After a few months more or less stuck on campus, it felt incredible to pack up a suitcase and explore again. My trip actually started on my birthday (the best present to myself) with a 10-hour bus ride from our local market town to the large city of Hyderabad. Considering the size and remoteness of our area, the fact that a “luxury” bus stops here is quite incredible. (I think they can call it luxury because of the TV on board, even though it blasted Bollywood movies at us all night). Finally at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, named after the former prime minister, I waited for a few more hours in the very comfortable terminal, treating myself to a Bacardi Breezer in honor of my 21st. It was basically glorified orange juice and had such a low content of alcohol that they didn’t even card me for it, but still, I’m officially 21!
My flight was a mere 2 hours, so I arrived in the beautiful city of Delhi just after lunchtime and was quickly escorted to a truly luxurious hotel, where I joined a group of our Chairman’s students from UC Berkeley who were visiting India to learn about the Prime Minister’s new “Smart City” initiative. I relished in the fluffy sheets and immediate hot water that my room offered, but too soon it was time to go back outside again, to see the city for myself. Hopping onto the large tourist bus, I was introduced to the other students (they were quite in shock that I had already been in India for a number of months). As we shopped for souvenirs, I stayed pretty quiet, taking in the busyness and dirt of the city as well as the American humor I had grown unaccustomed to. There were many delightful people on the trip, however, and I soon enjoyed chatting with them over dinner.
Sunday brought us an early wake-up call, but for good reason: it was the day to see the Taj! Located about 4 hours from the Delhi center, most of us slept on the way, waking up just in time to observe the deplorable state of the “city” of Agra. The tarp-covered shacks and general grime actually reminded me of Malikipuram, but for many of these first-time visitors, the poverty was rightfully shocking. Even outside of the Taj Mahal, the crown jewel of India, we were beleaguered by men offering various trinkets for sale. Once inside the grounds, the incredible artistry of the Persian craftsmen overtook our senses, and we marveled at the marble, so to speak. The symmetry of the space was the most impressive to me: the Taj Mahal is flanked by two beautiful mosques (the one facing east is in use, the other is just for show), and every waterway has a match. The only thing that is off-kilter is the grave of the mastermind, Shah Jahan, himself. This was because his son arrested him for spending too much money, preventing him from building his own tomb, an identical Taj in black across the river. When he died under house arrest, therefore, he was buried next to his beloved wife, for whom the Taj Mahal was built, but alas, not symmetrically in line with her.
The rest of the time with the team was spent in meetings with various business and government execs who taught us about India’s progress in designing eco-friendly, sensor-enabled, livable cities across the sub-continent. The fact that many cities still lack basic infrastructure did come up, as did the worry that all of these plans are only in the very early stages, but in general, it does look like India will be making great strides forward in the decades to come.
After the Berkeley team left, I journeyed over to another neighborhood of Delhi to stay at the home of some family friends. This area was considerably less wealthy than where the hotel was situated, but it was still very comfortable, and in close enough proximity to the GK market, which featured…wait for it… a Starbucks! A long seven months later, I finally got to enjoy the delectable drinks and atmosphere of the iconic coffee shop.
I loved the “American” food, of course (water buffalo burger, anyone?), but it was the company that really made my final week special. It felt so nice to have a normal conversation, unencumbered by linguistic and cultural differences, or the inevitable glitches of Skype. Just to speak and be spoken to, without delay or explanations. God really came through for me.
Coming back to work has actually been better than I expected. With a fresh perspective on what I am doing here, I expect my final few months to be really exciting, although I can already feel them slipping away too quickly. I’m getting nostalgic over little moments and dog-earring memories for later. Because as frustrating as work can be sometimes, and as eager as I am to see and hold my friends and family, I love my life here, and am sad for it to end. As the great king said, though, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun. My beautiful, florescent pink, Indian sun is starting to set, but I’m so happy with the day it gave me.
Grace and peace to you, my friends! Have the most wonderful of days!