My journey from Honolulu to Delhi was relatively uneventful. The ten hour flight to Taipei passed quite easily with about three hours of very welcome airplane sleep (not the same as the real thing, I hasten to add) plus a viewing of a movie that had “Mutants” in the title, something I would never pay to see in a movie theater, nor on DVD in a million years.
Arriving in Taipei, I found myself in the same slightly seedy hotel that I went to last year for the ten hour layover. This year, however, China Airlines declined to pay for it. But I thought the $31 it cost me was more than worth it for the chance to get a hot bath, plus the opportunity to sleep, although the latter eluded me this time.
On the flight from Taipei to Delhi, I found that I had been seated with a bunch of shaven Sikhs from Vancouver. These were not the type of guys with which one would want to go on vacation. By the smell on his breath, my seatmate was already well tanked up. When he proceeded to order both a beer and a whiskey at the same time from a passing flight attendant, my suspicions were confirmed.
These were the type of travelers who felt that the rules did not apply to them. Talking and laughing loudly in Punjabi, in spite of the many people who were trying to sleep, they studiously ignored the seat belt sign and the many admonitions from flight attendants to behave. I found myself wishing we were on a US carrier so some air marshal, looking to justify his existence in an otherwise boring job, would handcuff them and divert the plane to Bangor, Maine so I could have the pleasure of seeing them taken away by the local police.
After a while, they asked me to exchange my seat with another of their group who wanted to join the party. I was more than happy to oblige. I moved a few rows back and got a little sleep.
Arriving in Delhi not quite as smooth as last time. Our flight was full and an Air India flight had landed just a few minutes before we did, thus it took an hour for my bags to come through.
The journey to Central Delhi went smoothly though, albeit with a kamikaze driver who at one point managed to sandwich our air conditioned SUV between three trucks at the same time.
Getting to bed at 3:30am, I was already awake at 7. I was delighted to see Guneet Kaur, my hostess. She, along with Maninder Singh her husband and Auntie ji her mother in law are the most gracious hosts anyone could wish to experience.
Having already sent her elder daughter, Asees, off to school, she was getting the younger one, Sahej, ready to go. Sahej is four years old with an extremely strong personality. During the course of our conversation, Guneet told me that Sahej was going to be a vegetable seller in a play at her pre school that morning and asked me if would like to go along and see the play. Last year, when I was visiting, I had so many wonderful experiences just by tagging along when the family was doing seemingly mundane things that I immediately agreed.
The pre-school was only a few blocks from Guneet’s house. The area in which they live, New Friends Colony, is one of the more upscale areas of Delhi. The preschool was on the first floor and basement of what appeared to be a residential building. It was clean and attractive. The walls had been painted in bright colors and covered with well done murals representing various aspects of Indian culture.
The children themselves were unbelievably cute. They were wearing white shirts and pink check shorts or skirts depending on their gender. One little Sikh boy was wearing a maroon patka. They appeared to be about three or four years old.
We were invited to join them for morning assembly. All the children were lined up in front of a small stage upon which stood three of the teachers. The teachers were leading the children in singing some action songs which required moving ones arms, legs, head or body in time with the appropriate verse of the song. (Like “I’m a little teapot short and stout, although this was not one of the songs they sang). The songs were mostly in English with a few in Hindi. They finished off with the Indian national anthem, at least that’s what I presumed because I was asked to stand during the song. I must say that I was very impressed with the enthusiasm with which the teachers did their job.
I couldn’t help but notice that, if I was asked to do an impersonation of an Indian preschool teacher singing a nursery rhyme in English, that would be exactly the way these young ladies leading the songs sounded. (I don’t mean that to be unkind, the effect was really quite charming).
Unbelievably, they had a sound system. This seemed superfluous to me, considering the room itself was about twice the size of the average living room. I’m not sure what it is with Indians and sound systems. Perhaps it is because Delhi and Mumbai are two of the most sound-polluted cities in the world. Yet even a small Indian town will have a huge amount of noise coming from various PA systems, in stores, restaurants, even the local gurdwara or mandir.
The principal of the school then said a few words. Unfortunately she spoke loudly and too close to the microphone so her voice came out hugely distorted. It reminded me of speeches in so many gurdwaras I have visited over the years..
Then it was time for the play. The theme was a simple one. One little girl came out dressed as a fruit seller. She was handed a fruit (real or plastic) by a nearby teacher and said a few words about the fruit. Then one of the children came forward to the microphone dressed as the appropriate fruit. They all began by saying “Good morning, I am a……..”(fill in the fruit of your choice), said a few words about the fruit and finished by saying “Thank you”. It was quite charming and, of course, delivered in English with a thick Indian accent. The sound system kept a continuous howl of feedback during the play as no one seemed to realize that the cure for feedback is to turn the system down a little. Again reminding me of the many gurdwaras I have visited.
After the fruits, it was time for the vegetables. And so it was Sahej’s turn. She came out, dressed as a vegetable seller and turned in a stellar performance, brimming with confidence. The format was essentially the same.
After the performance, we were getting ready to leave when one young boy, who was meant to be in the play turned up late dressed as a vegetable, which one, I can’t remember. Even though almost everyone had gone, we stood as he was invited up onstage to deliver his lines, applauded politely and then left.
It was a lovely experience on my first morning in India.