Travelling on the 6th of December seemed particularly fraught this year.
I was touched by our driver saying, "God bless you" when he dropped us at the airport in Kolkata. Security checks were most stringent- proof of identity was shown along with the ticket at the entrance gate itself, and all hand luggage went through the x-ray machines before check-in. Most people were at the airport with plenty of time for the security checks.
When we landed, it seemed that Delhi Airport had more commandos than passengers!
We were on a morning flight, and were trying to fit in a family reunion lunch with a wedding.
As we were the hosts for our family gathering, we were hoping to get to our destination in time for me to change into a hostly saree! The SRE's office had arranged a car for us. ( I have always loved the thought of being received by someone carrying a placard with our names on it- alright, the SRE's name- yes, I'm still very kiddish about some things.) The driver seemed pleasant enough, and the SRE asked him a fairly innocuous question about the general climate in Delhi after the Mumbai attacks. The man responded with such a virulent anti-Muslim tirade that we were both rather stunned. (Yes, we are both naive and idealistic, I know). After trying to talk some sense into the man, we gave up, and the SRE got busy on his phone in order to shut him up. What is frightening is not the lack of tolerance of a single, not particularly educated individual. It is the fairly widespread lack of tolerance across the board, the assumption of the guilt of an entire community, most members of which are, like most of us, trying to earn a living and bring up their families to the best of their abilities. How do we get people to focus more on the common issues of being human rather than on the purely personal issues of whom they worship and how?
The driver thought that it would be best if everyone worshipped Lord Shiva, who, according to him, was the most powerful of all gods. (We did try telling him that even among the followers of different brands of Hinduism there was tremendous dissent.) A friend told us later that this wasn't an uncommon response- post 9/11, an American she'd met thought that the world's problems would be solved if everyone decided, once and for all, to worship Jesus. Some people!
On this particular trip we were staying at the India Habitat Centre, instead of with either of our daughters, as we usually do. We checked in, and had our suitcases opened and examined behind a discreet screen before we were taken to our room. I changed quickly, telling my saree to behave itself, and we rushed to the lunch venue. We actually managed to get there three minutes before our first guests arrived! The SRE's sister and niece and her family were visiting from Atlanta, and we had called most of the extended family from the NCR so that we could all meet the NRIs and each other. It was a lovely occasion, meeting family members after varying lengths of time, and having them all meet each other.
Are you familiar with 'kaanji'? Not the rice gruel, but the particularly North Indian preparation made with either the deep purple carrots, or red carrots and beetroot, or daal vadas, with lots of water and crushed mustard seeds and spices, which is fermented for a few days in the sun and consumed in early winter and spring. This is something which the SRE is very fond of, and I like too, but usually forget to make! He'd been telling our daughters that he'd been missing it. I'd been feeling guilty about not having made it in the last few years, I last remember having made it on Holi in Noida in 2004, but I still wasn't getting round to making it!
Our intrepid daughters actually lugged along a huge jar of kaanji for us, and all our guests enjoyed this unexpected touch of home in the unlikely environs of the IHC!
After a stupendous lunch and lots of family bonding and photographs, we took a well needed rest- we'd been up at 4 a.m to catch our flight.
The evening programme was at Oberoi Intercontinental. Once again, a thorough security check before the car could drive up to the hotel, for which we were most thankful!
At least we felt safer. The event was a Sangeet and cocktails hosted by a school friend of the SRE in honour of his son's wedding that was to take place the next evening. The SRE had a blast meeting several old school friends of his. I met people some of whom I'd last met decades ago, some for the first time. Some bonding with some of the friends' wives happened, and it was generally fun, apart from really loud music which seems rather antithetical to good conversation.
I also tend to get very confused with too many varieties of food on offer, so I end up feeling rather full but not very satisfied. Hard to please, that's me.
By the time we were ready to leave our host and his family were merrily dancing away, and the SRE and the friend who was leaving us at the IHC were roped in. (We had dismissed our fundamentalist driver after he'd dropped us- it was too near to justify our keeping him waiting till all hours.) I sat it out because by then my feet were killing me in their unaccustomed heels and I was longing to get 'home' to our room.
Sunday morning was lovely. We had a different, younger driver, and did not engage in any kind of political discussions with him. This was the SRE's first visit to the Mad Momma's pad. Where, besides the Mad family, we were also able to meet Bird's Eye View and family minus the littlest one, and Raising T and her adorable son. Chandni and her Boy were expected, but were held up by the electricity department, which had decided, in its infinite wisdom, to change the meter just as they were about to leave their place. Chandu, I guess we are destined to meet in Kolkata! Soon, I hope. We spent a marvellous morning there, and then went over to our elder daughter's home in Noida. The dogs, of course, went completely mad. A quick lunch with some friends who were visiting, and we set off to a birthday party in a park! It was the birthday of the child of very dear friends of my eldest daughter and son-in-law, and they were really so pleased that we were able to make it. Their belonging to a minority community is not relevant to any of us, but I did wish that our original Delhi driver had been around, to show him that parenthood and it's joys and celebrations are not community specific, neither are love, affection and respect. Our younger daughter was already there, and our son-in-law arrived as we were leaving, so we were able to meet him.
Before we knew it, it was time to get dressed for the wedding. We had dropped in at he groom's house with our gift, and had decided not to attend the sehrabandi, but meet the baraat at the designated venue, a 'farmhouse' on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road. The bride's family had made excellent arrangements for the assembly of the baraat. There was a professional turban expert, and soon the SRE was in official baraati headgear- a lovely orange kota material with a narrow zari trim. The assembled baraati men looked like a bouquet of auspicious marigolds! The drummers and shehnai player assembled, as did the baraat, and although this wasn't the typical wedding music band, it was as noisy. The procession had to traverse maybe two hundred metres or so, within the same farmhouse compound. It was painfully slow progress as the drummers stopped every ten yards or so, the shehnai player would lead into a new tune and be drowned in drumbeats, and some people danced and other people tipped the musicians. It took an NRI friend's eyes to notice how poor the petromax lamp holders looked. There were several of them lighting our way, each carrying a lampstand with five or six branches, some on their heads, some on their shoulders. They were not performers like the musicians, not likely to get a paisa beyond the fixed charges. Who would tip them, and why? In the meantime, we were were suffering the slow walk in high heels and wishing that we could sit down somewhere! We were also being plied with snacks and drinks, and the social disparities seemed more glaring than ever. The groom looked like a young prince, mounted on his mare. The family was dancing with joyous abandon, especially the groom's only sister, with her husband, parents and infant son. Their joy was truly infectious, and made the aching feet seem worthwhile. It seemed as though it took hours for us to get to the beautifully decorated entrance to the venue. The entire passage was decorated with strings of tuberoses and twinkling earthen diyas hanging in rows- really lovely.
Sitting down was the ultimate relief. Four of us wives had bonded big time the previous evening, and decided to let our husbands catch up with all the school friends they wanted to. It felt as though we'd known each other for a long time, though I'd only met one of them before this, and we enjoyed each others company as well as the excellent food.
Since we had to catch an early morning flight, we left soon after the men had their dinner, which was fairly late. The driver said he would pick us up at 4a.m. I packed most of our things at night, and we settled down for about three hours of slumber before we checked out.
The airport was as busy as ever. Security was still tight. Proof of identity was still required at the entrance itself. Hand luggage wasn't X-rayed prior to check in, though.The lines were long and slow. It was a relief to get through Security and doze off till our boarding call was announced. I slept practically through the flight, and was glad of an uneventful journey home.
It was a simple, short weekend trip full of love and laughter. Reaching home safe and sound seemed like a great achievement, something to be eminently thankful for. Life these days seems to underline the fact that each breath we take is a blessing from our Maker. May He continue to bless us and keep us all.