Have you ever had those experiences when two of your worlds come together under the strangest of circumstances?
8 years ago (GOD i can't believe i just said that)......ahem. Eight YEARS OF MY LIFE ago, i was a freshman at UW and lived in the dorms at Lander Hall on the 8th floor. I was young Baha'i girl, from a small town in the south, being exposed to many of life's learning experiences. You know, the crazy stuff you saw and did that you file under '...but it was college...'. Living on the 8th floor allowed me to meet THE people. You know, THE people that you still talk about a lifetime later. THE people, that for whatever reason...made such an impression, they will forever be the holders of "well i knew i guy in college..." or "my roommate was insane, no...like seriously" stories and jokes. THE people that don't disappoint, because they were so in their own alternate universe - there was no room for disappointment.
Anyway, I met a number of these people, but it was at this point in time when I met my best friend STEPHEN. Stephen (you are welcome) lived 2 doors down from me. Unfortunately this post isn't about stephen. sorry.
Its about a guy from India named Jeevy...
Jeevy (Harjeev) lived right across the hall from me. He was very sweet, great personality, and a whole lotta fun with a capital F. Unfortunately, its safe to say we didn't have the same social circuit in college. I mean, maybe if we had met and taken a Virtues Workshop together right off the bat, we would have realized how hilarious we both were together - and we could have hung out more-but at this point in life, we were just across the hall college friends. Our first meeting was rather interesting.
We had the regular greeting, which involved our "Hi nice to meet you"s...smile...look at eachotherrrrrrrrrrrrr...oknowwhatdowesay. And then jeevy smoothly broke the ice by asking me if i wanted to go partake in something involving having a 'good time' with everyone in room whatever down the hall. Amused at this, I actually remember letting know him then and there how I am a Baha'i and so I don't drink or smoke pot blah blah blah..to which he gave me the typical 2 second staredown.
In high school I was actually more embarrassed to let my friends know I couldn't hang out with them because of my ridiculously early curfew, or i had to watch my brother, or clean my house. I never felt truly awkward giving my whole "Im a Bahai and i don't drink...." shpeal, it is just something that is a part of me and Im ok with. I am a Baha'i and I don't drink...thanks. I feel more awkward for the person hearing the news for the first time actually. They give me the stare smile of 'well now what the hell are we going to do'...will she shun me for drinking? Does she see me as the devil? Is she saying she is better than me? (This 'look' happened a lot more when i was in college - not so much after). Now, I don't think I had ever shared this information within the first 2 minutes of meeting anyone - but then again - i had never met someone who immediately asked if i wanted to go get wasted. i love college.
Anyway, so Jeevy learned the truth about me rather quickly....that I am a Baha'i, and therefore he can't count on me to go get kicked out of Lander Hall (which he almost did by the way). I waited for his reply....blink...blinkblink....
blink........ ...... . . . .
"You're a Bahai!? I LOVE the Baha'i Temple in Dehli, I live right by it! I go there all the time to relax, it's so peaceful! Have you been? Oh, I love it there...."
And then our friendship was born:) No judgments. Jeevy liked me because I was an awesome Baha'i. I liked Jeevy because he was always having a good time -always happy to see you - always the guy getting away with murder - and he knew about the Baha'i House of Worship in Delhi India. The perfect across the hall friend from college.
Fast forward to 8 years later..I am in Lucknow India (SO apparent btw, as i sweat to death in my kitchen), and thanks to Facebook, Jeevy and I have managed to keep in touch. Since I arrived here, he has been insisting that I come stay with him and his family in Delhi - there's no problem - if i need anything, I should just call - he has connections everywhere if i 'run into any problems with the authorities' (those are his exact words). he is the man to talk to. fabulous.
Turns out that during my time here, Anna was taking a 2 week trip to the Baha'i Holy Land in Haifa, Israel for Baha'i pilgrimage. Her flight was scheduled to leave from Delhi on a Sunday morning at 4am, so we had the brilliant idea to take a Friday night train to Delhi, run around the city for a day, she would leave, and I could stay a bit longer for a good little get away - visit my friend- get a break from Lucknow. I asked Jeevy if he would be around. He said we must stay at his house, and could arrange for his driver will pick us up from the train station. Anna and I high fived, did a little "It's tank top and SHORTS wearing TIME!" dance, and were on our way. Its all so romantic...in a very Baha'i way.
That's right, I packed tank tops AND shorts. take that lucknow.
After a AC filled freeeeezing train ride - we ended up just sleeping in the same berth it was so freezing - we got to Delhi around 7:30am. We caught a cab and made our way to Jeevy's address. A very tired Jeevy and feisty beagle named Snoop (as in Snoop Dogg, yes as in fo' shizzle ma nizzle - I be drinkin jin an juice)...greeted us at the door. Jeevy showed us to our room, it was glorious of course. Huge bed. Huge house. Clean everything. Actual shower with shower pressure with some chutzpa behind it. Beautiful vacation. What more could a girl from lucknow ask for? We all three talked for a bit, and then went to eat a sit down breakfast with the parents.
Jeevy's parents are beautiful people. Actually, his whole family is just lovely. His dad has a clean kept short white beard, round face, crisp white turban (parents are Sikh), very jovial man-extremely friendly. His mother is just gorgeous. Gorgeous skin, perfectly kept hair, beautiful hands, so kind as she talks to you, and has a laugh that would light up anybody's bad day. Both were so sweet - not just asking questions to be polite - but really listening, responding, joking with you. It was such a treat to sit down with the family and watch as everyone laughed together, poked fun, and tried to work things out. I got to do that briefly in Spain when I lived with a family of 5 for 2 months. I love watching families at the dinner table...it always fills a little piece of my heart i misplaced somewhere. I lap it up every time.
We ate a good indian breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, onions, sprinkled with deliciousness ( i believe its called Bhurjee) - and roti of course. I had a lemonade. I took a shower. I used the little sample AVEDA soaps they laid out for me (are they trying to KILL ME?), they smelled of rosemary mint. I was so overcome with emotion i drank the shampoo and saved the conditioner for later. I dried off with the cleanest fluffiest towel i will probably ever use while in india. there was a trash liner in the little bathroom trash can. nothing smelt of mildew, of trash, of dust. just clean. what a concept. what a life.
Anna and I got dressed in our tank tops and shorts (shut up i know), and after sometime battling with our modesty issues (is it too short? i feel naked! this tank top is to slutty. how did i ever dress like this? i should wear a dupata.) - and jeevy assuring us it is OK - we left the house to go shopping. Anna had to get some last minute things for her trip, and i was just so excited to be out of my kurta and in a pair of shorts...i didn't care what we did. i just was standing there stunned like one of those birds that slammed into a glass window - in shock - with its mouth open - wide eyed.....not really knowing if i was coming or going...taking deep breaths.
Now, here comes the fun part. In India, people have help...I have blogged about this already. For example, Anna and I have Deepmala. She comes to the apartment around 4:00pm, cooks dinner, cleans some, and washes clothes. I am almost completely used to her being there - meaning I don't feel bad that "I have someone to help out around the house". I get it. Its a nice thing to have. I'm OK with it now. But for India, me having Deepmala is SO low on the help scale. Like my boss Urvashi...Urvashi has a cook (the MOST incredible food in the world btw), 1 to 2 other people there to help out (if need be), and a driver. Her help can be at the house/working anywhere from 6:30 am to 10:00pm. I figured, she is a successful woman, she's indian, of course - she has help. I, however, NEVER in my wildest dreams imagined that someone MY age...someone that could be me...someone i hung out with in school - someone who i actually knew....could have live in help. As in, they live in the back. As in, "We'll, take the driver today" help. And please understand I am in no way implying that there is anything wrong with this or that i mean to be disrespectful in any way. Its just so absolutely incredible to wrap my brain around. So different from my life. I just come from a completely different experience. I come from the single mother who was in school growing up experience. The "I will make dinner, and take care of my brother, and do the laundry, and clean the house every saturday experience". Like, I don't remember doing homework in middle school - but i remember cleaning the kitchen and making steamed veggies with brown rice. I also remember cutting mom lemons so when she took a shower she could get the formaldehyde smell off of her, but thats another blog. Anyway... after staying with sweet Jeevy im getting over it.
So, to do all of the shopping in our shorts, we took the driver:) I've never had a driver, so excuse me if I am stating the obvious: Anywhere you want to go- he drops you off - and picks you up. Always there, opens the door for you. Incredible. Air conditioning, leather seats. Jeevy's ipod of impeccable music. No rickshaws, no smells, no noise, no frustrations, no Anna having to be the one in charge. We weren't in Lucknow anymore, I was definitely sure of that. I was even more sure, after we stopped at the Imperial (aka: the most gorgeous hotel i have ever experienced and wish to be buried there if i should die in Delhi) to have a mid day drink - because thats what you do on vacation in Delhi with my friend Jeevy (FYI it is mandatory that you check out the link to this hotel). The car drove through the driveway lined with tall white palms, pulled up to the hotel entrance, the doorman opened my door. I stepped out. There were some Europeans dressed in dolce and gabbana with a fendi bag (thank you anisa) trying to find their ride (yeah, but did they have a driver? muhahahahahaha). The smell of jasmine wafted through the breezeway, the air cooled. I heard God whisper "You're welcome". I was high, i was sure of it. Hallucinating. After the entrance there was a Channel boutique and the like, perfect massive flower arrangement in the middle of the rooms, serene ambiance filled with pristine furniture. Im sure this is where Aishwarya and here people stay. It was as if i was shoved into a movie about indian royalty and my shorts were on sale from old navy. White walls covered in antique photographs with gold frames. Old wood carvings. Natural light. Water features. Breathtaking. I had forgotten who i was, it was too much. I made a mental note to make myself use the bathroom before leaving.
We walked through the bar and sat down 'outside'. 'Outside' meaning, yes we weren't inside the hotel, but there were silk transparent draperies keeping the real outside out, and leaving us to enjoy the light and impeccable decor. Massive white pillars with sheets of bright turquoise tile. Tropical colorful plants, 50 ft ceilings. Silence. The scene at this hotel restaurant was right out of a romance novel. It was any traveler's fantasy. The waiter and waitresses dressed in gorgeous deep red and gold indian suits and saris. No one had a hair out of place. All foreigners there on business wearing crisp white linen pants and tunics (like some regular guy is going to where white and be so sure he's not going to ruin it). Tourists who felt annoying enough to wear their loud shirts and shorts - taking pictures of the gorgeous women in their saris. People eating melon with a fork and a knife. I ordered a cranberry juice. it was so refreshing, it was as if i had gone to brazil, gotten a face lift, and slept for a good 2 weeks. Where the HELL was I? Wait, i was with Jeevy.
Anna and i made sure to use the facilities...we took our time, and dried our hands with individually rolled white hand towels, which we then deposited into the 'dirty' hand towel baskets underneath the sinks. I thought about taking a few back home to Luckland, but realized its white probably wouldn't have even survived the train ride back. We looked at ourselves in the full length mirrors. High fived for the zillionth time- did a little dance....and continued on our day of bliss. Next stop, sushi for lunch.
So this was pretty much our first day together in Delhi: shorts and tank tops, shopping, Imperial Hotel, feasting on sushi (real sushi, that was made by real Japanese people - i had to say it), a mall with every convenience including The Coffee Bean, French Connection, Nine West (i know nine west isn't that high end, but come on) and sour gummy worms, laughing and joking, fruit smoothies, Jeevy using one of his under the table 'connections' to get Anna's rupees changed into 600 US dollars, and an incredible punjabi dinner at home.
The plan was after dinner to go to Jeevy's friend's house for a pool party. Anna had to be at the airport at 4am, so we would go to the party around 11:30 - stay for a couple hours - swim - have even more fun if it was possible - and then drop her off. My digestive system of course had its own plan.
After dinner, all the amazingness from that day came shooting out of me. Even though, we all ate/drank the same things, all day...not Jeevy, not Anna, just Elizabeth got it of course. India is slowly trying to kill me, i am certain of it. After my near death experience in Varanasi, I lost so much weight, and every time i eat to try and gain it back, my body just says GET OUT! Anyway...I let it 'get out' for a good hour, then took some medicine which involved a pill of mint oil and some good ol plug me up drug, said a prayer, and got in the car to go to the 'pool party'. I didn't have a bathing suit (the one thing i didn't bring to india) so i have been using a bra and underwear combo that can 'pass' as a bathing suit. I figured at night, no one could tell anyway. We picked up Jeevy's girlfriend Roshni (there isn't an indian girl i have seen here that is more beautiful and spunky than Roshni), and drove off into the night, my stomach loudly screaming for help the whole way and me burping the taste of mint the entire ride. Nice touch. My mantra this time being "Do no shit in his car, you cannot afford to have it cleaned."
We arrived at the house and immediately walked to the back. Im sorry, did I say house...I meant MANSION. Hold on, I meant...wait let me use my thesaurus...castle, estate, manor, PALACE. Yes, palace. It was a palace, with manicured lawns and gigantic weeping willow trees, and a pool lagoon- a LAGOON- in the plush back yard with everything: built in bar/hot tub, pool house, separate roofed veranda with tables and chairs. Anna and i stood in disbelief. Jeevy's friends were drinking Grey Goose, swimming and laughing, there was great loud music playing - i don't know how - i didn't see a sound system - but it was incredible. Magical. This was living, i finally saw it at the age of 27 and 3/4. Who are we? Where are we? Can someone smack me in the face? It was a Bollywood movie set, with alcohol, bikinis, and Elizabeth wearing underwear as a bathing suit. Oh, and i still had the 'delhi belly' of course. i ran into the house to use the bathroom. I wish i wasn't so preoccupied with my situation because i would have paid more attention to the 'house', but i can say that that bathroom had the highest ceiling and best acoustics i have ever experienced. It was just gorgeous - the bathroom that is.
Finally, my stomach calmed down, and i got to enjoy myself for a good couple hours. Jeevy's friends were so hospitable, hilarious, and kind. Most of them had grown up in Delhi, gone to college all over the world - and then returned home. A lot of them were his childhood friends - so it was special to take part in that sort of gathering. It made me think of the girls back in TN (em, jules, rach, and court)..growing up together, the stories and bond we have, the weirdness we all share, the hilarity of just being together. I miss that a lot in my life. It was nice to experience that somewhere else...the same ease of childhood friendships. Except, we of course wouldn't be having a pool party at 2am - we would be dressing up to reinact Seven Brides for Seven Bothers- dancing around Lishy's kitchen as she tried to sleep in the bedroom 20 ft away. Poor Lishy:) Juliette would have been on a roll that night. Different life, different story.
We dropped Anna off at the airport, and went home to get some much needed rest. We had filled one day with so much excitement - so much fun - we slept hard.
Sunday was just Jeevy and I having a swell time, laughing at different stories from college, laughing at ourselves - people we once were, people we think we are now. We are surprisingly a lot alike: we both obsess over stupid accents and the people with 'flair' who have those accents, relish in inappropriate humor, obsess over amazing food, enormous egos, hot tempers. I don't think i have laughed that hard in a long while. It was so freeing. No cares, just good times. We ate breakfast with the parents and sister again. Watermelon and toast i love you. Visited some of the peaceful and non crowded sights. He took me to his temple-something I was so fortunate to do since I probably would have never visited a Sikh temple on my own. Him and Roshni took me to Spago (italian restaurant) and i had vegetable soup and a goat cheese salad. It was out of this world. Everything was fantabulous - even the strange late 'lunch' we were suddenly called to attend by the owner of the Ashok Hotels in Delhi (yeah, i know). Apparently the owner (family friend) insisted Jeevy go and partake of the new menu they were putting out (Jeevy is known for knowing what is 'good' in Delhi - i was slowly learning this). At first, Jeevy said he wouldn't be able to make it, since i was in town, but everyone began insisting - so he caved, and i went along.
We were lead dowstairs into a private dining area, with waiters serving massive quantities of food. A sick game the gods thought was amusing: Elizabeth, who already had lunch, trying to eat sensibly so her stomach doesn't detach and just walk away - and here is this gorgeous dining hall, and food, and sauces, and creams, and meat, and desert, and fruit, not to mention the ridiculousness of how i would never have this opportunity EVER again. I ate what i could while Jeevy and I telepathically laughed at each other across the table. The owner of the hotel was extremely excited, and his speech fired at a rapid pace - switching topics within seconds of eachother. Talking about some dish one minute, then the history of Lucknow, followed by telling one of the waiters to go inform whoever that the red fire hydrant outside should be green. He wanted it to blend in with the foliage...i just hope they can find it when their hotel catches on fire. Oh, and did I mention a hurricane blew by during all of this? Yeah, there was a storm of Bible like proportions which sent the rain blowing side ways, trees toppling over, along with chairs, tables, rugs, chickens, cows, you name it. All flying in the air. All in front of my face. I told Jeevy it was a good thing I was leaving the next day - i had seen enough of his life. God knows what would happen if I stayed any longer.
My last day was spent in complete relaxation. Everyone went to work, and I was left at home with the driver to take me to the Baha'i Temple. Brilliant idea. I arrived right before the crowd and walked along the path....beautiful enormous structure in the distance. Simply breathtaking. It was a peaceful time alone. I sat inside for as long as i could (after a certain point of the day it gets too hot to meditate for more than an hour), I watched as families brought their children, holy men conversed, women in saris wiped the sweat with their dupatas, tourists mingled and asked questions about the Faith. I love being a Baha'i. You always have a sense of belonging - not just to other Baha'is - but to the world....to humanity.
How amazing - i thought to myself. I never dreamed I would be able to see the Delhi temple. Not like this. I never imagined I would be visiting the temple, staying at my 'across the hall' friend's house from college. Living la vida Lucknow. Life is so incredible - the way we are funneled through into our own personal experiences intertwined with everyone else's...only if you just pay attention.
I went home to reflect. Snoop and I enjoyed a leisurely day of reading, writing, and being served food on a tray - literally. First it was watermelon (without seeds). I tried to sleep through lunch, but they noticed i woke up and got me (damint, sooo close, and sooo good), and then a couple hours after they tried to serve chai - but i got bossy and refused! I couldn't handle it anymore! It was just too much incrediblness. It was perfection..no noise, delicious food, fresh lemonade upon request, an appropriate temperature at which to be productive, my bathroom was cleaned everyday. I was exhausted of being taken care of. I was tired of confusing the light switch for the servant bell....uuuuuhhh so embarrassing! I needed to clean something immediately! It was time for good 'ol bucket bath, sweat through your clothes at 11:30 pm lucknow.
And after another dinner filled with laughter and hot fudge sundaes (wtf?!) it was time for me to leave the Kingdom beyond. I was getting too settled and needed to remember my real reason for being in India, and unfortunately this reason didn't include hot fudge or goat cheese salads. Jeevy and the driver took me to the train station. On the way he told me some of his stories which included: 1) A man on heroine shitting himself and 2) A Sadhu cursing a woman who woudn't give him water, which he then remedied by going and 'drinking from a puddle that contained gonorrhea'. We laughed so hard. I was so relieved, I found someone who delighted in the same, who knows how horrible situations make the best stories, and who is more dramatic than me. Sweet sweet sweet joy. Jeevy made sure i got on my berth - and then let me know that i needed to come back again with Anna- for a longer trip - so we could 'do Delhi right' next time. I don't even want to know what that means. I still struggle with what that would entail.
My train ride back was horrid of course. A small reminder of what was in store for me back at home. My train was 4 hours late getting in, and i was in the 'worst' berth (no really, that's what its called). Its the one out in the open, where people can get to you - in the hallway - at the top. Just me alone in my little coffin...i could have died and it wouldn't have smelled any different.
Finally i got home...looked around at my dusty dirty apartment. There was a storm while I was gone, so all the windows opened and the dirt had blown inside. Lovely. There was no food in the fridge. Excellent. As i walked from room to room, there was the smell of rotting animal. I searched high and low...couldnt find anything...and then just gave up. You know you have lived in Lucknow for a while when you 'give up' on findnig the rotting animal hiding in your appartment. Apparently a dog had died and was piled onto the trash heap outside the house, and since all the windows were open - you could taste it if you opened your mouth for too long. Amazingness. Deepmala wouldn't be there for another 4 hours. Perfect. I had just enough time to turn on the fans, open the windows, clean out my refrigerator, scrub down the bathrooms, and make myself some ramen.
Lucknow had welcomed me home.