Family in foreign countries doesn’t always mean what you think it will. Say the slightest word like “cheese”, ask your mom for a bobby pin “quietly”, or mention cough syrup, and all of a sudden, 2 people are off to the store to buy it, and you have it in your hands 30 seconds later. Try to make your own coffee and they are offended; don’t eat your food and they are offended, finish your food and they can’t imagine why you won’t eat tons and tons more. Tell them you’ll go five seconds away from the home alone and they have an escort by your side. Tell them you want to wait a few years for marriage and they worry; tell them you haven’t found the right person, and all of a sudden there is a single, Indian American, rich BMW owner in Los Angeles with your email address.
Even my parents turned more brown in India (and it wasn’t just the sun).
From the time we landed to the time we left, we had use of a minivan and Rakesh, talkative, English speaking the driver that felt he had to contribute and control every discussion. If I thought Southeast Asia was random, I was delusional. Planning in India it seemed, was the only thing that was impossible, even with a so called chauffeur. While their carefree attitude can be admirable, to a Westerner with limited vacation time, it’s frustrating! Not to mention the huge “problem” I created by suggesting by “airing out dirty laundry in public”, simply by arguing with the arrogant cab
driver that I, a single female who understood the language, could take the metro in broad daylight without an escort.
The most interesting discussion surrounded astrology (at the mention of the word, 2 astrologers were on the mobile phones for me, one of which delivered a “life chart” for me). I found out later, from a cousin in Bombay, that the reason for my Uncle’s excitement was two-fold; aside from his religion, the charts are used to indicate your chances at a marriage match.
The astrological beliefs were second most surprising only to the superstitious beliefs that blew my mind. Hijiras, or the transsexual cults that exist, are seen to be witches, that can determine your fate. They come at happy occasions, like weddings or births and demand money for a dance performance. After my uncle gave them almost $100, they demanded more, and threw rice at us, cursing us, until they got what they wanted. Talk about a scam!
Delhi, itself, however, is an amazing city and a backpacker’s paradise. Agra, despite the rushed tour guides, was also breathtaking. The slideshow below should be a quick peek at the few sites I saw. My last day in Delhi was an adventure, meeting Dennis at Café Coffee Day for coffee (another Singapore reunion!) trading his work exchange stories with my family stories.
Perhaps the most moving experience I’ve ever had was our visit to the Anath Ashram, or the local orphanage. I remembered it vividly from my last visit; an image of myself as a four year old child, handing out flip flops to a huge line of children much older than me. As I walked in the doors this time, that pitiful feeling hit me again, although there was a definite lack of the grungy, grey cemented atmosphere I remembered. In fact, it was bright, freshly painted, complete with a garden. In fact, the orphanage provides school, university scholarship and arranged marriages to students each year.
We handed them their food at their lunch break, watched them eat it in about 15 minutes, wash their own dishes, They were so grateful, watching us walk in the front doors, even before they knew we had food and clothing for them. We handed them their clothing, and their dessert sqaures barfi. I wanted to get them ice cream, but apparently, 26 degrees is way too cold for them to eat icecream, they’ll get sick, they tell me. For a mere $500, my family had provided them with lunch, a week’s worth of flour and oil for the kitchen and underclothing and socks for 140 children.
“But don’t think it’s all charity”, a cousin reminded me, “Trust me, there is no way the owner would be running it if it weren’t for a much better profit than he could make elsewhere, trust me.” As much as this reminded me of Aravind’s cynicism in White Tiger, I couldn’t help but believe it to be true.