India is the land of my soul, the place where I feel so at home my heart aches with joy. No, you smarty-pants people, not indigestion, it’s heart-warming joy and belonging. I know every trip is different, it was just that leaving Brisbane this time was so rushed with preparations and distractions it hardly felt like I was supposed to be enjoying myself. But when the plane tilted turning to come into Bombay Airport and I caught my first glimpse of India, well my heart soared as Mata ji, Maa Durga, mother earth goddess, welcomed me back. I was grinning like, well a lot! Couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
When the plane touched the tarmac I realised the random selection on my phone was colluding with the universe: it was Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral that was reaching it’s enormous, brass filled crescendo in my ears, reverberating in my being. I knew I was not alone.
After a couple of hours in Mumbai meeting a dear sister-friend in person for the first time, it was into a car for the three hour drive to Pune, and the 6th National Bioethics Conference.
No the traffic hasn’t become any less traumatic, I just photographed a quiet bit!
To be honest I didn’t see too much of Pune, and not only because of the terrible pollution that shrouded everything and made breathing a chore. I spent a huge amount of time eating dhosa for breakfast, preparing for the conference, or at the conference, or getting to and from the conference in took tooks. In some ways, after 12 or so trips to India, this has been a trip of firsts. It was my first time in Pune. It’s my first time here “alone.” I’ve always been here for work or as an affluent tourist, and in both cases have had a hired a/c car and a driver. And now here I was standing on the road flagging took tooks, giving directions in my limited Hindi. When I went out of the hotel there was no uniformed Karthik (name changed) waiting for me, I just walked off into the surrounding streets to explore.
The day after I arrived I took a walk around the surrounding area. Apparently this was where the British officials had their bungalows. Many are in ruins, some are maintained, several are under re-construction. The banyan trees are always amazing, so old and gnarled and so alive and rooted in being. Near the international ashram where everyone wears maroon frocks, I met a crazy old American lady. I guess in thirty years time someone will be saying that about me, oh well. She was staying with friends after volunteering up north somewhere for a few months. So we walked and talked about our love of India, saying “nahin chaahie” to the countless wallas who clearly thought we were good for a sale. Bit freaky mentioning Karthik, I haven’t heard from him since 2014, and that afternoon he emailed me a photograph from my favourite temple in Kerala. No way he knows I’m in India, freaky.
Oh and don’t forget the chai wallas, bless them laughing at my, “nahin masala chai chaahie, mujhe photo chaahie” (I don’t want tea, I want a photo).
OMG that night time took took ride back was insane. The cab wallah had no idea where I wanted to go, he usually drove a bus on a fixed route. His limited English had right and left back to front. And my Hindi meant I was using the word for “right” as in correct, not “right” as in opposite to left. At one stage we left the road and went with what seemed like hundreds of other took tooks and two wheelers down into an underground labyrinth, I guess a storm water. Too small for cars it was clearly a dry-season short cut. Crazy, like an Indian Italian job without the heist. I was too stunned to try and take a picture.
The conference was amazing, I made so many wonderful contacts and at least one new sister-friend. A day or so after the conference I got a took took to where she works and was privileged to be given a tour. Touched my heart. There is so much work I want to do here in India. My life is so blessed to be able to live as I do now, and to follow my dreams.
When I left her on her two-wheeler to go home to her family I walked in the general direction of the hotel, knowing I’d need a took took but determined to look at some of the India that I love. Pune’s old city is incredible, in some ways so ramshackled you expect buildings to fall down any second. Like anywhere in India it is thriving with people, and vehicles and horns assault. No cows. Walking was great. I went past two temples. The second, Ganupati Mandir with an incredible gold Ganesha. Opposite there were so many types of Laddu for sale. They’re a sweet treat that Ganesha is said to love and so is bought and offered to the deity. No wonder he’s a tubby elephant. Dear Ganesha, I closed my eyes and gave thanks for the ongoing recovery of my dear sister-friend, and for the many many blessings in my life.
Even the constabulary couldn’t resist madam’s “mujhe photo chaahie” while engaging in a little curbside commerce.
There is no road in an Indian city that isn’t part of the informal economy, even in a demonetised nation. There is always so much to buy – but not a good idea for a foreign stomach to eat much of it. But me being me, of course I found a man selling strawberries!
Further up the road is Shaniwar Wada, a fort that looked older than the 18th century dating I see wiki describing. Anyway, wandering through the car park took me across to a one way street going in the direction required to reach my hotel, so I hailed a took took and having perfected the giving of instruction about where I wanted to be taken, headed back without incident.
It is so wonderful to be home again.