So much life has happened in the past three weeks;
here is an encapsulation:
Shgam set me up in a nearby hotel for the 12 hour layover in Delhi. After I returned and checked in, I had about two hours to wait before boarding. A few minutes before boarding, Shagam had mentioned something about retagging my bags but if I left the boarding area, I would miss my flight. If I had been given this information earlier, I would have had time to do whatever was supposed to be done with the bags. What I really missed in the language challenges was that I needed to take my bags to Customs for screening and inspection. I got on the plane, expecting to retrieve my bags in Ahmedabad, as promised by Air Canada. Silly me.
On the flight I was fortunate to be sitting next to a Customs official named Sajan. We had a very pleasant conversation; I shared with him that I was flying to Ahmedabad to live in retirement. Sajan had no luggage but he hung out with me while we waited for my three pieces of luggage. To my surprise, the luggage never showed. Sajan took me to baggage claim where we filled out a claim. He then joined me in an auto rickshaw about half way to the Summit Hotel where Rajesh said I was to wait for a few days until he returned from his journey to Singapore. After Sajan exited the auto rickshaw, I proceeded to the hotel.
The Summit Hotel is owned by a family friend of Rajesh. I wound up staying there for a week; staff were all friendly and polite; the food was good; my only problem was that the Internet service was usually very poor. During the week, I logged into the Ahmedabad chapter of Couchsurfing.com (CS) and announced my presence in Ahmedabad. A number of CS members responded, met me for meals and made my introduction to Ahmedabad quite wonderful. One new friend in particular, Mubina Qureshi, made an amazing connection for me; after visiting my website on predatory leadership (impada.org), she introduced me to the producer of an upcoming conference on peace, culture and literature. With that introduction, I was invited to give the keynote presentation at the lecture coming up in September in a city called Pune (pronounced Poon-ay).
Rajesh showed up a week later; my luggage still had not arrived. Several CS friends had tried contacting Air Canada and Air India on my behalf; it was finally determined that I had to return to Delhi to deal wth Customs in order to get my bags. With the help of more kind people, including Joshi and Nandeeta of the Vedanta Cottage Exposition, after about four hours of going from department to department, I finally retrieved my luggage. Since then, Rajesh, and on occasion, Mubina, have been showing me around Ahmedabad. Among other things, I learned to pronounce the name of the city as “omnabad”.
Tarik at the Alpha Mall
Today I have arranged for Tarik, my “personal” auto driver, to take me to the Alpha Mall. I’ve been drinking those little probiotic bottles and I think that has been helpful in keeping me healthy; they are at the market in the mall. And I plan to take lots of video of Tarik’s frightening driving through the intense intersections of Ahmedabad.
As often happens, things do not turn out as one plans. I am reminded of an old Buddhist saying:
Whenever it begins is the right time
Whoever shows up are the right people
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
When it is over… it is over
It seemed to me that Tarik and I had a good connection in spite of the language barrier. The fact that I made an appointment for him to be my driver today meant something to him on a level that was unknown to me. He showed up today dressed very nicely, his demeanor was dignified. And when we started to drive, I noticed that he did not drive wild and crazy like I expected. He drove slow and dignified. How could I say, “Tarik, drive faster?” I could not. I went with the flow. And as I was to discover, it was not how we traveled, it is where we traveled that was unexpected and magical.
We went to the Alpha Mall first; I picked up more probiotic drinks and a couple of bananas. As we looked at prices in the stores, (Levis for 3,000 rupees – $45) Tarik said we should go to the bazaar, everything there is much cheaper.
Leaving the mall, we took major roads for a while, then the roads got smaller and smaller and eventually turned into narrow pathways shared by pedestrians, scooters and autos. If I understood Tarik correctly, we were in the oldest part of Ahmedabad, or in the oldest Islamic part of Ahmedabad. I was reminded of swap meets in the U.S. except here, the booths were lined up along the pathways. Eventually we came to a place with two kinds of mosques. One was very old and small. I had to take off my shoes and put my phone in my pocket. Inside I saw three tombs; from what I could understand, a famous leader was in one of the tombs. (Later, my couch surfing friend, Viplove, said that Tarik was referring to the Sultan Ahmed Shah, who founded Ahmedabad in 1414.) As we were alone, I asked Tarik if I could take a photo. He touched his ear and pointed up and said, “God”. So, no photo. We walked a little bit and came to a very large open air mosque that seemed as big as a football field. You will see a video of that mosque. Because of the time of day, Tarik said I could take a video.
It seemed like Tarik had given me a window into his world. I felt very honored. This was not a commercial or tourist part of the city; this was where residents lived their daily lives. Maybe I saw one European/Westerner the entire day.
A couch surfing friend, Viplove, is picking me up in a few minutes to take me to his home for dinner; I will meet his wife and 8 month old daughter. More to post later.