Posts Tagged ‘Haridwar’

Letter From New York 04 15 15 An Indian Reprise…

April 15, 2015

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.

Letter From New York 03 28 15 In Holy Haridwar…

March 28, 2015

When I wake up in India, everyone I know is 9.5 hours behind me, sound asleep. It’s a little odd but I have gotten used to it. Beginning the day with an Indian breakfast, I moved on to two presentations here at Cognizance that I was interested in attending. One was by Kamlesh Sharma, Director of Coca-Cola, India. He is a remarkable young spokesperson for his company, invested with more enthusiasm for company, culture and product than I have recently seen in any individual.

He was followed by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Senior Advisor, UN Women, who was here to talk about and evangelize “HeForShe,” a gender parity campaign launched by the UN earlier this year with a speech by Emma Watson, she of “Harry Potter” fame. And, yes, there is an app for that.

Following lunch, my new best friend, Ron Eglash, of RPI in Troy, NY, just up the road from Claverack, and I went with two of our young hosts to Haridwar, one of the seven holiest places in India for Hindus, the place where the Ganges flows into India.

We traveled for an hour to get there, through the dusty plains of northern India, past the roadside shantytowns and masses of humanity, threading our way through traffic, tossing our hat at danger at every moment. We rode past massive construction projects, all of which seemed halted at some point in their development with no sign they would ever be completed.

Walking on the bridge across the Ganges, you can stand and watch people bathing in the river. People by the dozens sell empty plastic bottles of varying sizes so that the pilgrims can take home the holy water of the Ganges.

People with deformed limbs line the walks, begging. It was a scene I remember well from my other times in India. One old woman looked me in the eye and I lined her tin cup with paper rupees. She reminded me of my mother.

In some ways, it felt very much like I was part of the Raj, sliding through the crushes of humanity in an air-conditioned Toyota, passing close enough to people that our eyes met and caught, my wondering about their world, as I am sure they wondered about mine.

Whole families transported themselves on motorbikes, no one wearing helmets, children delicately balanced between parents. It appeared to me that no one in India uses seatbelts either. Ashad, one of my hosts, languidly lounged in the front seat, his seat belt unbuckled.

The students who get into any of the branches of the India Institute of Technology are the best and brightest of Indian students. Each year only 5000 are granted places. I teased Ashad that I was with two of the brightest people I had ever known.

And I was.

We returned to the guesthouse as the sun was setting, a brilliant pink orb descending in the west and I retreated to my room to write.

While I was watching the Ganges flow, it was revealed that the co-pilot of the downed Germanwings flight, Andreas Lubitz, was responsible for the crash, with the loss of all aboard. He had said that his name would be famous. What a way to get what you want.

In Indiana, Governor Pence, has signed into law a “religious freedom” bill, which allows people to refuse service to same sex couples. He is surprised and frustrated that he is getting a negative response from a lot of folks, including the N.C.A.A., based in Indianapolis. The Mayor of San Francisco has banned all publicly funded travel to the state. Gen Con, a convention for gaming enthusiasts held every year in Indianapolis is threatening to leave. Salesforce.com is outraged and has said so.

Lots of celebrities and others, including Hillary Clinton, are piling on. The head of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has called the bill “unnecessary.” Yelp is yelping, quite loudly.

Governor Pence is perplexed. If he had thought the bill was discriminatory, he wouldn’t have signed, he said.

He hasn’t ruled out a run for the Presidency.

Amanda Knox, who along with her boyfriend, had been accused of killing her roommate in Italy, has finally been vindicated and her conviction thrown out. The case has had more turns than a ride at Disneyland.

Apparently Hillary Clinton has wiped clean the server that she used for email in her years as Secretary of State. This isn’t going away for a long, long time.

And it’s not a very long time until I am giving my speech in the morning. I am skipping tonight’s festivities, a Swedish heavy metal band, and am going to my room after dinner to further prep my remarks and say some prayers that it all goes well.