Letter From New York 04 15 15 An Indian Reprise…

Yesterday, I emailed out a Letter From New York. I have been writing one nearly every day since mid-November but I don’t email many of those out, not wanting to clutter email inboxes.

If you’re interested, you can see them at www.mathewtombers.com. I realized yesterday that I hadn’t emailed one about the trip to India. I have been there and back again.

India is still not the easiest of trips but it’s certainly different from the India I first visited twenty years ago. Delhi is changed, and most westerners would think it for the better. The acrid smell of burnt rubber doesn’t cling to the streets as it did twenty years ago and the streets are no longer lined with people living in tents. The city has been freshened and is more colorful than I remember.

They still drive like madmen and I found the only way I could really deal with the four different road trips I took while in India was to close my eyes and surrender my safety to the universe. Whenever I opened my eyes it seemed death was rushing at me at sixty kilometers per hour.

I was in India to give a speech at the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee, one of the five branches of the IIT. It is a four-hour drive from Delhi, generally to the northeast. I was riding with another gentleman and he asked the driver to be a little more careful as he was scaring the American guest. I didn’t notice much difference but, at the end of those trips, I am alive and now back in the States where people, mostly, obey the rules and drive on their side of the road.

On the Saturday of the Conference at which I had been asked to speak, I went with another American speaker, Ron Eglash, an ethno-mathematician whose specialty is fractals, to Haridwar, one of the seven holy spots in the Hindu religion. I strolled along the edge of the Ganges, near where it flows into India, watching people bathe in its holy waters.

The speech went off without a hitch. I was pretty good, if I say so myself. The speech was to last for 60 minutes with questions and they were still being asked after 90. Shortly after that I told them to go enjoy themselves. It was great fun.

For the three days I was there I had two “minders” whose job was to see that I was fed and cossetted and had what I needed. They were the ones who arranged for Ron and I to go to Haridwar.

Returning to Delhi for a couple of days, I shopped some and rested and walked around Connaught Place, a central shopping area in Delhi that I had visited when I was first in India.

Twenty years ago it was pretty run down; today, there is a new coat of paint and the stores have been upgraded. Every third store was an international brand. Once, like all of Delhi, it was crowded with beggars but now there are few. My friend, Raja, who has now lived in Delhi for eight years told me they have all been moved out of Delhi into some other area, far enough away that they’re not visible. Another friend said that was more work and so fewer beggars. The difference was notable.

India though is still India, with wrenching gullies of poverty. Road trips take you past buildings that could never have been new and new ones that were old before they were finished. India has had a building boom and bust, too. Structural skeletons pockmark the landscape, looking as if they had been abandoned.

In Jaipur, I had the best meal I had in India at the Royal Heritage Haveli, a royal villa converted into a boutique luxury hotel. I wandered the Amber Fort and the City Palace and stared up at the Palace of the Winds.

In Jaipur I had a night of discomforting “Delhi belly” that came and went swiftly but left me tired.

India is a riot of colors, a visual feast if you can and are willing to take it all in. As I was driven to the airport to depart, I remember noticing the curbs were painted mint green.

Returning to New York, it seemed everything was beige. I felt color deprived.

It is comforting to be home, splitting my time between the little apartment in the city and the cottage upstate, where the brown of winter is beginning to yield to the green of spring.

It was my fourth trip to India. If the opportunity came, I would go again. I still would like to go to Goa and to the mountain town of Mussoorie, a hill town populated during the Raj by Brits fleeing the deadly heat of the plains.

It is a land that is both mystic and a bit mystifying. After my first trip I described the adventure as the most wonderful, horrible, awful, magnificent, transcendental experience I had ever had. It is less horrible and awful and still wonderful, magnificent and transcendental.

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