After breakfast, Todd and Mitali ride her scooter to the market while I catch up on writing. When Todd gets back, he’s chilled and shivering. I put him under all the blankets and wrap his head in a scarf. (This image is less nurturing when you know how hard I was laughing the whole time. I mean. He looks like ET in the bike basket.)
When the blankets don’t help he asks for an antibiotic and within half an hour he’s feeling just fine and raring to go.
Ravindra and Chandra pick us up and take us to the City Center Mall where we meet Mitali. The taxi lets us off on the other side of the street and I am visibly terrified. Imagine trying to cross Sheppard and Yonge against the light, except everyone is going 20 kph faster. My left ear is messed up, which means I only have one to rely on in getting from one side to the other. Ravindra sees me shaking. He reaches out and holds my hand, and he navigates the street crossing with ease. I am so grateful for this small kindness, given with no thought at all.
The mall is a mix of Western and Indian stores, complete with a quarter-size double-decker London Bus that children can ride from one side of the mall to the other. We ride the packed elevator while an instrumental version of a Carpenters song plays. I find myself singing under my breath. “Every shing-a-ling-a-ling, every wo-o-o-o-oooooh still shines…”
Our destination is 36Inc, a start-up incubator that’s a lot like CSI (Centre for Social Innovation) in Toronto except with less exposed brick and more getting things done. Room after room of start-up facilities, including a nap room for entrepreneurs so dedicated they simply sleep for awhile then return to their work. The room is filled with nap pods, like a beehive. Seven to one room.
I am giving a storytelling workshop today for these entrepreneurs, with Todd using his thirty years of corporate experience to talk about the value of storytelling techniques in start-up proposals for investors. I’m definitely out of my depth and relying heavily on Todd to deliver the business side, which I know nothing about.
We sit with the first people to arrive for the workshop and the conversation wends its way to swear words. I mention that I never swear when telling stories, and one man says, “My grandmother asked me once, ‘If you are offered sweets and you don’t want them, what happens?’ I thought about it. ‘Well, the person takes them back.’ My grandmother nodded. ‘So if you use swear words, then who eats them? SOMEONE has to take. You or the other person.'” (Next time I am explaining to a storytelling class why I don’t swear while performing, I am totally telling that story.)
The workshop feels like dancing on an icy street – scary, but exciting. Todd and I have never worked together like this, and I have to constantly remind myself to stop and say, “And Todd, how does this apply to the corporate world?” I am very proud of Todd, who spent ten years saying no whenever I asked him to go to an improv show just in case someone on stage asked him to give a one word suggestion and is now the picture of confidence in front of this group of strangers.
The participants are fired up, ready to learn. I can’t find cynicism or defeat here. Just a willingness to work, work, work. At the end of the workshop many people give us gifts, including the paper journal I’m writing these words in right now. My heart is already full when a very young woman says, “I have no gift, just a warm hug.”
“Yes,” I say. “Yes. Yes. Thank you.”
A reporter from the newspaper Patrika sits down with us and a translator for a quick interview. His first question: “How many years have the two of you been giving this workshop?”
I am tickled and explain that we’ve never worked together this way before. The reporter asks, “Why do you have these fashion choices?”
While I would rather be asked about storytelling, giving workshops, India, pretty much any other question in the world (up to and including “What’s it like having a cleft palate?” and “Do you remember that time you had your period in grade eight and got blood on a classmate’s seat?”) I take a deep breath and view the question as an opportunity.
The male translator translates my words. Mitali is listening closely. She interjects, explaining more fully in Hindi, clarifying, making sure the reporter truly understands. I love this moment so much. My adopted sister, taking care of me. Here is the (Google translated version) of my answer in the article:
“Sage Tyrtle said of matching color of her hair, goggles and scarves that you regard it as my fashion but I carry it just because I like it. Anyway, your identity is not from fashion but from work.” (YES! Thank you, Mitali!)
Then the reporter asks Todd his opinions about the youth of the world. (I know.)
Metali, Ravindra, Chandra and many workshop participants all head to Nukkar Tea House which has fast become a home away from home. We chat and eat masala Maggi and Hakka noodles. We sip chai. A young woman comes over and offers us the plate she’s carrying. There’s a quarter of a birthday cake on it. (This is why I could never travel alone in India because THERE WOULD BE NO WITNESSES TO HOW MAGICAL THIS PLACE IS and I’d sound like a crazy person.)
I ask, “How old are you today?”
She smiles. “Seventeen now.”
“Two years after I was seventeen, I met that guy.” I point at Todd.
She leans in and says confidentially, “Two months ago, I met him.” She points to a handsome teenage boy. Our table chuckles knowingly.
Soon we head back to the City Center Mall, dropping Mitali off. It’s just Ravindra, Todd, and me. We wait in front of the mall for a new taxi and Ravindra says that there’s a dance competition happening inside and we have time to watch a little. We go inside and there’s a massive crowd, watching a group of teens dancing to Hindi music. The energy is high and when the music finishes everyone applauds like crazy. The host says, “And now, we would like to welcome these two guests!” I look around to see who he’s talking about, but it’s me and Todd!
The host beckons us to the middle of the circle and asks where we’re from. “Can we have a big hand for Canada?” says the host, and everyone in the whole mall claps and cheers. (I swear to god. This really happened. There’s photographic evidence and everything.)
Outside again waiting for the taxi a group of teenage boys asks to take a photo with me (Ha! Probably for the same reason. “NO FOR REAL SHE WAS PRACTICALLY FIFTY AND HAD BLUE HAIR AND THIS REALLY HAPPENED LOOK AT THE PHOTO”) and then a man who works as a phys ed teacher wants a photo with both Todd and me. When another young man approaches I am already smiling in advance of his request for a photo.
But he doesn’t want to talk to me.
“Hello,” he says to Ravindra. “Are you – are you Ravindra? From Jivandeep?”
Ravindra shakes the man’s hand and gives him, as always, his absolute attention. The young man is nervous and shy, but so excited to meet Ravindra. They talk for a little while. Ravindra says, “Please feel free to write to me online if you’d like to stay connected.” The young man, wide-eyed, nods.
Imagine. A county where people who have dedicated their lives to being kind are stopped on the street like movie stars.