A squadron of 3-wheeled rickshaws surround and cut my ride like starfighters, their annoying RING-NA-DING-DING! two-strokes squirting blue smoky smog. Driver Ranjit counters with a stab on the oil burner's go pedal, followed by a raunchy horn blast and veer into the buzzing intruders to let them know Homey the Clown doesn't play games.
The sun's down on my final day in the office, I weep a little on the ride home and realize: This is it.
Can't quite put my finger on it yet, but something profound happened over the last two weeks that will stay with me for a long time. It'll probably come to and become clearer after digesting the trip, but initial guess is it's the people.
The little things stick, like a Pune friend from the office gripping my forearm and leading me across a busy intersection during a shopping run on Laxmi Road. The same dude patiently searched with me in a ladies clothing store for a delicate Indo-patterned dress for my daughter. He met Pigtails last month while in the states on business and wanted to help.
I often go for long walks from the hotel, scratching the lower rungs of the city in 5 mile chunks. While winding through a poor neighborhood, a place some would call a "slum", I paused at a shanty. A mother was busily cooking dinner on the ground for her family, using a tiny gas burner.
She smiled, I waved, she didn't speak English, but motioned me over and handed me a hot fried fritter. Gave her a little thank you bow and tried to give her a small amount of money, but she wouldn't take it. Poor as can be, yet she gave me the only thing she had. Made me think of the Bible story about the widow tossing in 2 mites.
No idea what she fed me, but it was friggin' spicy and delicious.
A couple people from the office asked if it was safe to travel those neighborhoods. I told them it's not for everyone, but I never felt threatened. South Chicago or even certain neighborhoods back home in Des Moines are more dangerous than anything I've seen here. The people here generally aren't violent and don't carry weapons.
Plus I'm a scrawny but scrappy bastard and can hold my own. Grew up doing a paper route in the projects when I was 13. A group of 3 boys used to hassle me, throwing fists of rocks and always trying to pick a fistfight. Got my butt kicked a couple times, I learned pretty quickly at a young age how to protect myself and avoid another black eye.
Some people of India are much poorer than anything I've seen. Yet they do the best they can. These kids are from the same neighborhood I snapped above, but you wouldn't know it from their smiles and clean dress. Mom and dad love them.
Just scratched the itch here, more to write but it's 3:30 am in Pune now and Lufthansa lifts in two hours. The flights last significantly longer on the return due to the Earth's rotation slowing us with a western wind. 2 x 11 hour jets, plus a couple puddle-jumpers to bypass Hurricane Sandy.
Somehow, I feel like I've been preparing for this visit to India my whole life, without even knowing it. I'll see you on the other side.