Learning from each other – Pune, India

The drive from Mumbai to Pune took several hours though we did stop once for a bite to eat. I had my first real Indian food at a roadside bunch of little stalls. Zarna was careful to make sure I got something pretty safe though I had some tea as well, which may have been what did me in. When we finally arrived at the apartment complex I was knackered. I was able to keep my eyes open for a short time while I got acquainted with Govind and Khushboo (Khushi for short), the other two kids. I watched a bit of Masterchef and drank some tea before heading to sleep.

The next morning I was able to get a better picture of my surroundings. We were high up on the seventh floor which meant I had a great view of a huge field and a skyline of mostly residential apartments. Directly across the road was a large white building with a big green manicured fenced in field in front of it. This, I learned and would learn every other night for the next two weeks, was a wedding/party facility. I could learn a lot about Indian weddings without actually having to crash them. Fantastic!

There was also a fair/carnival/festival being set up if I looked out the balcony. I was excited about it until I learned that one of the attractions was a motordrome (Wall of Death) which would keep me up well into the night. The cement walls seemed to amplify the motorbikes and no amount of earplugs could block that noise.

I spent most of my days writing or reading while the kids were at school. Sometimes I just sat and stared out the window. I was quite ill for the first couple days (first day I barely got out of bed) and I still blame that tea, though who knows. I would usually eat lunch with Zarna, the mom, at around 1 or 2pm. The first couple days I was only allowed bland food but after that it got yummier. I learned that you take roti before rice and if you take rice first it means you don’t want roti. I also learned that a papadom doesn’t need to be fried in oil. I ate lots of homemade yogurt and plenty of daal. There was no meat or eggs allowed in their kitchen but I was very surprised with the variety of vegetarian dishes served. They had a cook, Maharaj, who was quite creative although he was a little taken aback when he saw one of my concoctions. Once when I asked for cinnamon (my limited Hindi) he gave me red pepper instead. He seemed impressed by my improvisational skills. My favorite were the desserts though they were quite sweet, I just plowed through them anyway. Eating time was one of my favorites and we normally all sat down together.

Another one of my favorite times was art sessions with Govind. He is a 9 year old boy who can draw like no other. Not only was he fast, he was quite precise. I was in awe at how well trained his eye was and I let him know. I asked him if he liked painting and he said no. I showed him my painting kit that I had gotten on the ship and gave him my last (and favorite) painting. Somehow this must have inspired him because after that, he painted every day. He would draw (because I suck at drawing) and we would paint them together. I found myself teaching and saying almost exactly the same things David on the ship had told me in class just a couple weeks prior. Ahhh…now I understand what the teacher  meant, I thought to myself as I guided the adorably driven youngster. Sometimes it takes having to teach it to really get it. Anyway, I have never had a little brother but if I did, I would like him to be just like Govind.

Pranov was another breath of fresh air I was honored to learn from. He is a sixteen year old with downs syndrome who has a beautiful nature. Though his language is quite limited, his spirit is quite communicative. He loves to dance and sing and was always watching Bollywood movies on his iPad. When everyone was singing karaoke in the living room, I was shy for the first while, refusing to participate. I busied myself doing manicures and pedicures with Khushi. But after some time, I could help but get drawn in. Pranov’s exuberance was so pure it was infectious. I sang my heart out, and rather badly at times especially when I attempted songs I had never heard before. But it didn’t matter. It was fun and silly! That was the first time done that without having to be coerced with alcohol.

I had some really good heart to hearts with beautiful Khushi who is getting ready to leave home. She wants to go study abroad and is at that pivotal point in her life. I learned that we had a lot in common and wished that I had been more sensible when I was that age. She took me shopping and helped me get a SIM card for my phone. She also waited patiently while I tried on a billion salwar kameez’s before settling on the lemon yellow one. We did all the things girlfriends do including walks, shopping, baking, movies, and going for frozen yogurt. She was fantastic company for me to have in my first few weeks in India and answered all my silly questions without making me feel stupid for asking.

Grateful for innocence of children.

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