Back in Pune with Love

If there was ever a warm welcome, I think this might top the best. Each and every person who I’ve met since being back in this city, for less than 24 hours, has made me feel like the most amazing person who ever lived. It started with a pick up by Sachin, Sagar, and Ritesh from the train station. Our first stop of the day was the South Indian restaurant we always went to. I was expecting some smart remark from the owner. He pulled up right behind Sagar and I as we got off the bike to park. He didn’t seem to recognize me as he pulled up. He got off his bike and said, “you didn’t have anything better to do than come back here” in his sarcastic way. It was perfect. He’s quite a character. The waitress knew exactly what I would order and even gave me extra gun-powder chutney. Manoj was wondering why he didn’t get any. She just knew that’s what I order.

We’re about a quarter way into our order when Dakshayani walks in with Mandar. They eat there almost every morning. It was such a lovely breakfast. Manoj and I went back to his parents’ house, hung out, and I went off to my old office to meet old coworkers for lunch. Each made a special something. Yogita even made sabudana khichdi, which she remembered I loved. Bhakti and I went for a lovely walk afterwards and caught up. I had promised to visit the old school where I set up the after school arts program.

Besides meeting Shalini and the other folks who work at the school, I was really looking forward to meeting some of the kids who were in the program; in particular Harsh and Rutuja, a brother and sister who I connected with on a deeper level, through literature and philosophy talk. We used to talk about differences in culture and what books we’re reading. They’ve both read The Giver, 7 Splendid Suns, the Golden Compass and more. We talked about differences in the US. Harsh is super interested in American music. He asked if Black people are discriminated against in the US, if there is bad treatment of women; he would be a great human rights advocate I think. His dream is to live in the US. Rutuja spoke with me about book after book. It was so lovely. They both greeted me with a full hug and said how they missed me. Rutuja said “ohhhh Oriana didi!” We sat for a long time. It was my plan to leave to go visit the other kids earlier, but I had to stay and chat with them. I’ll go back again on Saturday.

Ishwar! How amazing it was to see him and the kids. Manoj, Sagar, Sachin and I walked across the bridge, and we saw them from underneath. The little ones, who are now not so little came running. Ishwar walked at his own pace. We greeted with handshakes. We walked into their community, met their moms, some of the older sisters and brothers. We got such huge smiles. It took a few minutes, but then Ishwar was all open to talking. He looks at our pictures all the time, I told him how I miss them all so much. I brought them some postcards of New York and some sour candies. Everyone had some. There was a drunk guy who spoke English, who was determined to spoil a bit of the fun. He asked what we were giving out, referring to the post cards and said that he would take one. There was only one left and we were saving it for Chapel. He kept leaning over and saying that he wanted one. One of the much older boys took him away, but not before Ishwar offered his postcard as a peace offering. I didn’t let him give it, and am very happy that the older boy stepped in. I apologized and Ishwar said that he’s always like that, he always gives bad words to kids. They’re lucky to have each other.

Ganesh’s mom and Ishwar’s mom were all smiles. I love those kids so much. We talked about all the different places in the post cards, talked about how it’s been such a long time since we’ve seen each other. We’ll meet again on Sunday and walk. When we asked where to meet Ishwar said we meet at his house so that we walk and talk as we go to the park. Sometimes you meet some special people in your life and it hurts to think how amazing a bond can be between a group of people, and I’ve been surrounded by so many of those bonds all day.

Next was capoeira, where I got to meet all the people who appear on the whatsap group I’m a part of. I put faces to names, taught a class, hopefully got some other people even more psyched about capoeira. We went out for food after too, to our old juice spot, which isn’t as good anymore because of water cuts from the city, so they use plastic everything because they don’t have enough water to wash all of their dishes. It was so great to meet everyone, spend a little more time with them, and start to see where things are with the group. There are more now then there was when I left. The place where class is is an artsy studio with several rooms, and a very supportive management.

It’s late; I need to sleep. Tomorrow is a long day again. All days here are going to be long. It’s so worth it though!

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