Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Act of Kindness

I had my first truly negative experience this weekend. On the whole, we had a spectacular time, but there is one moment that sticks in my mind as one of the worst of recent memory. But like most things, there is a golden and glistening moment at the end of it.

On our way home, we decided to stop in Somnathapura which houses one of the oldest temples in India, Kesava. We navigated our way across the Indian country side and parked in front of the temple. We paid our Rs. 200 and walked across the beautifully manicured gardens into the temple.

The temple itself was breathtaking. I was immediately reminded of my trips through Egypt with the detail of the carvings on this temple. We walked around, taking pictures and discussing whatever it is that Brad and I find to discuss. It was somewhat crowded and I decided that I didn’t want to get in the middle of the crowds and chose to sit in the shade on the outer perimeter of the temple and wait for Brad.

My seat offerered a wonderful view of the outside of the temple. As I sat, I watched the people coming and going. I watched the children running around. I listened to the rhythms of conversations around me. I reveled in the glory of the day, with the cerulean sky above me. I watched as a man approached me, with his head turned back to his friends. He was waving an arm at them, as if to shush them, while they watched me and laughed. He walked to the ledge I was sitting on and asked me what country I came from. I told him the US at which point he turned on his heel and went back to the group. I head him say “United States”, which made his whole group laugh even harder. I watched them for the next ten minutes as I waited for Brad to come out, doing my best to let them know how hurt I was that they would laugh at me, merely because of where I came from.

After a little while, a woman made her way over to me. She skirted around the column that I was leaning against and sat down next to me. She was remarkably close, but Indians seem to have less personal space than Americans, so I chose to think that she was merely behaving as an Indian would, and I should not be offended. She then called across the courtyard to her friends. They looked over at her and they all started laughing. She turned to me and started laughing in my face and looked back at her friends. They began to pull out cameras to take pictures of her sitting next to the American.

At this precise moment, Brad walked out of the temple. I stood up quickly and headed out of the main door, meeting him outside by our shoes. I burst into a tirade, ranting about how Indians are not as hospitable as they are made out to be. One of the girls who laughed at me watched as I tried to let out all of my anger at the situation. I could see, at least I’d like to think I could see, some remorse at her actions. As you could imagine, Brad became very upset because I was so upset and we spent the better part of the next hour doing our best to soothe my ego.

A few hours later, we found ourselves in a small town 50 kilometers outside of Bangalore. It was 2:30 in the afternoon and we were both famished, as breakfast had been sparse that morning. We parked the car and wandered through the town in an attempt to find a restaurant that was non-veg. A small sign directed us through a small passageway and up a very tiny flight of stairs at the back of a building. We walked into a room that was mostly empty. Half of the room had no tables or chairs.

The gentleman at the door must have not spoken any English because he went into the kitchen and brought out an older gentleman. He had white hair and was wearing a white tank top with a cloth wrapped around his waist. He motioned to the menu board and told us that they didn’t have everything on the menu prepared yet. He listed a few of the things they did have and we both settled on the chicken biriyani. He smiled, genuinely, at the both of us and invited us to have a set.

The meal was fantastic, one of the best I’ve had here, and was over very quickly, mostly because we were so hungry that we didn’t speak to each other. We wen to the main desk to pay and the same gentleman came back out of the kitchen. We thanked him and told him that the meal was extraordinary. He smiled and charged us Rs. 60, or $1.33, for the whole meal. We thanked him again and he in turn thanked us for our patronage. We started out the door and he asked us to come again. We turned and stated that we would. He looked us both in the eye and repeated his request. “Please, come back again.” He was so sincere and so kind that I felt as if I were floating out of the restaurant.

In a small town in India, at the top of a small set of stairs, there is a small man, with an enormous heart, who is waiting to serve you a meal that nourishes so much more than your belly. I hope that we’ll be able to go back again, if for no other reason than to thank this man. He is probably not educated. He had probably lived within the same few blocks his whole life. But he had enough wisdom to see that we were just a pair of travelers who meant no harm. He had enough wisdom to know that the color of our skin doesn’t designate our political leanings. He had enough wisdom to know how far a kind word can go.

11 comments:

Jennifer P said...

Really touching Beth!
I am sooo sorry you had to go through such agony. I bet it makes you all the more appreciative of that man in the restuarant! Hope this finds you well!

George N said...

This is something that happens on a regular basis to American's wherever you go. I had this happen to me in Moscow when I was walking down the street with my dad. The only difference is the people were running a fruit and vegetable stand versus being tourists.

Hang in there. People adapt.

P.S. Did you ever get that item interpreted?

Mom (Bannon) said...

Elizabeth, I hope this will make you feel better about the incident ...We have Indian friends here and I notice they tend to laugh a good bit more than we do...I am never quite sure if it is because they have not understood me, or if they might be self-conscience in struggling with the language barrier, or if they just tend to laugh in social settings, but I have noticed the laughter. I have often thought that Oriental people tend to laugh more too when having a conversation...I am hoping the boys (men) just thought you were pretty and were 'razzing' the brave one who came over to 'connect' with you, and that the women were possibly embarrassed, but more than anything wanted a picture with the blonde American...and there again only one was 'brazen' enough to come over to try to connect, and didn't know to do more than laugh, and maybe her 'look' of remorse truly meant that she had no idea she had offended you. I am thinking we will just never know how all that should have been taken, and I hope you will not be hurt if this should happen again, and just know how unique you are in India....and just keep that pretty smile going. What a wonderful representative of our great country that you are! I am glad you and Brad are getting out and experiencing India. What a wonderful opportunity for your lives..I know you will save your Blog, but you should keep a 'daily diary' (personal for you and Brad to read years later...

Vivek said...

I just stumbled onto this blog and the first thing I want to say is that it is amazing.

Elizabeth and Brad, your blog is incredibly mature and in short wonderful. I'm sure you'll go back home to America with an experience that will last with you thruout your life.

First of all, it's too bad that what happened to you at Somnathpura happened. The most likely explanation was that you were a curiosity and the group of people saw something humorous about you sitting there. It probably wasn't malicious, but even if it was, some people are just idiots, whether in India or the United States or anywhere. I'm glad that you had a positive experience shortly afterwards.

Secondly, here's a tip. Small out of the way temples are ALWAYS better than large ones. In Mysore, on top of Chamundi Hills, there is the main Chamundi temple, but if you're there, make sure you miss the small Shiva temple which is maybe 200 meters away from the main one, even if you end up missing the main temple!

Another great temple to visit is the small one on top of Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta, which is part of Bandipur National Park. It's a temple in the middle of the forest and it's on top of a hill. It's amazing. I went there in August and you can see the pictures of the place on my blog (August archives) to see how it is.

Finally, as a native Bangalorean as well as a person who's spent half my life in the U.S., if there's anything I can do to help you bridge the two cultures together or make sense of a situation you don't understand, please drop me a note on my blog and I'll be glad to help out. I look forward to your future blog posts and hopefully the two of you have a great time in India.

Vivek said...

You're welcome regarding the comments. The ecological ethics of advaita vedanta, sounds interesting. I've never pondered about the ecological ethics aspect of any Hindu thought much thought as yet...

I went to school at Drexel University, in Philadelphia. You may or may not have heard of it. It's across the street from U.Penn. That's how I usually describe it to most people here.

As for grad schools, I'm so far looking at two in the east, two in the west. Princeton & Columbia, and UCLA and UC-Davis. Would prefer to stay in the east though.

Anyway, keep blogging ...

Vivek said...

Oh, and a typo in my initial comment. It's supposed to be "don't miss the small Shiva temple" in the Chamundi Hills area.

Cathy Bachman said...

You have such a great manner of expressing your events that I can hardly believe you understand math....hope this finds you both well and know that we think of you and send prayers up for your ewll being and safety and happiness. I hardly ever have a decent internet connection but tonight is a fortuante moment. and tomorrow we will see if we are in the loop to have charter high speed so I can dump this stupid satellite dish. If we are you can bet you will be seeing alot more of me on your blog responses. In the meantime I love you both so vey much.

Jason said...

For some reason, it dawned on me while I was walking to lunch (hunting for some place that WAS vegetarian!) that you probably had a blog too. Why didn't I think of it sooner? This great!

E(Liz)a(Beth) said...

Thanks, Jason. And thanks for the link from your blog. If I ever get saavy enough to trend up my blog, I'll reciprocate. Although, saying that I basically stole your code to begin with, I guess it wouldn't be that hard.

TJ said...

Well, good grief. Those idiots remind me of something me and my girlfriend, Brook, would have done in the 8th grade. Or perhaps people who could have starred on Jay Walking. Anyway, I'm glad you two are having a great time. I love how your words make it so easy to visualize your adventures. We miss you two. Love you,

Mom (Bannon) said...

Tonja, it is so refreshing that you have 'grown up' so wonderful, and can see the 'error of your ways'...I did feel concern over you and 'your' Brook and how you giggled at people...that is called 'youth', so like the word says "when I was a child I had childish ways...." now go read the rest and know I think you are amazing! love, your mom