On the seemingly endless flight from New York to Delhi, I braced for what I imagined would be an awkward couple of days. My father had arranged for me to spend my first three days in Delhi in the Defence Colony with his good friends’ parents, whom I had never met. As per usual, however, my father was right in the end; Gautam and Aruna Guha were the best hosts I have ever had.
The first jetlagged afternoon I did nothing but sleep, drink chai with French pastries sweetly bought in my honor, and eat delicious chicken curry. Over the next two days, I fell into a routine. I woke up and rang a bell to have my breakfast of eggs and paratha delivered to my room by a maid. Later in the morning I went on some sort of outing—one day I wandered through Lodi Gardens with Gautam, and the other I scoped out the Habitat Centre with Aruna. My favorite part of the day was lunch. Aruna and her two male coworkers gathered around a small table in the office downstairs. Each person brought food from his or her own home, so I was able to try a variety of dishes and cooking styles. They looked at me like I was insane when I foolishly ate a full spicy pickle on the first day and constantly urged me to take seconds (and thirds and fourths). With my stomach full, I went up to my room to take a nap. Then we had afternoon tea and dinner. One night the Guhas ordered Chinese takeout. I adore Asian food and nerded out noting the subtle differences between American and Indian Chinese. My final night, their niece invited me to dinner at a French restaurant with her friends. They were highly educated (the vast majority of them are published novelists), inclusive, and fun to be around.
Parts of my visit reminded me of American culture. The Guhas were bizarrely similar to my own grandparents. They were separated, so they displayed an intimate knowledge—and, more often than not, an aversion to—each other’s habits and quirks. Gautam was one of the chattiest people I have ever encountered, speaking endlessly about his time in the air-force, golf, the U.S. (“a beautiful country”), and politics (Modi, Modi, Modi). Aruna was more reserved but eventually opened up to me about her past and her concerns about her family and ailing health. Their niece and her friends had more liberal beliefs and seemed less guided by traditional values, much like young people (myself included) in the U.S.; two of them were gay, many of the women were single, and none of them voted for Modi.
There were other things that contrasted with life in the U.S. and required some adjustment. Several of my friends had maids growing up, but they did not have someone constantly there to clean their home, cook for them, serve them food, and drive them around. Driving through the city, I was quickly made aware of the dramatic income inequality I had heard so much about as I watched children begging in the middle of busy streets. In terms of diet, back home I almost never eat breakfast and scarf down my food truck lunch while I study in Van Pelt. In Delhi, I did what few American college kids do—ate three square meals a day. It was amazing. And as a caffeine-addicted student of economics obsessed with maximizing my productivity, the idea of taking a nap on a daily basis is mindboggling. But here, things moved at a slower pace. After sleeping for an hour or so every afternoon, I felt more functional than I felt all semester at Penn.
My stay with the Guhas eased me into a new time zone, culture, and country. By the end of the third day, I was so comfortable I was talking with Aruna about her son’s ex-wife and sipping Indian whisky with Gautam. I hope I expressed to them just how much I appreciated their generosity and kindness. I am crossing my fingers I will be able to see them when I return to Delhi in July.