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Dave in India at iRYLA

Day 11 - Stepwell, Vishnagar
By David GoWell
Posted on 12/29/2014 4:30 PM

Sunday, November 30, 2014


The plan was for Katan to pick us up at 6:45am to go sightseeing, but Saji kept feeling sicker and sicker as the evening went on and it began to look like we wouldn't get much sleep. So I sent Ketan a text at 2:30 in the morning, telling him NOT to come for us early. To please wait until Saji was up and I could make sure he was OK before I went anywhere. I would text him when we were up.


The house manager apparently didn't get the message, because he woke me up at 6:30 with 2 demitasse cups of coffee and a big pile of Ritz Crackers. He wanted me to take a cup, and he was going to take the other one up to Saji. I had a hard time convincing him that I wanted to let Saji sleep, because he is very sick. I had to shout to keep him from going upstairs where Saji was sleeping.


By 9:30 Saji was up and looking and feeling a lot better. He said he wanted to go with us to see the Stepwell in Adalaj VIllage. We let Katan know, and at 10:00am he picked us up and drove us there.


The Stepwell is amazing in that so much effort was made, for the sole purpose of having a cool, beautiful place to get water and socialize. This was not a temple, it was not a palace, it was not a fort, it was not even a single residence. It’s just a very, very nice drinking fountain!



There are 4 small balconies surrounding the central open space and I could easily imagine 4 musicians or singers sitting in those balconies, entertaining the people who had gathered there to enjoy the cool and moist air, and escape the hot and arid desert air.


On the way out of the complex I noticed some very intelligent-looking and well-dressed young men standing behind a table, 30 or 40 feet away. We caught each other’s eye and smiled. I mimed: ‘Namaste!’ They did the same. I went over to see what they were selling or promoting, but I already had a good idea. I was right: they were from ISKCON, The International Society of Krishna Consciousness, the same folks who had first introduced me to any sort of Indian spirituality when I was a Sophomore in high school (see: Background).




They had some beautiful books about Krishna, written in either Gujarati or English. I immediately thought of Pooja and her mother, and thought they would probably really enjoy them. So I bought one of each: the English version (that contained a lot more illustrations) and the Gujarati version.


Then we drove to Katan Mehta’s house for lunch. First we came in and sat down in the living room. The lady of the house brought in a tray of glasses of water and everyone took one and drank it down fast. This is a custom in every Indian home I visited, and in every school and business, too. They don't ask you if you'd like something to drink, te way I would in my home. They just bring you a glass of water. One for everyone. And everyone takes one. And then everyone gulps down the water! They don't take a polite sip and put the glass on a table, to slowly sip from from time to time. No! They gulp it down! And if you don't drink it within 20 seconds, and if you do put it down, the lady of the house will come by and take it away! She won't ask if you are done, she just takes it away! THEN they might ask if you'd like some tea, or coffee, or juice. But the water is a given!


After being watered I started flirting with Ketan's mother. There was a bench swing in the living room, hanging from long chains. All the nicest Indian homes I went in had a bench swing like this. Maybe it's related to the common illustration of Lord Krishna and his devotee Radha, sitting and swinging together on a swing like that.




I sat on the bench and enticed Katan’s mother to sit with me. I told her that my Grandmother had had a bench something like this (but with a back rest) on her front porch and I used to sit on it with her for hours, holding hands. I reached out and took her hand in mine and asked her if she would mind being my Indian Grandmother. I *think* she liked that.




When it was time to eat I was instructed to wash my hands, and directed to a special sink built into the wall of the dining room. This was a big difference from American dining custom. An American Mom would tell her small children to “wash your hands before supper!”, but would never say that to an adult guest. In India, I was invited to wash my hands before every meal. It was expected.


This was to be my first full meal in an Indian home, and I had been looking forward to this for a long, long time. There’s a little speech I like to give at Indian Restaurants that goes like this: “I’m often uncomfortable ordering food in an Indian Restaurant because I wonder if I might be ordering a selection of dishes that no Indian would ever dream of eating at the same meal. If an Indian went to any Diner in New Jersey he would see a bewildering array of different dishes, and it would be all too easy for him to order the following and think it made a good ‘American Dinner’: A bowl of cherry Jell-O, fried clams, a dish of sauerkraut, a side of potato salad, a chocolate milk shake, a Maine Lobster Tail, a glass of lemonade, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Maybe I was ordering items that didn’t ‘go together’ all the time! So I always wanted to see what a real Indian family had for a meal.

We sat at a round table and Ketan’s wife and mother started bringing out the dishes.




There were 3 different kinds of Mango Chutney, which was a huge thrill! Plus they had garlic chutney.




Ketan’s mother was making Puris in the kitchen and kept giving me more and more of them. I think I must have eaten 10 of them – they were SOO good!



After lunch I asked Katan’s wife for some wrapping paper and wrapped the books for Pooja and her mother Neeta. Then we went back to the guest house to pack up, as we were leaving soon for our ROAD TRIP! Saji needed another nap so he went back to bed and Jitu took me to a tailor to be measured for some custom-made Kurta’s!




From there we swung by the guest house to pick up Saji, then we went to Jitu’s house. Once we got there it was like a series of surprise parties! First they showed me some more Kurta’s for me, and Indian tops for Sandy. There were a few more random presents, and then young Krishna showed up with some Samosas (because I had mentioned how much I liked them!) Jitu’s sons Sir Sat the Knight (11) and Taj the Page swore everlasting fealty to me as their King, and I Knighted the older boy with a broom stick and commanded him to slay dragons!



Finally it was time to leave Gandhinagar and hit the open road! Jitu’s wife had packed a huge picnic basket full of food and water and I began to get worried that we might be heading out into the middle of a barren desert or a dangerous forest!


We headed out of town and were soon driving along a desolate road with huge trees on either side. Saji laid down in the back seat and mostly moaned like he was auditioning for a job in a haunted house. We had to pull over real fast one time so he could shout for some guy named 'Huey'. Poor Saji!


After an hour we stopped for Chai and I met some local guys that seemed delighted but very surprised to see me. This was a reaction I had been getting a lot, in every place except the biggest tourist attractions: People looking at me like, “Whoa! A WHITE guy! What in the name of Krishna is HE doing here?! Man! I sure would like to talk to him!”  I never felt like they were looking down on me at all. It was more like I was a really pretty girl at a party and all the guys were REALLY glad I was there, and wanted to talk to me, but were usually a little shy to make the first more. But if I started the conversation – even just by saying, “Namaste!” or “Hi!” they would instantly get animated and want to try to communicate more. And the first question was always the same: “Where from?” or “What country?” And the answer, “USA!” always resulted in a big smile like I had said the very best thing I could say! (I don’t know if this is true at all, but I always had the impression that if I had said, “England!” they would not have smiled so much. I wish I had thought to try that.


We drove the rest of the way to Vishnagar and went straight to the Rotary Club there. This was only the second Rotary Club I had visited in India. This one had a huge building containing a beautiful Rotary Hall and a small hospital. They also owned an Ambulance Service!


It was still blowing my mind that every Rotary Club I visited owned their own building. None of the Rotary Clubs in my District owned any building - I don't think most of them own anything larger than a Bell!

After visiting the Rotary Club we went out to dinner at another Sankalp restaurant.. My stomach was feeling a little queezy so I just had some Tomato Soup and Nan. The Tomato Soup in India is spicier than our and really, really good! That immediately became my go-to light meal or snack when the idea of another huge Indian Feast was simply overwhelming! HOW do these people eat so much all the time?! Are Hamburgers really THAT fattening?!
The Rotarians couldn't stay long at dinner because they were all heading out to another Rotarians Wedding. It seems that either November or  December is the most popular month to get married in India (it's June in the USA) because we were passing Wedding Parties several times every day and Jitu knew about 5 people getting married this weekend! I toyed with the idea of tagging along and working on my Garba skills, but opted for bed, instead!

Jitu took us to Kamini's house to sleep. Kamini was one of the Mentors at iRYLA and is a wonderful person! Her name means 'very desirable woman'. She lived in her Father-in-Laws house (naturally) with her husband Darshan, which means to see something so beautiful or so holy that the mere sight of it uplifts your spirit and makes you holier! Everyone in this house had a beautiful name!
I showed them the RYLA videos I brought and we stayed up late talking about a meditation retreat that Kamini had recently been on. Her Father-in-Laws mother woke up and came in to join us and stayed for a long time. (I had the feeling we were being chaparoned! But that's what you need to do when your son's daughter-in-law deserves the name 'Kamini'!) 
They had a beautiful house! Actually, it was 2 identical houses, separated by a common courtyard. Kamini's Father-in-Law was a diamond merchant and when I met him at breakfast the next morning I told him the motivational story: Acres of Diamonds!     
I slept in a beautiful room, fit 

(I’ll add more to this post later)

                 Continue to Day 12