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From the sandlewood capital

March 1, 2007

Randy and I landed in Bangalore early this morning. After a long delay in Mumbai, we arrived in India’s high tech capital and were “reached” by our friend Amit, a fellow West Virginian. I think it’s important to note that, so far in London and India, we have been pampered and held by old friends from our home state. When you combine India’s hospitality–a trait apparently found in their DNA–with a Huntingtonian’s gentle openness, you get an amazing host. (Amit’s father, Dr. Akkihal, was a very close friend and colleague of my father’s and we’ve been friends with his family since we were kids.)

Our first experience of India was at the airport in Mumbai at 3:00 this morning, where every encounter with officials seemed a combination of exacting efficiency and befuddling absurdity. No one instance stands out as noteworthy, but the entire experience just confirms what we expected; that anything can and will happen and it’s rarely what you expect. If there’s a Murphy’s Law of culture and human interaction, it would be well displayed here. The meaning I want to make from this is that there is a lot going on around us at any given moment that we don’t notice, and being in a different culture locates the simplest parts of life far out of the bounds of assumptions.

The kindness and gentle nature of the people here is very welcoming. Our presence last night in the airport waiting room brought many double-takes and some staring, but a gentle smile and nod elicited the same from our curious onlookers. I did have moments of feeling that I was on display but kindness and consideration ruled the early morning.

There’s nothing I can say about India that hasn’t been said so much better by others, so I should stick to my own experience. But, my experience so far is out of reach of my ability to describe it. I open my mouth and poetry wants to come out, but there are no words. I want to sing about the aromas and visual landscapes and I just can’t get the sound started. It’s like trying to describe Indian food. All the elements are here, mingling with each other like the spiciest chole and the coolest raita, but I just don’t have it in me to describe. There is a subtly delicious aroma here, a mix of some flowering plant, red earth, and incense lingering on everyone’s clothing. Tantalizing, is the word. I just want to open my mouth and take it all in.

On arrival at Amit’s place we met some friends of the Akkihals who teach at Ohio University. They’re staying here while their house is being finished. They knew my father, or at least knew of him, so we had a bit of a small-world moment. Amit lives in his father’s house, a luxurious three-bedroom in a gated community near the edge of town. The contrast between the clean and quite of this tightly monitored area and the dust and chaos of outside the gates is striking. After a little nap, we were treated to an amazing dinner prepared by the cook. It took Amit a while to get used to having domestic help in the house until he realized how helpful it is to those working here to have decent paying jobs in a clean environment. We then ventured out into the balmy evening.

Our driver arrived by scooter and then drove us in the family car. While Amit knows how to drive, he still, after two years, does not feel comfortable driving on Indian roads. I don’t blame him. I have to say that I’ve never experienced anything like it. There are lines on the road but they seem to be used to center the car rather than for dividing them into lanes. Cars, trucks, motorcycles and bikes all converge in a mass of jockeying insanity with barely inches between them. There’s no way I can describe the mayhem. Perhaps I’ll post a video of it someday.

We’ve been looking at maps and trying to put together a plan for the short time Randy is here. Looks like we’re going to head to Hampi by night train and then hire a car and driver for a driving tour to Kerala and back. Amit will probably join us for the driving and we’ll probably hit places he has not yet seen.

It’s very exciting to be here and somewhat overwhelming. I have to say that I’m really glad to be so well looked after for the first week. I’m beginning to feel tender openings for my fellow humans. Three-year-old children following you on the sidewalk, tugging at your shirt and pointing to their bellies only softens my already bleeding heart. I realized something on the drive home that took me somewhat by surprise; that I am very happy to not be poor. At first, that feels hardened and doesn’t seem to match with my desire to embrace all my brothers and sisters. But it has nothing to do with my desires or my wishes for others. It’s a very simple realization about my place in this current reality, that as long as there are rich and poor, I’m very happy to be rich.

Wow… that feels really weird to say. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this as I continue my trip.

I love y’all and I wish everyone well.


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  1. whiskey?? which kind??

  2. Sr. Maureen Hilliard permalink

    Jeff– The poetry of your experience is expressed whether you realize it or can feel it emerge in your words. I heard it. I can feel it too. Your “rich-ness” has so much to do with your wilingness to see and walk into the discrepancies and that rub of “me and this” will most likely never go away. But it could change you.

    Sr. Maureen

  3. Anup – The kind of whiskey that makes you want to rebel. So, really, any kind!

    Sr. Maureen – You are very kind. Thank you for all your encouragement.

  4. Katie Burke permalink

    Jeff, you are such a great writer! And while I have always known you as a great storyteller, it really comes through on the page. I love it.

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