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Archive for May, 2011

It was mid-July when I heard some great news: the family I had traveled with to India and had been staying with were planning to move to Lonavla. They invited me to come along and I jumped at the chance. They had found a bungalow outside of town, and we planned to move in early August.

Besides this family, another young couple with a newborn baby planned to move with us. They were good friends of mine and I was happy about this turn of events.

We traveled back and forth between Mumbai and Lonavla over the next couple of weeks—cleaning, packing and moving. We arrived just in time for monsoon, the rainy season. I loved the magical feeling of rain falling all around, green fields and hills in every direction. The walks and hikes we took were great fun and full of discovery. We often made it home just in time to watch the afternoon downpour from the safety of our cozy home; we didn’t always make it back in time, though, and ended up looking as if “the bridge fell in.”

After a couple of weeks, Jonathan and his family asked if I would be willing to return to Mumbai for a couple of weeks to help with a couple of projects. Of course I agreed. The couple of weeks passed quickly, involved in projects and programs for the underprivileged.

Mid-August found everyone back in Mumbai to celebrate India’s Independence Day together. We had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. “I could get used to this,” I remember saying to a friend over the dinner, which was arguably the tastiest food I ever had; it ended with fresh mangoes and vanilla ice cream—still a favorite of mine.

The family was returning to Lonavla the evening of August 18—my seventeenth birthday. I had originally planned to return with them, but a friend asked if I could stay on in Mumbai for one more week, to plan her mom’s birthday. So I stayed an extra week…it passed very slowly. The highlight of that time was a birthday card and letter from my best friend. She hadn’t forgotten my birthday, and I was so happy to hear from her.

It was at the end of the week that I got the phone call, which came from Lonavla, letting me know that my best friend had passed away. (Read the full story, “We Shared a Heart”)

Two days after that, I was still reeling from the shock when the young couple returned to Mumbai, on their way to the airport. Their newborn baby wasn’t granted a visa, so they had to return to the States.

I wished I could go back to Lonavla right then, but there had been a misunderstanding and those I had been staying with in Lonavla were under the impression that I had wanted to stay in Mumbai for good. They wouldn’t be able to pick me up for another two weeks.

It’s not easy to describe how I felt during those couple of weeks. My best friend had died; any other close friends or family were thousands of miles away. I felt every comfort had been removed and the familiar ground pulled from beneath my feet.

Had I done something wrong? Did I make a big mistake somewhere along the line to bring me to where I was now standing (and felt like falling)? Why was everything crumbling apart around me? I had nothing to hold on to, and I never felt so alone. I wanted to call my mom—to whom I could always talk and find some form of comfort—but she was away from home at the time and I didn’t have a phone number to reach her.

I had only one place to turn. It’s strange—almost funny if it weren’t so pitiful—how, when everything is going fine, we find it difficult to draw close to the only one who is always with us. Yet it was at this time that I grew to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and the depth of His love, a comfort that could only be felt through deep sorrow and a peace that could only be understood through great turmoil of spirit.

I realized that no matter how alone I might feel, how far from friends and family I was, how distant from the comforts in which I always found solace—I still wasn’t alone. Beyond feeling, I knew that there was a purpose. Perhaps it would take time to find it. Perhaps there would come more sorrow and difficulty. Perhaps the path of life would be just that—a path—with rocks and boulders and hills, rocky and cold mountains, lonely and sunless valleys.

I knew I was meant to walk the path and I knew where the path led. One day the path will eventually lead to a home where no tears will again dim the eye, where pain will finally be drowned out in abiding joy. Yet I knew that as long as I traveled this road, I would not be home, because there were still many things to experience, learn and understand upon this path. Sometimes I would feel I walked the road alone, and sometimes I would have those beside me with whom I finally felt at home. The journey beckoned, and I was only just beginning.

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A weekend road trip, and to Pune no less! Pune, the city where my younger brother was born, the first city my family lived in when my parents moved to India back in 1985. I was curious. Would I remember anything? Would I see some landmark and every memory would come rushing back?

Jonathan was taking his family for a weekend trip to Pune and they invited me to come along, help look after their two little girls, and see a bit more of India.

Driving out of the city in the early morning gave a great lift to my spirit. Passing fields of green and patches of woods, the fresh breeze blowing in through the window of the old green jeep—I could close my eyes and picture myself home. Where was home? I still didn’t know; it was more a feeling than anything.

We stopped for breakfast at a small restaurant up in the hills. This one boasted its goods behind a glass display and I was surprised to see donuts. I loved donuts and had not found a single donut shop since arriving in India. I opted for a couple of those for breakfast.

“You might be surprised,” Jonathan quipped.

I turned to his wife. “Those aren’t donuts.” She informed me. “They’re wadas.”

The disappointment clearly registered on my face.

“They taste great,” she reassured me. “They just are a far cry from donuts.”

I tried them. I wasn’t so impressed, but I managed to finish off one of them. My friends gladly polished off the extra one, which they dipped in a spicy-gravy-sort-of-thing that I didn’t have the guts to try after the chaat incident.

Lonavla, surrounded by greenery

Lonavla, surrounded by greenery

We passed through a beautiful hill station called Lonavla. I could stay here a little longer, was my first impression of the peaceful little town. You could see green everywhere, and the weather was like late spring just after a rain. We stopped there to pick up chikki, for which the town of Lonavla was famous.

We made it to Pune before noon, and it was just as hot as Mumbai, just not nearly as humid. It was a dry heat. The city seemed more spread out than what I had seen of cities thus far, and there were two-wheelers everywhere. I was soon to learn that this was because Pune has thousands of college students attending the many colleges there, and their main mode of transportation was motorcycle, or the more common motor-scooter.

I kept my eyes peeled for any familiar signs or landmarks, but there were no sudden floods of memory. The little girls were getting tired and after looking at a few hostels, we decided to stay at the YMCA in the middle of town. After lunch and a rest, they splashed around in the pool while I wished I had a decent bathing suit (something that covered a bit more of me to avoid even more second-glances).

After a relaxing couple of days, we were about to head back to Mumbai.

“We just need to make one last stop,” Jonathan said. We parked outside of a little shopping center on the main street of the city. “Come on,” he said to me.

We passed tiny shop after tiny shop that sold bright material, clothes, bracelets and jewelry, traveling items, and finally arrived at our destination. I stepped inside the shop and took a breath…and I remembered. It is said that the sense of smell is the strongest connection to memories and a specific scent can be remembered years later. I remembered the smell of that shop. I didn’t remember exactly when I had come here, but I knew I did, at somewhere between two and three years of age. I remember my parents referring to Spicers Bakery, the only place where peanut butter could be found, back in the mid-eighties. This bakery also sold various types of cakes and cookies and…donuts!

So that was our important “last stop”. I felt special. They had remembered. We enjoyed the donuts on the way back to Mumbai, and I looked forward to my next trip to Pune.

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