from Amritsar to Delhi (yes, I know that's backwards from what I just said)
The pace of this trip is quick quick quick (someone tell me how to say that in some Indian language please) and despite a lackluster review in my guidebooks as a messy one-horse town, Amritsar proved to be a whirlwind and fascinating visit. Sites as they may be, the real joy for me here was meeting a variety of students and teachers in Indian schools. We saw Pingalwara (sorry for the horrible spelling, but my notes are back in my hotel room), a donation-based school for a range of disadvantaged, orphaned, and physically and mentally challenged children; visited a small village called Konke, where we were the main attraction at the school and in the streets; and a government industrial training institute for women, where we were treated like rock stars. I kid not - there was a hand-painted banner out front when we pulled up, the beautiful pigment drawings on the sidewalks, garlands, bouquets, special presentations of games and handiwork, and Punjabi folk dancing. And yes, as soon as it became clear that it was okay for us to join the dancing, I did so. Oh, and the school had put out a sapling tree for each of us to plant - I have never been so honored. I cried, I just couldn't take it anymore - the generosity and kindness of people here is overwhelming, and sometimes it seems we don't have nearly enough time or energy to really connect - we zip in and out, exchange pleasantries and get a quick tour, as a few questions, then off we go. On the other hand, it strikes me as profoundly true that a smile really is universal.
Now for the non-actual-people-related highlight of my trip thus far. Friday night, we were presented with a program of Punjabi folk dancing by a professional troupe, who had brought with them a light-up dance floor. Egged on by our Fulbright India staff member, Vartika, who is Punjabi, we all got up and joined in. Later on, dancers came out into the audience to grab a few more volunteers, and one of them made a beeline for me. Those of you who have never danced with me need to know that I am a lousy dancer, but what I lack in talent and grace I make up for in enthusiasm and effort. It was so. incredibly. fun. After the formal program ended, there were DJs with a giant catalog of Bollywood music, and our tour guide, Rajan, who also loves Bollywood, had clearly clued them in to things he knew or anticipated I would like. So I'm sitting there, thinking that now that the program is over I might go get something from the buffet, and I hear the strains of "It's the Time to Disco" and all the joy I find in Bollywood movies just wells up and sends me flying to the dance floor, grabbing my friend Debbie as I go. (Debbie is a supercool librarian who also happens to be a midwesterner, and she totally rocks, by the way.) So Rajan, who was in dance competitions in college (Bollywood people: I know, right?!?! those really happen! I haven't gotten up the courage to ask him if people bring hand-lettered signs to those), is up there with some fantastic moves. He has clearly watched these songs over and over and knows a lot of the sequences by heart. With Debbie and me behind him, we groove through "Pretty Woman," "Chaiyya Chaiyya," and "Boro Boro" from Bluffmaster, which I always have to play several times whenever it comes up on my itunes. The only word to describe how happy I was is...superwow. I told Rajan he had made my trip to India and he just gave me this half-smile and the head-wobble, which I have no idea how to interpret. He might have meant an earnest "you're so welcome, you insane woman" or he might have meant "this job does not pay me nearly enough."
Anyway, now I'm back to Delhi. I love the train. I love the nonstop snacks, even if I don't know what they all are. I like the piped-in Hindi music. I like the porters at the train stations with giant hard-sided luggage on their heads. I like zipping through the crowds, desperately trying to keep an eye on Rajan so I don't get lost, splashing through puddles.
Oh! It rained! Our last few hours in Amritsar yesterday, it rained. And it was every bit as glorious as in the movies. People came out onto their balconies and rooves, children splashed, the temperature dropped, and you could feel some relief. I loved it. I ran out from under the hotel awning and twirled around. Lovely.
Off to Ahmedabad tomorrow at 4:00 a.m. Yes, 4:00 a.m. So now to bed!