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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15


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    [post_content] => Dear parents, friends, and others following along on this journey,

We are spending our final days in India tucked away in the cozy hideaway at Sonapani, in the space where the delta starts reaching up into the high Himalaya. We spent some of our first days in India here at Sonapani, and returning here now has had a way of bringing us full circle on the incredible journey that this has been.

We have spent the past days working through what Dragons refers to as Transference, the process of reflecting on our time in India and preparing to take the big step back into our lives in the US. As part of this, we asked students to think of one word and one sentence answers to the inevitable question “How was India?” As a preview to their arrival in the US, their answers are included here:

“How was India?” in one word:

Indescribable

Eye-opening

Enlightening

Crazy

Interesting

Empowering

Colorful

Wonderful

Exciting

Incredible

Challenging

Engaging

Edifying

Tiring

Amazing

“How was India?” in one sentence:

Banaras is a ridiculously challenging place to live, but I was eventually able to adjust to it and do things I was proud of.

Varanasi was incredible and a challenging place to live…my time there really changed the way I think about a lot of things.

It was amazing! Although hard at times, I had an awesome experience and gained so much insight into the culture there.

Really wonderful! I worked hard, had a ton of fun, and learned so much more than I can say.

It was really tough at times but an awesome experience.

It was an eye-opening experience and challenging at times, but I really learned a lot.

My time in India opened my eyes to my own capabilities and to the amazing things the world has to offer.

India was really great! I learned so much and had a wonderful time.

Amazing and challenging, but no matter what I would say a valuable learning experience: a holiday and an educational experience rolled in one, a sabbatical really.

In addition to this, students were tasked with coming up with a list of twenty words that most describe India. After writing this list, they did an activity where they each contributed two lines to a poem not using any of those twenty words. Additionally, they could only see the previous two lines when it was their turn to add. Here is the final product:

The One Spoke

The sun rises on the holy river

As a child reaches the ghats, face covered in golden light.

 

Eyes sparking as they follow the gaudy paper kite

Skipping through the plumes of chai steam and cow dung smoke

 

Nostrils flaring as they breathe in the pungent scent of bodies,

Bodies moving around, encased in vivid colors, bodies lying atop wooden piles

 

Looking out past the ghats with sorrow & hope in their hearts

For death and life, and life & death cycle into one

 

For now my journey lies on one spoke of that wheel

And I share it with the 1.3 billion others in this land

 

From Buddha’s famed expoundment of the wheel’s dharma

to the continuing spin of the wheel of my own karma,

 

I will carry

to my home, and all the miles until I sleep.

 

We have one final day here in the mountains before we return to steamy New Delhi, where we will tick the final boxes on our India to-do list, meet with Evelyn’s and Alex’s families, and pack our bags for the final journey home. We will be in touch again as the group takes off for the United States.

Caleb, Christy, Dolly, and Hemant
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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How was India?

Caleb, Christy, Dolly, and Hemant,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Dear parents, friends, and others following along on this journey, We are spending our final days in India tucked away in the cozy hideaway at Sonapani, in the space where the delta starts reaching up into the high Himalaya. We spent some of our first days in India here at Sonapani, and returning here now […]

Posted On

05/28/15

Author

Caleb, Christy, Dolly, and Hemant

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    [post_content] => Hi all,
After 8 days of trekking through the aftermath of what is essentially the world's largest geological fender-bender, we're back safe and sound in the mountain outpost of Leh, Ladakh.

The weather is insanely beautiful, and it feels like a real accomplishment to look back across the Indus Valley to the very peaks we were weaving in and out of just days ago knowing that we stood atop a few of those snowy passes.

We're all taking the day to rest up from our journey, stand beneath some much needed showers, and see a few final sites of Leh before we're back on the proverbial dusty trail. Our group leaves early tomorrow morning on a flight back to Delhi, and after a brief layover there we'll all be boarding another train up to Kathgodam in Uttarakhand. Our destination in the Kumaon region is once again Sonapani, where we'll spend a week reflecting on the entirety of our year together and looking ahead to all that awaits us beyond June 1.

Many thanks to all of you for your support during this experience. It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride. We look forward to sharing more of it with you all very soon.

Caleb and Christy
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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Safe and sound back in Leh.

Caleb Brooks,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Hi all, After 8 days of trekking through the aftermath of what is essentially the world’s largest geological fender-bender, we’re back safe and sound in the mountain outpost of Leh, Ladakh. The weather is insanely beautiful, and it feels like a real accomplishment to look back across the Indus Valley to the very peaks we […]

Posted On

05/21/15

Author

Caleb Brooks

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                 Using the copy machine at school requires navigating a lot of bureaucratic regulations and is generally inefficient, so I often visit a local Xeroxing store that’s a short bike ride from my house. But store isn’t the right word. To be frank, the best word to describe it is dukan, the Hindi word that technically means store but brings to mind something totally different.  The shop probably measures about six by six feet and is squeezed in between a jewelry boutique and an office supplies store. The large copy machine takes up about a quarter of the space and the computer another eighth. A towering pile of boxes of paper and printing ink occupies yet another quarter and the three stools in the store make it nearly impossible to maneuver around. Not to mention the fact that the only place to park your bike is in the gutter outside. It’s a place with character, if nothing else, and the store owner is as friendly as his dukan is cramped. I go there about once a week to copy worksheets, tests, and other teaching materials and have struck up a friendship with the owner.

               I stumbled upon the dukan one day when I did not feel like biking all the way to Lanka, the nearest big shopping street, to have copies made for school the following day. I biked slowly down the main road through Assi, the neighborhood where I live, keeping an eye out for both a printing store and possible street hazards like cows, vegetable sellers, and school children. Not too far from our on-site director’s house, I spotted a large sign in colored block print letters reading “XEROX.” I parked my bike and headed inside.

              My first visit I did not speak much, only saying a couple of words in Hindi. The owner amiably commented that I was learning good Hindi, gave me my copies, and then I set off on my way. The second time I went, however, I had a bigger order of copies (it was test week at school and I needed printouts for all of my classes) and I got time to sit with the man and really talk to him. During this visit he realized that my Hindi is at least good enough to hold a conversation and he started talking to me about things other than the typical “Hi, how are you? How do you like India?” type conversations I have in Hindi about 90% of the time here. A sort of routine developed where I would walk in, give him my papers to copy, sit on one of the stools, and talk to him for a few minutes. I got a chance to practice my Hindi and he would give me unsolicited advice, as many middle-aged Indian men are wont to do, on random things like biking and taking ayurvedic (Indian homeopathic) medicine.

                The week preceding the Hindu festival of Holi, I walked in and asked him if he was going to participate in the festivities that weekend. His normally sunny disposition turned dark and he told me that he did not like to play Holi. Then, he launched into an hour-long tirade about how both the gap between the rich and poor and the problems of caste and casteism (discrimination on the basis of caste) play out in modern-day India. How, he asked, could poor and low-caste people celebrate such an expensive and money-centered  holiday? He was so blunt and charged with emotion that I was unable to fully digest what he had said for another day or two. After that day, our conversations covered more interesting topics, ranging from government corruption and cheating in India to rural to urban migration. These talks are some of the only times I get a chance to hear an Indian person be painfully open about realities that are typically swept under the rug. At the end of each of his spiels, we always exchange words of gratitude. I for his openness about the problems of his country and patience when I am confused, and he for my willingness to listen and ability to understand both the meaning and sentiment behind what he says.

                That is the most beautiful thing about learning another language and immersing yourself in its culture – reaching the point where you begin to pick up on the nuances that give emotion and flavor to what people say. To know that dukan in Hindi does not really mean “store” in the American sense of the word and that te amo in Spanish has a lot more implication than “I love you” in English. All because I was willing to learn the language and culture of the place where I am visiting and listen to what a man in a copy store had to say, I was able to gain insight into the minds of the Indian working class. Soon, the school year will come to a close and my trips to my favorite dukan will end, but his words have impacted me more than I can tell and will continue to shape me long after I leave Banaras.

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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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Store or Dukan?

Evelyn Karis,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

                 Using the copy machine at school requires navigating a lot of bureaucratic regulations and is generally inefficient, so I often visit a local Xeroxing store that’s a short bike ride from my house. But store isn’t the right word. To be frank, the best word to describe […]

Posted On

05/21/15

Author

Evelyn Karis

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    [post_content] => She lost three teeth in the span of two weeks. Or rather, she lost two. One still clings to life, sticking perpendicularly out of her mouth to rest on her lip when she closes her mouth, on account of her mother Manju who told her that wiggling teeth makes your brain dumber. I consider it out. It is odd though, three on the top before any on the bottom. Don’t most kids lose a bottom tooth first? I don’t know, but this is sure more hilarious. You can already see the two monster teeth coming down from upstairs. When she had a full set of baby teeth she sometimes slipped into a lisp—a quirk of the rural village accent that Barish somehow picked up—but now, the missing front doors made any pure ‘s’ sound impossible.

Barish got her ears pierced without telling her parents! She told me in secret of course, the morning before it happened, but at the time I didn’t understand what she was saying because the giggling whispering of a six-year-old girl with no front teeth is not exactly the easiest thing to hear. I only realized she was serious when the next day Barish burst into my office with her backpack, uniform, and two gold hoops through her adorably large earlobes. Manju came in a few moments later, glaring at Barish and explaining disdainfully to me how she’d disobeyed her parents and plotted with her grandparents to call the ear piercing man right when Manju and Ajeet left the house. But I’ve been here long enough to be able to tell the difference between a real Indian mother scold and one that exists solely as a perfunctory duty to remind their kid and anyone watching of their authority as a mother…and this scold was definitely the latter. I also know Manju now, her unforgiving sarcasm and her deep love for her daughter. She takes great pride in having a defiant spirit—something I learned from the countless times she shared stories of her childhood antics in the orphanage where she grew up. So I could see clearly the pride dripping from every angry word directed at Barish.

What is it about a child that makes us so interested in them? Why do I care so much that Barish is losing their teeth or has done a new rebellious thing? Why have I started to take pictures of her to show to my friends? When did I gain the ability—the distinctly “grown-up” ability—to gaze at a child lovingly, knowingly almost? Why does it really hurt me to think about the fact that I am leaving her in two weeks?

There’s something about children that makes older people hopeful, and softer. Being loved and bothered and cared about by a little, hopeful person dissolves a shell we develop as we are battered by the world. I see this with Ajeet. Whenever he’s gnawing on his nails intently in an office chair, the sudden appearance of Barish (in whatever ridiculous outfit she has dressed herself in) makes his mind pause for a second. As she climbs all over him like a jungle gym, pulling on his face and ears, something melts inside of him, no matter how soon the deadline or how urgent the current crisis.

The legal team is frantically preparing for a court deadline and Barish quietly but forcefully walks into the room, looks around, walks out, walks down the hall, walks back up the hall, walks back into the room, and sits down in the corner to work on her drawing. A bunch of tired men in suits faced with a tiny girl determinedly drawing on the floor with a bunch of flower clips in her hair. You can see the mood change. The men look at each other, and look at Barish, who is precociously ignoring them. They smile and shake their heads, resuming work with distinctly brighter dispositions?

And she does this to me too. I’m normally slightly embarrassed as I bike by the laborers working on the house next to the office. But when Barish runs outside on the deck to yell at me while I unlock my bike, and then clambers through the interior of the house to pop out on other deck to wave and yell “BYE CHASE AUNTIE” as I bike down the alley, I couldn’t give less of a thought to how I look while I wave frantically back yelling “BYE BARU!”

She is the most clever, healthily disobedient, perceptive, and sarcastic Indian child I have ever met. And when Ajeet Ji told me—in a rare moment of sensitivity—that, “she has a hard time when you Princeton girls leave…she has a hard time forgetting,” it broke something in my heart. Manju and Ajeet told me the other day that even before Barish comes upstairs to see me, she is downstairs bothering everyone about “Chase Auntie.” Asking if Chase Auntie is coming today, telling everyone what Chase Auntie said, making sure the cook is making the food, because if lunch is late then Chase Auntie won’t be able to go to the center on time!!

It hurts me to know that my leaving is going to hurt Barish. There’s something about children that makes us care extra, and maybe it has to do with the fact that they care extra, too. Maybe it has to do with the possibility and hope their innocence represents. Maybe it’s because of their enormous heads and tiny, impermanent teeth. I don’t know. But I do know for sure that somehow, even in our complicated and troubling world, it is ok—and worth it—to drop everything just to make a child happy.
    [post_title] => Barish Brishti
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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Barish Brishti

Chase Hommeyer,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

She lost three teeth in the span of two weeks. Or rather, she lost two. One still clings to life, sticking perpendicularly out of her mouth to rest on her lip when she closes her mouth, on account of her mother Manju who told her that wiggling teeth makes your brain dumber. I consider it […]

Posted On

05/21/15

Author

Chase Hommeyer

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    [post_date] => 2015-05-12 08:22:43
    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-12 14:22:43
    [post_content] => 
Dear Friends and Family,
Today, Tuesday, May 12th there was another earthquake 50 miles east of Kathmandu. It registered as a 7.3 on the richter scale.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/world/asia/nepal-earthquake-east-of-kathmandu.html?_r=0
We just spoke with our Ladakhi guide, the man responsible for putting together the group's trek and many other elements of their Ladakh stay, and he said that the earthquake was not felt in Ladakh. The group is safe and in good spirits and began their first day of trekking today. They will trek until May 19th, where the group will end at the Hemis Monastery. They will return to Leh on May 21st.
We will keep you updated as the days pass! Because of the rural nature of the trekking route, the group will have no internet access and will communicate via phone if necessary. We look forward to hearing about their mountain adventure!
With gratitude,
Elizabeth
Bridge Year Program Director
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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BYP India Group Safe After 2nd Earthquake in Nepal

Elizabeth Johnson,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Dear Friends and Family, Today, Tuesday, May 12th there was another earthquake 50 miles east of Kathmandu. It registered as a 7.3 on the richter scale. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/world/asia/nepal-earthquake-east-of-kathmandu.html?_r=0 We just spoke with our Ladakhi guide, the man responsible for putting together the group’s trek and many other elements of their Ladakh stay, and he said that […]

Posted On

05/12/15

Author

Elizabeth Johnson

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    [post_date] => 2015-05-11 12:10:50
    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-11 18:10:50
    [post_content] => 
Hello Bridge Year family and friends,
Just yesterday we returned to Leh, Ladakh's dizzyingly high capital city, and we have been busy exploring this magical city and shopping for last minute necessities for our trek! We will be leaving for the mountains tomorrow morning and will return to Leh on May 20th.
Our homestays in Domkhar, roughly 4 hours west of Leh, were a lovely introduction to Ladakhi culture. We visisted two monasteries and learned about the varieties of Tibetan Buddhism that are practiced in this region, drank more varieties and cups of tea than we previously thought possible, spent hours playing games with and chasing our little homestay siblings, and explored the breathtaking local terrain to stretch and strenghen our legs in preparation for our trek.
Also, if you haven't seen it already, plesae check out the BY students' latest Group Update for more excellent reflections on their time in Banaras.
We'll be back in touch again when we're back in Leh on May 21st. Thanks for your patience until then and thanks for following along on our rugged mountain adventures.
Caleb & Christy & BY-India 6.0
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Return from Domkhar

Christy Sommers,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Hello Bridge Year family and friends, Just yesterday we returned to Leh, Ladakh’s dizzyingly high capital city, and we have been busy exploring this magical city and shopping for last minute necessities for our trek! We will be leaving for the mountains tomorrow morning and will return to Leh on May 20th. Our homestays in Domkhar, roughly 4 […]

Posted On

05/11/15

Author

Christy Sommers

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    [post_date] => 2015-05-04 15:35:02
    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-04 21:35:02
    [post_content] => The BYP India group has had an amazing time at SECMOL! (http://www.secmol.org/index.php). The students have been participating in morning work hour, helping to feed the cows, tend the gardens, move compost, and clean the living and teaching spaces. Ben T and Evelyn even willingly volunteered to get up at 6 am for breakfast duty one morning! SECMOL holds daily conversation classes with the students there, and we are getting to know them during this time and in the informal spaces during the day. We are learning an amazing amount about Ladakhi culture! We have also refocused as a group, with individuals setting goals for a daily practices that can be maintained throughout our last month. Some folks are writing, some are meditating, others are exercising, and we all have a buddy so that we can support one another. Since being out of Banaras, we are slowly starting to process the end of our time in that holy city that we called home, as well as the end of our time here in India. The SECMOL schedule is relaxed and we are all getting lots of time to nap, read, and play. Yesterday those feeling more ambitious played in a cricket game with the Ladakhi teenagers, and in a few days we're planning to hike up "SECMOL Mountain" with some of the local students as well. We are eating well, staying hydrated, and giving one another lots of love.We will leave for our rural homestays in Domkhar tomorrow, May 5th and will stay with local families until May 10th. We will return to Leh on May 11th to prepare for our trek. All is well and you should expect to hear from us in the next 6 days or so! 

Thanks for your love and support.

 
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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Our time at SECMOL

Christy Sommers ,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

The BYP India group has had an amazing time at SECMOL! (http://www.secmol.org/index.php). The students have been participating in morning work hour, helping to feed the cows, tend the gardens, move compost, and clean the living and teaching spaces. Ben T and Evelyn even willingly volunteered to get up at 6 am for breakfast duty one morning! SECMOL […]

Posted On

05/4/15

Author

Christy Sommers

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    [post_date] => 2015-05-04 12:00:20
    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-04 18:00:20
    [post_content] => Death came at 4:30 on a dark Monday morning. I had been lying in my host parents’ room, waiting for them to return from the hospital. My host nieces, Pari and Khushi, were peacefully sleeping in the room next door. We had returned from the hospital about five hours earlier, after my host father, Pita-ji, had been admitted for an emergency dialysis.

I was shaken awake by Ruchi-ji, my host sister. It was still dark outside. I reached for my glasses and shoved them onto my face. Then I saw her eyes, moist with tears.

“Papa’s gone,” she croaked, trembling.

My throat tightened. What did she mean? Was Pita-ji… but no, that was impossible. I dazedly followed Ruchi-ji downstairs. I took one look at the ambulance, at the men carrying a figure shrouded in white, and fled back upstairs.

Death was unthinkable. True, I was living in Banaras, the city of death, but death was supposed to remain an abstract concept, exemplified only by the formless, concealed lumps carried during the frequent funeral processions and the impenetrable smoky haze of the pyres on the burning ghats. Tonight, life, not death, was supposed to prevail.

Pita-ji would say that God and truth always prevail (the God of what—life, or death? the truth of what—death, or life?). “Siya-Ram,” he often said. He sang those words many times when we visited the Sankat Mochan temple together—Pita-ji, my host mother Mata-ji, and me. In those days Pita-ji could still drive and move around without difficulty. As Mata-ji and Pita-ji strode around the temple, dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman-ji, I followed and admired the movements—the prayers, the bows, the giving and receiving of offerings—that seemed so foreign to me. After circling around the main complex and visiting the shrine on the right—all the while Pita-ji was singing, “Siya-Ram, Siya-Ram, Siya-Ram”—Mata-ji instructed me to make a wish as we stood facing Hanuman-ji.

I don’t remember now what I wished for. I didn’t particularly need a wish; there was no need for any. Sorrow had not yet taken residence in our house. We were still living in the city of life. At that time, the atmosphere at home was one of quiet contentment. In the morning, I would come down from my room and receive a cup of steaming chai from Mata-ji. Sometimes I would sit and chat with Pita-ji before I left for the group’s morning meeting. In the evenings, I would talk with both Mata-ji and Pita-ji about a wide array of topics—education in India, their pasts, our views on religion. Or Mata-ji and I would silently read while Pita-ji watched television.

At that time, the rest of the family—Ruchi-ji, her husband Sandeep-ji, their children Pari and Khushi—had not yet moved into the house. Whenever they visited, the tranquility in the house would be replaced with clattering energy. I once saw Pari, the older daughter, crawl on top of Pita-ji’s back and tickle him, while he made Dracula-sounds and tried to push her off. The time of uncertainty, of doubt, of despair, would not come until months later, when it seeped in with medical reports and doctor visits.

---

Around 5:30, as I stood on the staircase, I saw Pari quietly pad by the doorway. “Mama?” she tentatively called out to the silent house. She seemed to sense something had changed. I crept silently downstairs and called for Ruchi-ji—she ought to be the person to break the news to Pari. Resuming my half-hidden spot on the staircase, I heard Pari’s moment of revelation, the exact point in time when something irreversibly alters one’s world, raising it up or crashing it down. Sometimes the moment of revelation isn’t so clear. I don’t remember when Pita-ji’s health began declining, when he became fixed to his bed. Starting in January, he gradually stopped teaching at Nirman (a local school), stopped pacing around the house, stopped wearing anything but his off-white (not quite the color of death, but almost) bedroom kurta-pyjamas. Slowly, my memories of his mobility became replaced by memories of his stasis. “I used to be so strong and full of energy,” Pita-ji complained to me one daywhen he was especially frustrated by his tiredness. “I would work for 18 hours straight at the factory. I would come home and sleep for only four hours, and then go back to work.” “And when he came home, he would always suggest we go out to eat or go to a function,” Mata-ji added. “We used to go out all the time.” She sighed nostalgically. We had gone out together sometime in October, perhaps around Diwali. The entire family, along with some family friends, ate out at the fancy Diamond Hotel. That night, Pita-ji was wearing a nice suit, as he always did when he went out—one time I saw him slip on a suitcoat in order to go next door for five minutes. He strode confidently through the marble-tiled lobby. We ate tomato soup and butter naan, vegetable steak with ketchup and paneer butter masala. And when we left, stomachs uncomfortably full, I spotted Pita-ji talking amiably with a man who seemed to be the owner of the hotel. It was around the time of stasis that the family got a new pet. Khushi dragged me into her room, where a green parrot was holed up in a tiny cuboid cage. “Look, it’s playing!” Khushi excitedly cried. I looked again. The parrot seemed to be desperately clawing at the corner of its cage. “More like trying to escape,” I muttered. “What?” “I mean, playing,” I hastily replied. Khushi smiled and turned back to her struggling captive.

---

The sky was beginning to lighten from black to a soft blue when I finally allowed myself to be dragged into the downstairs room, where Pita-ji’s body was being kept. It was in this room that, only four days earlier, I had celebrated my nineteenth birthday. After being ditched by the group after dinner at the Ming Garden Chinese restaurant, I returned home and was surprised to find everybody at my house, helping carry the half-conscious Pita-ji out of the car and into the downstairs room. It turned out that my friends had planned a post-dinner party at my house, though they happened to arrive at the same time that my host parents were returning from the hospital. Once Pita-ji was safely situated in a chair, I proceeded to blow out my candles and cut the chocolate cake. As I approached Pita-ji with the first slice of cake, he opened his eyes wide and smiled weakly. I carefully coaxed into his mouth a bite of cake, my gift to him that day. Pita-ji had already given me my birthday gift. That morning, as I prepared to leave, Mata-ji beckoned me into the main bedroom. “He was in a lot of pain last night,” she said, gesturing to Pita-ji, leaning back on the bed on a tall stack of pillows. “But he wanted to give you this.” In Pita-ji’s hands was a red-wrapped package. I slipped it out of his trembling hands, sat down, and—despite my attempts at care—ungracefully ripped it open. It was a handsome blue-and-white striped shirt. “Oh, thank you!” I grinned and turned to Mata-ji and Pita-ji. In a gesture of gratitude, I gently grasped Pita-ji’s hand, then turned and held Mata-ji’s as well. “Stephen, I don’t want to bring this up,” Chase murmured the next day. “But how is your host father really doing When we got to your house and saw him…” She trailed off. “I honestly thought he was going to die.” “No, he’s not going to die,” I had replied. “He just gets really tired after dialysis.” And I believed it. My belief crumbled as I stepped into the room. I somehow sensed Mata-ji and the girls’ presence, but all I could see was him. Pita-ji’s entire body, excepting his face, was wrapped in a white sheet. His normally wide eyes were closed, his mouth slightly agape, his nostrils stopped up with what seemed to be cotton balls. He looked empty; he was empty. The Pita-ji that I had loved was gone, and all that remained was this shell. As tears swelled up in my eyes, I ran out. I spent most of the morning sitting outside on the porch as friends, family members, and neighbors came to the house to pay their respects. My limbs felt leaden with invisible weights; my mind was similarly slow and tranquilized. The arrival of my friends pulled me out of my numbed stupor and back into painful grief. How strange it is that, after a death, it is the presence of the people with whom you have shared joyful experiences that brings one the most sorrow. I reentered the room one last time as Pita-ji was being prepared for the procession. One by one, people came up to respectfully lay marigold garlands around his neck and shoulders. Mata-ji handed me one, and I bent down and got one last good look at Pita-ji. That’s when the sobs came. An unstoppable, choking, almost luxurious wave of weeping overwhelmed me, and I broke down.

---

Around noon, Mata-ji’s brother finally arrived, and the entire group began heading towards Manikarnika Ghat, the infamous burning ghat, for the cremation. No plans had been made for my own transportation, so I prepared to ride in a cycle rickshaw with my friends. The heat from the sun pressed down on us like a thick blanket as we made our way to the main road. It was on sunny days like this that Pita-ji would enjoy sitting out on the upper terrace, basking in the sun’s heat and looking down on the lane below. Halfway down the lane, one car stopped; Ruchi-ji stepped out and beckoned to me with her hand. “Mama’s calling for you,” she yelled. I ran. “He called for you specifically,” Mata-ji had told me on our first trip to the Banaras Hindu University hospital, a journey that would eventually be repeated twice each week. Pita-ji, suffering from failing kidneys, needed to undergo dialysis in order to clean his blood and reduce the swelling in his hands and feet. I never felt completely at ease in the hospital; I did not like the drab dark-grey walls, the dim overhead lights, the acrid smell of the dialysis room. I didn’t always accompany my host parents to the hospital, and whenever I did, I wasn’t sure how exactly I was being helpful. I, with my lack of upper arm strength, was not particularly good at helping Pita-ji down the stairs into the car, or from the car into the hospital wheelchair. I wasn’t even that good at making small talk with Pita-ji and Mata-ji. All I could do was occasionally make Pita-ji smile, or just sit silently next to Mata-ji in the waiting room. “You did so much more than you know,” Mata-ji would tell me later, two days after the funeral.

---

Once we reached the ghat, we bathed Pita-ji’s feet and face with Ganga water, then completely covered him up and laid him on the pyre. I grimaced when more wood was stacked on top of his stomach. I knew it was only his shell on the pyre, that he himself had already gone, but I couldn’t help thinking that I had supported that body up the stairs to the bedroom, grabbed that hand in saying goodnight, watched that stomach rise and fall laboriously with each breath in the last few months. Ruchi-ji lit the fire, an act usually reserved for the son. But with all of her sacrifices, it felt right for her to perform this rite. The flames flared up, and sooneven the body was gone. The morning after the funeral, Khushi found me in the front room and sank into the seat next to me. “Last night, I had a dream about Nanu Papa,” she tiredly said. It was the first time I had seen her be completely serious. “He was alive and couldn’t die. Also,” she added after some moments of silence, “the parrot is gone.” “What?” “I let her go,” she explained, her tone uncharacteristically flat. “I wouldn’t like to be stuck in only one room all day. I thought the parrot wouldn’t like it either. So I let her go.” True enough, the cage was empty, its contents free. After everything that happened, I thought that I ought to remain in sober mourning in respect for Pita-ji. I wanted time to stand still for a few weeks, to give me the chance to stay in perpetual sorrowful remembrance.But that’s not how Banaras works—hell, that’s not how life works. Life has a way of creeping back in, whether you want it to or not. My friends pulled me out of the city of death and back into the city of life: we went out for Korean food, we watched a famous kathak dance performance, we danced along to Bollywood songs and laughed at our own graceless moves. Even at home, where grief still lurked deeply in eyes and throats, Pari and Khushi, with their childhood games and demands for attention, unabashedly dragged life back in.

---

“You did so much more than you know,” Mata-ji said, two days after the funeral. “You stood by us through everything. Sometime in our past lives there must have been some connection between us. Now he’s gone,” her arm gestured in the air, “and you will be gone in three weeks. It just shows…” she trailed off. “God must have sent you here to help serve him.” Perhaps she’s right. My father, who immigrated to America, could not return to see his sick father until it was too late. And now his son had been sent to a total stranger to serve as a comfort in the last months of life. There are too many parallels; there just has to be something else, something greater, working behind the scenes. Pita-ji would say it was God. As we sat at the dining table before dinner one night, he shared with me his own faith. “God is in this city,” he told me. I nodded. “Things are so messy and crazy, yet everything works! So God must be here! “People may think that they see the whole picture,” he continued, “but it is only God that sees all. Like the sun, God touches everything. He takes care of his children.” To that God, I say thank you. Thank you for taking care of your children. Thank you for bringing me here, to this country, this city, this family. Thank you for the love binding together me, Mata-ji, Ruchi-ji, Pari, Khushi, Sandeep-ji, and Pita-ji. And thank you for my time spent in the city of life.   Dedicated to Ashok Kumar Sachdeva, my Pita-ji (July 12, 1948-April 6, 2015) [post_title] => In the City of Life [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => in-the-city-of-light [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-01-22 08:55:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-01-22 15:55:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=117963 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 33 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-india-2014-15 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 33 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 61 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10006 [cat_ID] => 33 [category_count] => 61 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-india-2014-15 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-india-2014-15/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15 )
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In the City of Life

Stephen Chao,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Death came at 4:30 on a dark Monday morning. I had been lying in my host parents’ room, waiting for them to return from the hospital. My host nieces, Pari and Khushi, were peacefully sleeping in the room next door. We had returned from the hospital about five hours earlier, after my host father, Pita-ji, […]

Posted On

05/4/15

Author

Stephen Chao

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    [post_date] => 2015-04-28 11:53:08
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    [post_content] => Dear Friends and Families,

We heard from the BYP India instructors this morning and the group has arrived safely in Leh, Ladakh. The group is doing well and is excited about their adventures ahead. In general, Leh and the surrounding areas were not significantly impacted by the Nepal-based earthquake. Most people report not even feeling tremors. The group is safe and enjoying the beauty and magic of the Ladakhi landscape. They are currently at SECMOL (http://www.secmol.org/index.php), an NGO that works to reform the educational system in Ladakh. The student group will be here until May 5th, and then will transition to the small community of Domkhar for rural homestays. On May 12th the group will begin an 8-day trek, returning to Leh on May 20th. The group flies back to Delhi on May 22nd.

The rural and mountainous nature of Ladakh will mean that we might not receive as many email updates from the group. However, they should have consistent cell coverage and will update us when able.

We will keep you all posted and look forward to hearing about the group's adventures!!!

Best,

Elizabeth Johnson
Bridge Year Program Director
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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Group Has Arrived Safely in Ladakh

Elizabeth Johnson,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Dear Friends and Families, We heard from the BYP India instructors this morning and the group has arrived safely in Leh, Ladakh. The group is doing well and is excited about their adventures ahead. In general, Leh and the surrounding areas were not significantly impacted by the Nepal-based earthquake. Most people report not even feeling […]

Posted On

04/28/15

Author

Elizabeth Johnson

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    [post_date] => 2015-04-25 10:27:46
    [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-25 16:27:46
    [post_content] => Dear Families and Friends,

We heard from the BYP India group this morning and they are safe and sound in Delhi. They spent the day relaxing and sightseeing in the city and fortunately did not feel any tremors from the Nepal-based earthquake. For now, the group plans to spend the day of the 26th traveling to Agra, where they will visit the magnificent Taj Mahal. They will spend the night of the 26th in Agra and return to Delhi on the 27th. On the morning of April 28th the group will take a flight to Leh, Ladakh and will base out of Ladakh (working with a local school, doing rural homestays, trekking, etc.) until May 22nd, when they will take a return flight to Delhi.

We will keep you posted if anything changes, but for now the group plans to proceed forward with their initial itinerary. Our hearts go out to all the people who were affected in Nepal and India.

Best,

Elizabeth Johnson
Bridge Year Program Director
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

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BYP India Group Safe In Delhi

Elizabeth Johnson,Princeton Bridge Year India 2014-15

Description

Dear Families and Friends, We heard from the BYP India group this morning and they are safe and sound in Delhi. They spent the day relaxing and sightseeing in the city and fortunately did not feel any tremors from the Nepal-based earthquake. For now, the group plans to spend the day of the 26th traveling […]

Posted On

04/25/15

Author

Elizabeth Johnson

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