The past forty eight hours may have been the weirdest most random in my life, but this present minute seems to have topped it all. I am sitting on a sort of cot made from four wooden posts with wooden frames that hold plastic strips that are laced into a surface a person could perhaps sleep on, or in my case sit precariously on the edge of and look around as the first rays of light hit one of the palace’s arabesque towers making it’s rusted and discolored stone stand out against the pale blue sky and terracotta roof tiles. The pink courtyard below, where I sit on a marble platform is just one small part of this sprawling palace. Birds fly around me, coo and sing out to one another. Wes Anderson could only dream of this place. Or maybe he already has. It is surreal.
So was the day spent in the consulate, waiting and trying to find the right balance of aggressive begging and gentle pleading that would convince the employees that I was worthy of special attention. Or even worthy of them doing their job. It was only when I embraced Carlie on the platform of the A train, met up with the other girls at the airport, and settled in at the bar of an Irish airport bar for our supper that it started to sink in. This trip was really happening.
The trip to India is long and exhausting. We stumbled out of the airport into the dark morning, lit by a small crescent moon, into the arms of our waiting professor who stood shoulder to shoulder with the small throbbing crowd of family and taxi drivers awaiting the arrivals. The sun rose behind us as our van drove past the sign announcing our arrival in Dhrangadhra. We passed through the town and through the gates of the palace just as the tops of the towers were lit by sunrise. Birds flew everywhere, and we entered the wing that housed our quarters to the dim light of the new day and some bright uncovered light bulbs hanging from the ceilings.
Dr. Greaves wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the palace had seen better days. It was built in the late 1800’s. Wonderful, slightly crumbling bas reliefs depict Hindu imagery mixed with Western symbols of British power show the nature of the times. Jay Bapa, the brother to the current King of Dhrangadhra (and Temple Professor of Anthropology who helped organize the trip – Bapa just means brother in Guajarati and is a nickname) and his family have survived centuries of invading hoards by compromising their religious symbols as well as their own autonomy. Jay Bapa’s ancestors are depicted with Western Angel wings as blind justice next to the monkey god and other Hindu symbols. Large war drums flank the entrance way to the grand hall where they held court – a symbol of the military success that brought his family to power. Peacocks roam the dry grounds and hustle between crumbling pavilions and the well-kept garden in front of the King’s quarters. Parrots flit and fly among the tree tops with other birds. The sandstone and concrete walls are a wonderful mix of Indian and Western Architecture. Neo gothic archways, beautiful lattice work, and arabesque towers are topped with a Greek looking statue and a flag pole. The newer pool in the back has two beautiful new lotus shaped fountains.
Dr. Greaves brought us into town where unpaved streets are lined with small shops, carts, and trash filled gutters. The streets were filled with rickshaws carting beautifully dressed people from place to place, mopeds weaving in and out of traffic, cows slowly waddling, and people walking in every direction with a bundle on their head, or pushing a cart ahead of them.
Adults stared curiously, and bold children waved and some even said hello. We wandered around looking for a bank to exchange money with our friend who speaks Hindi stopping to ask for directions every so often.
We ran into a yoga and music instructor that Dr. Greaves knew, and he handed us off so we could go to his house to arrange for future yoga sessions. Four of us squeezed into the back of a rickshaw, and one of us hopped on the back of his moped as we left the main streets for the quieter sun soaked residential alleys. Our journey was interrupted when we had to get out of the cart to make way for a cow, but eventually we made it. We met his mother, young wife and children and sipped Chai upstairs as he shared his philosophy with us. He was on day thirty of a ninety day fast. He is only eating dinner very limited juices and vegetables during the day. He played us the modified Indian guitar for a few minutes. It made a beautiful almost mournful sound.
We took a rickshaw back to the palace. After a wonderful lunch I finally hit a wall and succumbed to the primal need to be horizontal for the first time in two days and passed out on the hard dusty bed. We’ve spent the evening hammering out the details of our research.
We get to work tomorrow. I’m so excited to be with this brilliant group of people and to participate in this project. More to come!