As I sit here thinking about writing my next-to-last blog post for this summer, I am thinking of all of the people that I have met while in India, because it is truly the people of any place that makes it what it is. Though one may be inspired by the wonders of the Taj, the Qutab Minar in Delhi, or the beautiful peaks of the Himalayas as seen from a quiet hill-station, none of these sights compares to the value I have gained from interacting with people here. It only seems fit that I should dedicate this post to go through and describe some of the amazing people that I have met here even if I can only do so in a sentence or two. I am astounded by the kindness and the motivation of many of these people and others may not have been as inspiring to say the least, but they are interesting characters who added a richness to my experience in India without which it would not have been the same.
Many of the people I interacted with India, but not nearly all.
First, the man who drove my taxi from the airport, who I excitedly told I spoke Hindi and who tried to chat with me, but slowly realized that my poor grammar would be a difficult obstacle to overcome. The man who helped me carry my bags from the taxi to my room at the Habitat Center and at this time I was uncertain of whether you tip in India or not and so I confess, I didn’t. The waiter at the American Diner who brought me delicious coffee and who was confused when this time I did tip, but perhaps too much. The first rickshaw driver that took Bill and I to Saro Jini market on the second day of our journey who was amused by the frightened sounds coming from us at our first introduction to the Indian auto-rickshaw. The many people at Sarojini who laughed when we tried to bargain with them at the fixed price places. The man at the ticket counter who agreed to let Bill slide as an Indian national so he could get the cheaper ticket to see Humayun’s Tomb. The woman at the restaurant on the top floor of the Habitat Center who let us sit at the bar at 7pm and wait until the restaurant opened at 7:30 because we had yet to learn that Indians tend to eat dinner much later in the evening. The man at a temple near the Habitat Center who gave us directions to Humayun’s Tomb when we had gotten lost and were on foot looking for a place we couldn’t pronounce. Mr. Ankit Durga Sir (as our students called him), the Executive Director of Leap, who we met for the first time at Good Earth at Khan Market and his sunglasses left us with the correct impression that he would be pretty cool. When we arrived to the office in Delhi for the first time and found it flooded and met the caretaker and guards near the office who would kindly help us in and out of the building at odd hours of the day and night. Our very first and absolutely delicious dinner with Ankit where we met the Delhi interns, Arundhati and Sukhman, who we would soon become much closer to after sharing one month in Yamuna Nagar together. Raj, perhaps the happiest person I have ever met, who was the guard at Mustache hostel that welcomed us on our third day in India and showed us our bunk beds in room 201. Marcus, the outgoing South African guy who shared our room with us at Mustache and gave us many interesting conversations about Indian culture as well as a piece of Tibetan art to take home that I currently have lying in my journal. The grumpy American, who always seemed to be sleeping whenever we were at the hostel and probably had not had too much experience living with roommates before. The German guy who had been kind of suspiciously traveling for 18 years non-stop and claimed that he did not really like any country, but preferred Thailand above all the others he had been to. Just before she arrived, we were a bit nervous that the CEO of Leap, Megha Aggarwal, would be a strict, overbearing person, but were relieved to see within seconds of meeting her that she was quite the opposite. When one of the lodgers at Mustache picked up the guitar and kindly struck up a conversation about music with me and suggested that I go to the Nizamuddin temple in Delhi. The Canadian guy who was waiting to Skype his parents and in the meantime decided to have tea with me. The guy who saw me frustratingly completing the FRRO application at Mustache and talked to me about Philadelphia because he happened to be from Pennsylvania. The less than helpful guy at the FRRO office who clearly liked his position of authority a bit too much and patronized this Chinese guy for barely being able to speak English. Samir Nabar, who basically was the single reason Sofia and I were able to complete our registration in Delhi so that we could escape being deported for failure to comply with all the bureaucratic red tape in India. The incredible singer we met when we went out for dinner with the Leap team who played the song Roobaroo which was stuck in my head for almost a month after that. The sneaky rickshaw driver who acted so nice to us and gave us an unwanted tour before ripping us off royally our very first time in Old Delhi. Pallavi, the first trainer I remember meeting who seemed so happy to see us on our first day working at Leap in Yamuna Nagar. All of the students who on the first day introduced their names with an adjective following it, which meant that for the rest of the program that we held with them, I remembered them paired with that adjective. Arun, who conducted the first class with our students and who from the start I thought had a remarkable amount of energy and ability to grasp the students’ attention. The driver, Tony, who showed us that he was learning English on his own and who drove us all the way to Haridwar and took us to this random restaurant on the way up to Mussoorie that ended up having the best kadhai paneer that I’ve ever had. Rakesh, who is probably the second happiest person I have ever met, and who constantly talked to us about how he wanted to come to the U.S. some day. Ankita, the Leap trainer who I worked with most closely who always had a sweet appearance on the outside, but if something was going on that she didn’t like, she would be the first to let you know. Shirin, the trainer who invited us to her home where we had dinner and danced in the living room. The guards at M.L.N. College who always waited for us to come back at night before locking the gates and who always put out water and food for the stray dogs that hung out just in front of the gate. The driver, Rajinder, who let us know that we should probably not eat at the restaurant right next to the college because some questionable things were definitely going on there. The guys who worked at Orchid hotel in Yamuna Nagar, where we stayed for the first month, who had a habit of being a bit nosy and entering the room unannounced. Rohini, who showed us how to cook the most amazing shahi paneer that I’ve ever had and who taught Sofia how to make a lacha paratha. The staff at the Beauty Palace department store that happened to have everything we needed in Yamuna Nagar. The man at the store that was a bit closer to M.L.N. College who was very curious about Sofia, Bill and I and who asked if I’d found myself an Indian man yet. Nirinder, who taught IT courses at Leap and who talked to us for a half hour about bar codes the first time we met him. Mohinder and Vijinder who I mixed up for the first few weeks because their names sound so similar and they were always presented as the IT problem-solving duo. The woman who cleaned the guest house that we stayed in our second month at Leap and who showed me the proper way to cook Maggi instant noodles after taking one look at how I was doing it and snatching the pot away from me. The people who worked at Brijwasi, the chaat place that we must have gone to at least a dozen times during our stay in Yamuna Nagar, and who seemed to be highly amused when we tried to bargain with them to cater for an event at Leap. Sucharita, the first of the new trainers that we met, who let us give her feedback about her lesson plans and showed a lot of creative energy ready to be tapped. Vinod, one of the people we could not have survived without in Yamuna Nagar because he was the first one we called for any problem we had. Anand, the obnoxiously tall trainer who has an excellent sense of humor and who managed to find us the cheapest taxis anywhere. The taxi driver who talked to me in Hinglish the entire 6 hour drive from Yamuna Nagar to Delhi and who offered to take us to the village he was from. All of the past Leap students that came to the reunion/farewell event to celebrate their experiences with Leap who danced for three hours and took many photos with us. The man at the bull semen donation center who helped us out even though we were at the completely wrong place and the veterinarian we eventually managed to find who cleaned out the wound in the small stray puppy we looked after. One student, Simran, and her kind family that took us to the largest gurudwara in Yamuna Nagar one Sunday morning. Another student, Namit, whose sister was getting married and let us drive two hours out to her wedding at last minute notice when we so desperately wanted to see an Indian wedding in action. When we realized we could not stay up until five in the morning to see the rest of the wedding, the man who worked at the hotel in Dehra Dun we crashed at who gave us the hardest time booking a room and for whom we had no patience for at two in the morning. Shirin’s sister, Alisha, and the rest of her family who let us borrow their beautiful clothes and helped us play dress up for the wedding. The first group of people who asked us to take a photo with them at the rock garden in Chandigarh and then the creepy guy with a really nice camera who didn’t bother to ask us for permission to take photos. Ramu bhaiya who cooked us the healthiest dishes we had in India for lunch and who always seemed to be so happy with his job. In Agra, the auto-rickshaw driver who picked us up from the train station and who showed us his giant guestbook filled with recommendations for his tours from people from all over the world. The guide who took us to Fatehpur Sikhri and helped us get through the masses of people bombarding us with overpriced trinkets that they were selling and who seemed to be really keen on photography because he kept asking to take photos with Sofia’s really nice DSLR camera. The driver who kept taking us to really bland restaurants where I’m sure he received some sort of commission for bringing in tourists. The security guard who herded us out of the Taj Mahal gardens just as the sun was setting and the young businessman from Gurgaon who I met on the train back from Agra. On our way to Amritsar, the child stuffing things in his nose and shouting at his sister the entire train ride. The guy at the Punjabi dhaba that we went to who told us that we hadn’t eaten enough and that we needed to finish everything when we were all beyond stuffed by their delicious and amazingly greasy food. The man at the aam papad shop who kept giving us free samples and seemed to be highly amused by the “woo” sound that Bill makes whenever he gets excited. All of the principals and vice principals of Yamuna Nagar schools that I met when we went around to ask if Leap could give a presentation there and who I could tell felt fiercely protective of their schools. The teachers who we gave this presentation to, who actually seemed to listen to what we had to say despite how young and inexperienced we were. The rest of the Leap team who taught me so much and never seemed to stop seeking better solutions. The Chinese and Taiwanese duo traveling together that we met in Goa, Tara and Sarah. The owner of a restaurant who trusted me enough to lend me The Joy Luck Club during our stay in Goa. The many many men in Goa who really need to learn a better way to treat women. Sofia’s parents who came all the way from Chile to see her in India and treated Bill and I to dinner. The young guy in Dharamsala who helped us find a short cut to a Tibetan library and then took us all the way there. The helpful buddhist guy on the bus back to Delhi from Dharamsala that gave me a blanket and kept me at ease while I was traveling alone. The less than helpful bus drivers who tricked us by not taking us all the way to our stop in Delhi and forced us to take rickshaws from the outskirts of Delhi. The woman at the airport who let me slide by even though my bags were definitely overweight and the man who helped carry my cumbersome sitar over to the fragile baggage section.
I’m sure I’ve missed so many and I wish I could remember them all. The good, the bad, and the somewhere in between. They are all worth remembering, even those that we may have just met in passing. Each person represents a part of India that I was given the chance to learn about and they each were part of the formation of my first impressions of India. No other people will be a part of that again and that’s what makes me so grateful for them.