Indians are very kind.
My old friend and traveling companion Jaya told me that at the very beginning of our first trip there six years ago. And each year reminds me again how true it is. Take this year’s trip for example.
For reasons we will probably never know, my usual e-visa request was denied. Three times. I’d already bought my (non-refundable) tickets and was supposed to depart in a week. Jaya had booked our hotels and itinerary, and Janine was getting ready to fly out from the USA. I decided to apply for the regular, multi-year visa, even though it was supposed to take a couple of weeks, which I didn’t have. We wrote letters to the consulate, hoping someone would intervene. No reply. As my departure date drew closer and closer, Jaya and Janine remained optimistic that it would all somehow work out, but I finally had to admit it wasn’t looking good.
Finally it was the day before the trip. Still no word. I decided to go to the consulate in Edinburgh and collect my passport. It was pouring rain, and freezing as I waited outside. A lady came to the door and suggested I wait inside. Time passed, as I imagined all the fun Janine and Jaya would have without me. (There may have been tears…) It was well past their posted closing time when the Consulate General, Mr. Rajpal, sent word that he could meet with me.
He listened to all my pleas, looked at the copies of my books and blog posts I’d brought, and asked if I’d like something to drink. Then he approved the visa for ten years. On the train back to Glasgow, I knew I should be thinking of everything I would need to do before leaving the next day. But I just kept looking at that visa and wondering if Mr. Rajpal could feel all the virtual thanks he would get from three traveling old ladies over the next ten years.
As usual, India was full of kind people, starting with the tall man on the plane who called me Auntie and insisted on carrying my luggage. But the ones who really stand out in my memory were in Pune. A friend of a friend mentioned a free concert to Jaya, and we decided to go. It was supposed to be at a farm, and we were picturing sitting on the ground and trying to hear.
To our surprise, the concert turned out to be at the stunningly beautiful Pandit Farms in the heart of Pune, the last night of a three-day extravaganza honoring the late Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande. We arrived only to discover that although the concert was free, we were supposed to pick up our passes in advance.
To Americans like Janine and myself, that would have been the end. But Jaya was, as always, counting on the kindness of Indian strangers. She explained to the volunteers at the gate that we’d come a long way and had only just arrived in Pune. The three volunteers didn’t consult each other or hesitate for even a moment. Each reached into their wallet and handed over their own pass, waving off our thanks and urging us to enjoy the music.
And enjoy it we did, from the magical lawns under palm trees draped in fairy lights to the massive tent holding thousands of chairs filled with music lovers, to the music itself. I have no idea what the words meant, or even if they were actual words. But each musician was a virtuoso who conveyed a world of meaning and emotion that needed no translation.
We particularly loved the final performer, the incredible Richa Sharma. Backed by her ten-person rock band, she owned that stage and every member of the audience. When she got classical musician Rahul Deshpande to join her in an impromptu duet, the audience went wild.
The night was magic. As we left, I spotted our ticket benefactors standing at the rear of the tent. But when I tried to thank them again, they just waved me off and smiled.
Jaya is so right. Indians are very kind.