Monday, July 19, 2010

The kindness of strangers

At Navdanya at last. Some fantastic birds are working up a great whoop dee doo outside my little room at the farm as the monsoon rain comes again. I made it here just in time, thanks to the helpfulness of some kind people and my own resourcefulness and determination.

So, just in case you were wondering, Delhi blows. Rachel, an Israeli woman I talked to in the elevator at the Park Inn, described it as hell. I couldn’t agree more. H.E. Double Toothpicks. Hot, scary and rank. And according to Rachel, the crowning blow is that it’s expensive. I think that’s probably relative, and since I just read Raj Patel’s Value of Nothing, I don’t know what to think about the cost of things anymore. Much less the costs of things in hell.

But anyway, dodging heaps of garbage, clattering over rubble, stepping around beggars and shouting “nahin” –No!-- and “jaao” --Go Away!--at “porters” trying to extort money for my bags, I managed to reach the right platform at the right station in the right city at the right time (a half hour early, actually). I was sweating bullets in the heat at 6:30 am, but pretty damn proud of this little farm girl from the Northwoods who was surviving on her own in the 4th largest city in the world. Also known as hell.

Once the train came, I had a little trouble finding the car, since I decided to spring for the AC 1st class ($20) on my first trip alone in India. The website I consulted suggested I would be sharing the car with doctors and military types—who I figured are usually good in an emergency, and charged with helping people. And I am a doctor too. Sort of. My car was all the way at the end—or at the beginning—depending on where you are. I rolled my bags back and forth across the long platform a few times in the 110 degree heat. A little more sweating and nimble navigating through a literal sea of humans never hurt anyone. When I was in the right car--finally--a girl was in my seat, but she wanted to sit by her sister, so I took her seat and waited to see if a doctor or a soldier would sit next to me. Um, no.

Swami Ramji in a saffron robe with a dreadlock twice his height sat next to me. Of course he did. I shook with suppressed laughter (dare I say hysteria?) as he settled into his seat with a happy sigh, his crazy dreadlock snaking around our seats and in my lap. This is really and truly, my kind of luck. Apparently he’s famous and he flies First Class too when he visits his devotees in America. He helped me with my Hindi homework, asked personal questions and then accidentally whacked me in the face with his dreadlock after he piled it all up on his head to leave. He has an ashram very near here, and gave me his phone number and told me to come see the river Ganga in his backyard. OK. Sure. Why not?

Arriving in Dehradun, I got out of the train, and was dispatched immediately to an auto-rickshaw by a nice fellow named Vinay. Last name Kaka. He was super helpful and nice and pointed out the mango trees, rice paddies and the tea plantations and told me about the Hollywood movies he likes and gave me both his phone numbers and told me he would drive me anywhere, just give him two hours notice. No, one hour. For you.

I just smiled to myself and held my dupatta over my mouth to keep down the laughter. Part of the reason I was getting such a kick out of all this was because the little girl from the sticks was completely petrified about the prospect of navigating Delhi, Indian trains and auto-rickshaws to someplace in the vicinity of nowhere, south-central Asia. The fact that it wasn’t completely traumatizing and actually really fun made me a little giddy with relief.

Finally we arrived at Navdanya—Biodiversity Conservation Center—along a bumpy lane lined with gigantic mango trees. Fields of vegetables and neatly kept lawns, brightly painted bungalows, happy healthy dogs and my favorite sign of life—laundry.…aaaah. Away from the empty, sterile missions…out of the stinking hot city….this one feels just right.

On my arrival (even though I was unexpected given the usual whisper-down-the-lane communication problems in India), I was promptly fed a delicious dal and a subji of potatoes grown on the farm and escorted to a lovely room with a view to the mango grove and told to take the day to rest. Disobedient addict to the internet that I am, I checked first to see if I could get wireless in my room. What luck!

While writing this, Julia and Sarau---interns here—came by and offered to share some Italian coffee with me and took me some other fine folks on a long hike in the forest and through small villages, which ended with eating fresh mangos in a mango grove…

Somebody pinch me please.

No comments:

Post a Comment