Thursday, April 22, 2010

To India and Back

March 6, 2006
Agra, India

February 8, 2010 -- Aurangabad, India

Four years ago, Mike and I last visited the subcontinent. You can see us in front of the Taj Mahal, fairly newly wed, Mike looking gaunt after a bout of white-guy-in-India disease.

Four years later, we are with my parents in Aurangabad, where the last of the Mughal emperors died, and the "Baby Taj" built by his son for the late empress is the only memorial there for the once-vast empire. Mike and I try to recreate our original pose, but I can't remember whether I'd been on the right or the left.

Not that it matters -- we realize that anyone looking at the photo will only be looking at the little person in between us.

In 2006, Mike had been THE center of attention all over India -- whether it was my family commenting on his handsome features, his primitive Bengali, his love of hot chilies, or his appetite for sweets, or village children chasing him ("Sahib! Sahib! Give me one pen!"). In 2010, Rohan outperformed Mike in his ability to attract people with cameras, schoolkids, waiters in restaurants, you name it.

And to the family? Though still a great guy, Mike is Old News. Rohan met both great grandmothers and hordes of aunts and uncles, in general jumping into the arms of anyone who would either take him outside, let him climb stairs, or enable him to touch fascinating items/animals. Rohan quickly got used to India's rhythms, and VERY used to having his grandparents at hand 24/7.... we couldn't have made the trip without my parents for sure.

That's the summary of our two weeks -- but in India, the beauty is in the details. Visit our photo pages to meet our family and see highlights of Delhi, Kolkata, Aurangabad, oodles of ancient cave temples, and Mumbai.

And a few excerpts from my diary can help fill in the blanks:

January 31, 2010:
"What saved the plane trip was the bassinet. Obviously useless for Rohan sleeping, but a place of novelty, refuge, exercise, and independence. Mike did a lot of the "up-and-down" from the bassinet game."

February 1, 2010:
"We walked in Karol Bagh [the Delhi neighborhood we stayed in] with R. in the backpack. His reactions to most things were 'Whoa!'. Such things included:
  • Lorries blaring down tiny streests
  • Stray dogs running
  • Roosters/hens in alleyways and on roofs of corrugated tin
  • Roadside goats
  • Cycle-powered carts carrying immense cargoes
Mike shakes his head, seeing a man carrying a pickaxe while texting on his Nokia. Things have changed in 4 years."

February 5, 2010:
"Dimmoni [my grandmother] had directed M&B to get Rohan a toy. To check for leaks, Bapik decided to inflate the giraffe in the parking lot. Fate would have it that [family friends] happened to encounter them in the midst of giraffe-inflation. Because the giraffe is spotted, Rohan calls it 'Moo.' Dimoni was pleased by the giraffe. Photos were taken with everyone, including Shima [the nurse] who made sure the giraffe was in the picture."

February 8, 2010:
"Our sendoff meal from Kolkata was one of [my aunt's] best. Mike cleaned his plate and even deboned his own fish. India transforms anyone."

February 9, 2010:
"Ajanta will live in infamy because of the papparazzi chasing Rohan. Our guide, Mr. Joshi, asked if we planned to put a black mark on Rohan to ward off the evil eye. I laughed at the suggestion, until my mother admitted that she had already bitten Rohan's little finger to achieve the same effect. One curious trend, or lack of trend, is the diversity of ages, classes, and marital status of people fawning over Rohan. Certainly teenage girls -- but also a fair share of single men, older men, little boys. At times, a nucleating effect at work."

February 11, 2010: (Mumbai)
"I can't imagine living without ever seeing the three massive faces of Shiva at Elephanta. Lined with a long-lost humanism, the faces are alive."

"While Rohan slept in Mike's lap, we explored Gandhi's room in Mumbai, where Gandhi learned to spin cotton. We saw the books he read, the letters he wrote to FDR, Tolstoy, Hitler. He owned about 16 objects. I will aspire to this level of detachment when I am old."

February 12, 2010:
"At the legendary Trishna restaurant, Mike and I had a dinner of springy, fresh king prawns in hot black garlic sauce, a stroll through the Kala Ghoda arts festival. Then despite a bad cab driver abandoning us in the "Muslim Electronics Neighborhood' we got to watch most of Three Idiots at the Alankar Cinema. Three Idiots and Three Cheers for grandparents babysiting."

February 13, 2010:
"As the trip wears on, Rohan becomes more and more attached to his Dimoni and Dadan. Bapik spoils him, taking him up and down stairs, to see pigeons at Gateway of India, feeds him breakfast. Mike jokes that we need to make a Bapik-mask so that we can wear it and have Rohan eat for us."

"A 2-day escape to Matheran hill station, to avoid the Mumbai opening of the controversial film My Name Is Khan. Threats of Shiv-Sena violence dominate the news. Cinemas are heavily guarded, TV crews line the Regal next to our hotel. So we take the narrow gauge rail to Matheran. Rohan leans out the windows to see the locomotive and the valley falling away beneath us."

February 14, 2010:
"Underneath the gazebo in the park in Colaba, we played Pop Goes the Weasel (Rohan hides behind the pillar and jumps out saying 'Pop'). An 8-year-old Muslim boy played with Rohan, and his uncle explained to Mike that he had a little brother Rohan's age at home."

"That evening we spent in Pawai, at Uncle Shubhai's apartment. My cousin Tin Tin is now 13, and plays soccer. Rohan was excited enough by their picturesque flat, fireworks from a nearby wedding, soccer balls, Tin Tin's guitar playing, that he stayed awake until our plane boarded at 2:30 AM!!"

February 20, 2010:
"Recovery. I return to Millipore Marcom to find major restructuring. [My boss] laid off [the other scientific writer]. I'm now alone."

I add this last entry to explain a bit of why I'm writing this ultra-long synopsis of our trip, 2 months after it's over. And I already can't wait to go back.