Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Week 21: Coming Together

Coming together is an apt theme for this week. After 39 years of separation, here I am with Laxmi Satyavrata -- pictured with Kristine (together with daughter MIra and friend Naomi who have just arrived in India this week)! Finalizing travel plans for May also came together following a reunion of Stany`s family in celebration of his youngest daughter`s first communion. A very eventful week!

I first met Laxmi and her husband Satyavrata in 1971 while staying with others at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Calcutta. They were working in refugee campus along the border of India and what was then East Pakistan. Over one million people were fleeing the violence being inflicted by Pakistani troops upon Benglalis who were agitating for independence. Thousands were dying every day in the camps where food and clothing were desperately needed to stave off both hunger and cool December temperatures. For one month I joined them in their work and together we witnessed the last war between India and Pakistan which gave birth to Bangladesh. The bond forged during this time of hardship has remained all through these years, in spite of many address changes that left us unable to communicate with one another.

Kristine and I arrived in Bangalore by overnight bus from Kerala the morning of the night Mira and Naomi were to arrive by plane from Japan. After settling in our hotel, I went searching to find Laxmi and Satyavrata as I knew that 40 years ago Bangalore had been their home. With difficulty I found the Gandhi Peace Foundation offices in Bangalore and there I received word that Satyavrata had died just one years ago -- but Laxmi was alive and well (at age 79) living less than a block away! Our reunion that day was tearful, as we were sad that dear Satyavrata could be with us only in spirit -- and yet, there we were, able to catch up after so many years! She was amazed at how I had changed from a very thin young man of 21 (who, at 130 lbs was recovering from severe dysentery), to a ripe (good word) man aged 60 (who, at about 190 pounds, is -- heavier)!

Of course it was with great joy that Kris and I greeted our daughter and her friend at Bangalore airport. More than five months separation from Mira had been our longest ever from her -- and our parental instincts had us feeling a little like children at Christmas! Mira and Naomi soon were sharing some of their adventures during their two weeks in Japan -- mostly sleeping on floors with young people there who are part of a global network of those sharing the punk music scene. Though they had loved their time with these new friends, no one complained about sleeping in beds again here! Both also were as excited to visit India for the first time, as Kris and I were to have them join us. Our coming together was meaningful to me on the additional level of my seeing in their eyes the same wonderment I remember when I first traveled here.

Laxmi was thrilled to be able to share time with us all. One day she joined us in a rented car (with driver) who tried to showe us around Bangalore (he was often lost, and sp also would wed have been, without Laxmi`s direction). The Botanical Gardens were a highlight of this tour: over 1,000 acres set aside in the heart of the city, complete with a lotus pond, Japanese garden, a 300 year old cottonwood tree, and too many other scenes to mention. We lunched together and I learned much more about Laxmi`s very hard life than I had ever known before -- which helped Kris and I appreciate how much she has overcome to become how remarkable she is. Even now she teaches yoga in the mornings and provides nature cure services (including massage) on most days! Sadly, our brief visit to her city did not allow time for us to benefit from her skills. Maybe in the next life...

News from this week would be remiss without mention of our celebrating the first (Syrian Rite, Catholic) communion of Hanna, youngest daughter to our good friend Stany Thomas. Dressed in fine white, along with many other young boys and girls, Hanna`s event was presided over by the Archbishop of Kerela (yet another relative of Stany and his wife Shanty). The family reception at Stany`s home served over 150 people a fine buffet lunch -- with almost all of those invited being family members (coming together from as far away as France)! For Kris and I to be honorary aunt and uncle in such a family gathering only confirms how close we have come to be to these fine people. I am glad to know that Mira and Naomi will also share time with the Stany family later this month.

Hopefully the plans I have carefully laid out for May will proceed with minimal stress. Booking hotel reservations and and arranging for transportation has NOT been fun. As we proceed this day to Delhi and further north, I hope my efforts at being a travel agent do not show too much incompetence. For sure, I would never pursue a career in that field. Patience and a mellow personality are required - - and that is definately not me!

Thanks is especially due to several other people in Bangalore who made our four days here especially memorable. We are grateful to Kausalya Kugashankar, proprietor of the Terrace Gardens Guest House, for both providing us with a restful accomodation and inviting us one evening to dine with her and her family. Thanks also to the many people who shared with us during my speaking engagement at Bangalore University, and especially to Dr. D. Jeevan Kumar and his wife and daughter who insisted upon taking us out for lunch after the event. So many wonderful people, so little time. May our paths cross again some day in the U.S., where we may be blessed with visitors from these days.

Bye bye beloved Laxmi -- you will remain like a big sister to me. Goodbye Bangalore.

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