Saturday, April 16, 2005

a mughul sunday morning

hey all.

is a little past 9 on sunday morning (saturday night back in states) and already the temperature here (agra) is over 90 (have learned how to quickly calculate celcius (sp?) to farenheit) . . . a hot and dusty town, full of hustle and bustle, roads are shared between small motorized vehicles (they call them auto-rickshaws), cars, water buffalo, cows, mules/donkeys, pigs, camels, and yes, even elephants . . . arrived here friday aft and am departing tonight on an overnight train for varanasi (formerly benares), perhaps the most holy of hindu towns and one of the places i've really wanted to visit . . .

trainride from delhi to agra was about 3-hours, and i spent it sharing a "compartment" with a family from bombay on holiday -- husband, wife and two boys . . . all spoke a little english (the wife did not speak to me at all) . . . the husband (deepak) and i spoke alot about the differences in our countries (he had been to usa five years ago) and we then got into talking about spiritual matters, education, the differences (and similarities) between people, etc. i then pulled outmy notebook to teach the boys how to play tic-tac-toe . . . well, they played dumb and then beat me repeatedly, seems they already knew how to play . . . and i was struck at small the world really is, a silly little game, hindi-speaking children from bombay, etc. we all laughed alot.

as i write this am in an internet "cafe" -- a dirt-floored little room off the main drag and there's lots of commotion coming from the room next door as about 20 young men are gathered watching the cricket match from delhi . . . pakistan and india are playing, this is the final game of the series and india is down 3-2 (after blowing a 2-0 lead) . . . this is big big stuff here, headlines in newspapers, etc . . . tried watching cricket on tv last night and cannot for the life of me understand the rules, scoring etc.

today's game is made even larger by the fact that pakistan president musharraf is attending the game, it is his first visit to india in four years and he has been meeting with prime minister singh over kashmir . . . (the newspapers refer to musharraf as the "little general" and of course singh is a"dr." so you can see the sentiment here . . . it boggles my mind that (and i assume pakistan is the same) a country with the poverty of india (and i have not yet been out to the "villages") can be involved in border disputes that carry with them the threat of increasing nuclear armament, but that, in a nutshell, is what i'm learning india is all about . . . almost ridiculous extremes of all types . . . hopefully they will reach what the hindustan times (english newspaper) call "CBM's" (confidence building measures) to soften the border issues that seem so explosive . . .

i spent yesterday morning the taj mahal, watched the sunrise turn the white marbe soft pink/orange/yellow, and was enrapture . . . yes, we all know it is a beautiful building, and the love story behind it is a timeless one . . . but what really got me was/is the geomtery of the place . . . incredible synchronicity of all elements not just with taj itself (taj is arabic for "crown") but with the gardens and all surrounding buildings . . . the geometry is truly mind-blowing . . . went there with haji, my guide here in agra, a lifelong resident who really knows his stuff . . . haji is muslim, and a devout one at that, and we spent much of yesterday talking about islam, with haji answering all my dumb questions . . . what an opportunity to learn!!

did some more sightseeing (agra was the center of the mughul empire in the 1500's-1600's) and much of the buildings are well preserved . . . later today, after lunch at sunil gupta's home (sunil is a man that dale colton in tampa introduced me to) i'll be going to futepuhr sigri, where the world's "best preserved ghosttown" exists . . . only this is this ghosttown was built by akbar the great in the 1500's and supposed to be magnificent . . .

was speaking to louise by telephone earlier today and tried to explain how intense this place is . . . the beauty is overwheming, the poverty crushing . . . i have seen people with leprocy, children with deformed feet hopping around on little poles, begging for rupees, dogs tearing apart dead cows along the side of the road, and then have experienced the taj mahal and the friendliness of these people, who are for the most part, eager to please, friendly and respectful.

the trick for me, and i am working on it, is to not just be an observer but a participant . . . this morning, eating breakfast in my hotel, i passed on the american meal, and the continental meal, and opted for the indian one, which was spiced potatoes, curds (yohurt), spicy pickles and bread . . . the waiters in the restaurant smiled, and encouraged me, and kept coming over to see how i enjoyed the meal . . . truth is, it was delicious (i passed on the pickles) . . . so what's a little diahrea in the grand scope of things, anyway . . . at least there's no blind mosquitos here (a yalaha joke) . . .

am missing baseball (but not steroid stories), and louise (alot), and that good old (zero etc) music, and all the kids of course . . . is funny how being so far away make one appreciate all (people etc) we have at home . . . and nervously anticipating tonight's 13-hour trainride north to varanasi . . . the indian railroad system ain't amtrak . . .

love to you all . . . mark


note: i received the following as email from dale colton, who (maybe a little techno-challenged :-)) was not able to post it as a "blog comment" . . . want to share it, so here it is . . .

Dear Mark,

You've got it... my heart smiled when I read your words....

" just go with the experience. You have to surrender."

If you have gotten that lessen within hours of your arrival... you will do very well in India.

We in the West in a very materialistic atmosphere and we tend to use things instead of connecting with each other in order to feel better. We prefer TV and reading rather than talking ... relating to characters in movies and novels rather than each other ... we require an absurd abundance of distractions and things to fill the emptiness.

People do not have these kinds of false escapes in India... Instead, they relate to each other... care about their children, family members, friends and neighbors .

The antium " The guest is God"... is foremost in India. They cook for you, care for you and genuinely go all out to make you feel comfortable ... You are brought into their lives as a blessing... your friendship is considered a gift.

I am so happy you will be able to meet my friend Sunil and his family and see that India's real asset... is her people.

Love, Dale