Y’know when you have those magical moments, when somehow things just align so that the unexpected happens, that somehow life becomes more than you ever thought? Last night I went out to dinner with about six other volunteers. We’ve found this wonderful vegetarian restaurant called Ghulab’s quite close to where we are staying for our training. (I’m hoping that my stomach soon adjusts to Indian food which I so much love to eat). As has become my habit, if there is any food left over I will ask for it to be packed and then give it to one of so many people who seem destitute, in my Western eyes, in this area. (I’ll talk more about this at some point, because in fact the definition of destitute seems to be open to interpretation). There is an older Indian man who helps to park cars during the day and has been so helpful and friendly towards us. He sleeps across from the ISI on the pavement with some dirty covers. To my western eyes he seems destitute, but he is always smiling. As the saying goes he literally doesn’t have a “pot to piss in”, but he seems to take life as it comes. I know that he is often hungry and I decided to give him the leftovers from last night, some sweet and sour something or other and some palek malai kofta.
This man seems to hang out with an older Indian woman and her daughter, maybe in her 20’s, some of the many women who make the flower necklaces outside my door. Earlier in the day the man had told me that the younger woman had requested some food. It’s a difficult balance to know what to do, i.e. do you give people food and money on a regular basis? My feeling is that giving money, which is difficult anyway on my limited volunteer budget, is not the best route to go, because when or how does it stop. If you give to one you have to give to another. Whenever some of the children ask me for money I turn it around and in my rudimentary Hindi ask them to give me some Rupees. They get a laugh out of this and the asking usually stops.
After handing the man the bag of food I asked him to take me to the woman and share the food with her. As I was walking back to ISI, some of my many children friends, who always call me Michael with a big smile, waved hello from a doorway. Building up trust with people takes time. In the western world it probably takes a lot more time as we are constantly rushing around and don’t always tend to sit down with others in a really meaningful way unless we want something. In the Indian world this seems to be different. On a deeper level of course we all long for connection with others, for friendship, for understanding. In the Indian world there appears, from my limited experience, to be a gentleness, a just wanting to sit and talk and be with friends. It doesn’t seem to really matter what income level someone is at or what their “house” looks like, it’s a wanting to have meaningful connection. (Of course the caste system, from what has been described, is still in existence, but more on this later). I know that I always try to put intent out, what it is that I would like to have. I’m not sure that this is the case here as things, again from my eyes, seem to occur naturally.
From the doorway I was very gently invited into a “bedroom”. I have been here two weeks and I just feel so blessed to have built up enough trust to have been invited into someone’s house. I sat on a weaved bed and talked with my younger friends, with every subject being open to discussion. I’ve told them a bit about Judaism and they’ve told me a bit about Hinduism. On some level they can’t believe that I’m 52 and one of the children was kidding me about where is my walking stick. On another level I think that they appreciate the fact that someone of my chronological age is able to connect with them in a meaningful way, as a friend and not a parent.
After some time the children asked for music which my volunteer friends Joe with his guitar, from the UK, and Mark with his dulcimer, from Canada, have provided. I went to ISI and brought both of them back to the room. Both Mark and Joe are just wonderful human beings, letting and actually encouraging the children to play their instruments. The children did in fact play both instruments. We all sang jingle bells together. Picture as best that you can being in a “house” in Delhi, with it being very warm, singing jingle bells with an American, an Englishman, a Canadian and six Indian children. Other people from the “neighborhood” hearing the music would stop by, the women in their beautifully colored saris, a man carrying a three month old baby, who I was able to hold, others just popping their heads in with huge smiles, just appreciating the connection that we all shared.
As I left I hugged my Indian friends, a bond made and to be continued for who knows how long, but never-the-less all of us being touched by one another and making a difference, in each other’s lives. This is not to be taken lightly in any sense as we really don’t ultimately know how other’s touch us. Maybe years down the road one of the Indian children will look back with a huge smile and remember Joe and Mark and me and the other volunteers and how friendly we all were. I know that I will always cherish these moments and will think about them with a greater understanding of others and a greater connection to this world which we all share.