, the food, everything, is run entirely by women. The manager comes over and thanks us for coming and I feel – as I so often do here – that the enveloping kindness emanating from everyone I meet makes me feel such a sense of deep gratitude and no one should be thanking ME for a thing. I’m just some idiot who got on a plane.
When we arrive at the hotel we see our third wedding procession. The groom is sitting, looking very solemn, in a car as young men dance to booming music on the street. A drone is recording the entire proceedings and I think that this is the first wedding video I would actually want to watch. Someone sets off a firecracker which explodes in huge sparkles overhead and someone says to me, “Welcome to Raipur.” (And I do not cry. Very much.)