Tuesday, February 23, 2010

India Journal, December 2009. Entry 6

"The definition of insanity is thinking that you need something you don't have. The mere fact that you exist right now without that which you think you need is proof that you don't need it." Byron Katie, author and spiritual teacher

India, as I think about my short time here, seems to me to be a land and people who have internalized the essence of existence: 1,161,240,000* or so people rise each morning, bathe, have a cup of tea and make their way to work, or school, or the shop where they gather to smoke and socialize. Or to the streets to beg.


Our tour of Old Delhi continues. As we pass the India Gate, otherwise known as the All India War Memorial, I gasp. – Next to us, a family of five is circling the round-about, top-speed, on a motor-bike. Papa is driving with a toddler in his lap; behind him, a small girl and her mother wrap their arms around each other and his waist; and on Mama’s back, in a wrap-around sling, is baby. I think back a year, before Avery Pearl was born, to my son-in-law, checking and double-checking his government-approved infant seat so he could safely bring his precious daughter home from the hospital…

I make myself concentrate on what Sammy is telling us about the Gate. It was constructed in 1921 to commemorate the seventy thousand Indian soldiers who perished in World War I. As India was under British rule then, the Army of India consisted of both the Indian and the British Armies in India, and was the military protector of the British Raj. In 1971, “Amar Jawan Jyoti” was added under the original arch to honor the Indian Jawans who gave their lives during the Indo-Pak War of 1971…

Our next stop is a World Heritage Site, the Red Fort. Sammy pulls to the curbside near the main entrance. He will wait if we want to tour, but suggests that if we want to see other places of interest, we may want to postpone, as it usually takes a minimum of 3 hours to walk through the grounds and buildings. I can understand why. The Fort is an immense irregular octagon with two main gates, the Lahori and the Delhi. The walls and gates of the structure are the striking red sandstone that is such a favored building material in this Northern Indian state. We won’t have an opportunity to see for ourselves, but Sammy explains that the many halls and palaces inside are built largely of Indian marble. Next visit, I promise myself, along with the Taj Mahal. Sammy sends us off with the instructions to "watch for pick-pockets, and meet me back here in 30 minutes".


“Americans!” As we exit the car, we can literally hear the murmur pass through the group of peddlers waiting at the entranceway.

“Mrs. Mrs? You like to see my books to remember your visit to the Red Fort?”

“No, no thank you.” I duck away, and he pursues. “But these are good pictures, see?”

“Yes I do. But I have my own camera.”

“Then I take a picture of you and your husband in front of the Red Fort with your camera. My time only 10 rupee.”

I gesture no, and in turning, bump into a young, bearded boy. “Raj beard. Only 5 rupee.” I stare at him dumbly. On his display board are a variety of fake beards, all in the style of mid-eighteenth century Indian royalty. “Put on you. See?”

“No put on me. No thank you, sweetheart.” I fish in my back-pack for a granola bar. His face crumples when I hand it to him.

“Namaste, Mrs.”, he whispers as he walks away. I look after him for about 20 seconds and when I turn around, there stands a tall, smiling slender man who, it turns out, is the same one we initially encountered at the gate. He has traded his postcard books for a box of toy “putt-putts”. (A putt-putt is a 3-wheeled, diesel-driven, open taxi. A very popular and cheap way to travel around town in India.)

“For your grandson, Mrs. 20 rupee. Is a deal?”

“No, sir, no deal. No thank you.” I am getting exasperated. We have spent about 15 minutes and have only traveled 50 feet into the courtyard.  I content myself with snapping a few pictures of the Fort from this distance. Tim buys a photo book for 10 rupees to silence the man and we run, literally, back to the safety of Sammy and his cool, clean car.

I want to see India. I want to experience India. But -- I am tired, already, of this endless pursuit.

* As of the March 2009 official census.  Note that this is a population increase of almost 932 million people since the previous census of January 2008. (1,129,888,000)  I think, perhaps, there is a little love-making going on, too.

Friday, February 19, 2010

India Journal, December 2009. Entry 5

Old Delhi

Sammy’s car is small and clean. As with our airport driver, he takes great pride in it, and makes a good show of keeping the windows spotless.

“Today we see Old Delhi. Perhaps tomorrow we can see New Delhi or Agra?” Agra. I have to stifle my automatic “yes!”. This is a sore point with me. Siobhan has decreed that Agra is not a good place for us to visit. Too poor. Too sad. Too tourist-y. “You should have the authentic Indian experience, as I have had.” (Although SHE has seen the Taj) My argument that one must see the Taj Mahal if one is in Northern India falls on deaf ears, and I am too timid to undertake this side-trip on my own. “I’m afraid this is our only day in Delhi, Sammy. Tomorrow we will be traveling to Jaipur by train to see our daughter,” replies Tim.

“Well. We should then make haste.” He floors the accelerator and joins the honking chorus of lorries, bicycles and scooters that cram the streets of the older part of the city. “First, we see the marketplace.”

When it seems that the narrow passage cannot hold one more vehicle, the road becomes more crowded. Our driver rolls down his window. I can only guess at what he shouts to move the press of pedestrians that now join the mix.  Without acknowledging him and as if on cue, they move away from his vehicle. Once again, we can see out the windows, and those outside can also see in the windows. In less than a minute, the tapping begins. “Mrs. Mrs.? No food.” A very young woman, perhaps fourteen or fifteen, shows me her baby, who has a badly burned arm. His nose is running and flies sit in the snot above his lip. I have to close my eyes and put my head on my chest, as I fear that I might faint. This is real. This is not an infomercial for “Save the Children” on late night TV. Sammy is angry. He stops the engine and steps out of the car. It is then that I realize how massive his frame is in relation to many of his countrymen. He yells and gestures and the woman steps away.

We are all quiet,and for a short while, we do not encounter any desperate people.

“I have two daughters,” he says, breaking our silence and smiling in the rear-view mirror. “One is a baby, and my older girl is in government school. I am very proud.” He pulls down the visor on the passenger side of the front seat. On it is a picture of two tiny, soulful children. They are playing with the camera. The photographer must be teasing, as their big dark eyes spark with mischief. “No wonder you are proud,” I say. “They are beautiful, Sammy.” We ride again for a time without speaking, taking in the sights of the market. Sweets and textiles. Toys and rugs. Fruits and flowers. Thousands of flowers for a thousand home altars, for a hundred family gods and goddesses. The most amazing part of the market, to my mind, is the section of metal-work shops. Sammy explains that one can find any after-market car part, for any car, made anywhere in the world - within this maze of storefronts. It goes on for several city-blocks distance, covering two floors of many buildings, and running down long alley-ways. “We figure it out,” he states matter-of-factly. “We find a part and figure out how to make it. Then we make it, and it works just fine.”


Our first “official” tourist stop is the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It is an imposing and beautiful building of red sandstone that boasts three gateways, four towers and two minarets that tower forty meters above the center courtyard. Sammy stops the car at one of the gates and suggests that we take 20 minutes to walk around. He points to the parking area where he will be waiting for us. I pull my scarf around my head, adjusting it so tas not to expose any skin on my neck or chest.  We ascend 150 red steps, past armed guards and small children begging for a few rupees, to reach Entranceway #4.  I hand one little boy a crumpled American dollar and a Jolly Rancher candy, all that I have in my pocket. He smiles shyly and runs down the steps.

There is a large sign posted in English that tells us there is no admission fee, but a donation is required if we wish to take any photographs. The charge is 200 rupees (about four dollars) for a still camera, and 500 rupees for a video camera. I decide to leave my camera in my pocket and take any photos I might want to capture from the street level. While Tim is paying his fee, I remove my shoes as requested, to walk, stocking-footed, into the open yard of the mosque. It is quiet. There are a few older men feeding pigeons, many others sitting or kneeling on prayer rugs in meditation. The silence is broken by a rapid burst of angry Hindi, and I turn to see an older man, face weathered to fine leather, running at me carrying a brightly colored cotton robe. I raise my hands in a protective gesture, pushing him away as he yells and points and tries to cover me with the garment. I don’t understand. My head and neck are concealed by a scarf; I wear long sleeves; my skirt falls less than an inch above my socks; my feet are covered by socks; my new walking shoes left, reluctantly, at the gate. “He is saying that you are not dressed well.” A man speaking English explains my pursuer’s anger. “Put on the robe. There is no charge.”

So, I put on the robe.

“What was that all about?” asks Tim.

“I am not a man.”

We walk, and Tim gets off a half-dozen pictures before we are told by another angry man to leave. “Mosque is closed. You go. Now.”

It has been about twenty minutes, so we leave.

No one else seems to know that the mosque is closed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine for Ernie

Sorry for the long absence, my friends. My trusty PC is now back home from the Computer Hospital after a week-long - but successful battle - with a rather nasty Trojan virus. On my first day back online, I hope you will humor me. - I’m going to take a bit of a break from my India Journal to send a Valentine to my Dad. (And for those “fans” who have been reading my journal, I thank you again and promise to resume those posts on Tuesday.)

As many of you know, I have been cleaning and packing up the house our family has lived in for the last fifteen years. We plan to downsize. Sort of. I say that because, while we need less space for people, we will be requiring more housing for animals. It’s time that our fifteen alpacas come to live with us, and we’re looking for a small Gentleman’s Farm in seacoast NH or southern Maine. We’re a family of hoard…er, I mean collectors, so sorting into the “save/pack”, “toss” or “recycle/donate” piles can often evolve into a rather contentious family discussion. But I digress, and that’s a whole ‘nother topic that we’ll talk more about in coming weeks...

To continue.  Last week, as I was cleaning my office, I came across a copy of the eulogy I delivered at my father’s funeral. He’s been gone for five years now, but sometimes absence speaks louder than presence... And so, on Valentine’s Day, the day that honors all kinds of love – I send him this message of love – in thanks for giving us a comfortable life, rich with family gatherings and the company of good friends; for driving me to all of those games and play rehearsals and movies and dances; for his political passion – even if I disagreed, at least he cared; and especially, for his laugh and love of singing, those sounds I think I miss the most.

Big Daddy, wherever you are, Happy Valentine’s Day. Still missing you. XO K8

August 2005: (Excerpts from) A Tribute to Ernest Weston Stanton

This has been a year of both great joy and deep sorrow for our family.

On the eve of 2004, Priya Madeline joined the Stanton family, coming home with her new mother, Mary Anne, from distant Nepal. Beautiful, beautiful Priya. Her smile brought joy, hope and love into our hearts during the difficult Spring and Summer months. Thank you, Priya, for your light! And thank you, Mary Anne, for traveling halfway around the world to bring her into your life – and ours.

Early in the New Year, we will all stunned when our big, strong father took ill, requiring major surgery. While he was still in Recovery, Dr. Ejaiffee delivered the dreaded diagnosis to our family, the news for which no one is ever prepared: “Ernie has cancer in his liver, and at this point, I believe it is terminal.”

In the months that followed, as Dad faced his own mortality, he demonstrated a deep and remarkable courage. The way that he lived his life during these months, taught us yet one more lesson in dignity and courage. We knew he was a strong man. Brave. Principled. Loving and loyal… And yes, opionated. We certainly had many lively discussions, as he was a Republican AND Yankee’s fan, and of course, I am a Democrat and Red Sox fan…

His Catholic faith was unflagging; he never complained; he never blamed God for his illness, and in the weeks before his death, he received Holy Communion daily…He always had a bad joke to tell, and he told them often and well. His smile was quick and warm and enveloping. Ready to shine at a moment’s notice… He adored his beautiful wife of 52 years, Catherine, his four daughters and eight grandchildren. He treasured time spent in the company of his extended family and friends. We all have wonderful memories of New Year’s Eve toboggan parties with Aunt Ruth, Uncle Jack and the Stanton cousins. And then, there were Memorial Day and 4th of July picnics, celebrated with bounty-filled tables, in the good company of Uncle Ed, Aunt Esther and the Connors cousins…

He was so proud of all of his nieces and nephews. Dad was the last of the three Stanton brothers: Smokey, Jack and Ernie. When I called to tell Smokey’s daughter, Melinda, that Dad had passed, she sobbed: “Now all the Big Daddies are gone. They were the best fathers in the world.”…

Dad had a wonderful baritone singing voice. One of my first memories is of him singing “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?” and “McNamara’s Band”. He was passionate about trying new things, and when he did try something new, he threw himself into it with the greatest enthusiasm…There were the bread-baking and soup-making months, and the daily swims, ceramics. The list could go on. And on. And on… Most of all, he loved Ma’s good home cooking! … It seemed unbearably cruel that this man who so enjoyed his wife’s cooking should have that pleasure denied in his last few months of life…

Dad persevered through months of tortuous chemotherapy, trying to find a way to heal, trying to find a way to spend a few more precious years with the love of his life, Kay. So that he could attend the wedding of his first grand-daughter, Julia… He did travel to Julia and Cesar’s wedding in June, and his presence made a sparkling June day on the rocky coast of Maine even more joyous…

Dad didn’t have a very easy childhood. He lost his own beloved mother when he was only ten years old, and I think he grieved for her every day of his life thereafter. Dad painted a beautiful picture of Grandma Mathilde. How kind she was and generous, how he loved to listen to her play the piano. She was a gifted artist, a great cook… Not long after his diagnosis, he told me he was looking forward to seeing his mother again. 71 years is a long time to miss one’s mother…

Over the years, Dad was blessed with many true, lifelong friendships. Dad had two big brothers, Jack and Smokey, whom he looked-up to. The three, separated in youth after their mother’s death, were close throughout their adult lives. - What a team, those Big Daddies! His buddy Tom and he enjoyed a friendship that weathered more than 70 years, and his brothers-in-law, Ed and Father Jim were both family and friends for over 50 years…

Dad was immensely proud of his time in the Navy, and had a passionate love of his country. He never failed to choke-up when he heard the playing of the national anthem. He greatly enjoyed the reunions of his Navy squadron that were held annually. Many times he spoke about a Navy colleague for whom he had great admiration – Art - a pilot whom Dad credited with saving his life, many times over…

I want to tell you, too, about the amazing courage my mother demonstrated over these last few months. Dad always said he was the luckiest guy on the world to have Kay, and when he took ill, she promised him that she would take care of him in the home they loved and made together. “In sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part” were words she took very seriously. She cared for him with devotion, energy, compassion and a loving generosity… What became more and more evident to all of us in those last few months was the fact that Kay Stanton was also made of some very tough stuff…

Our family, neighbors and friends prayed, comforted and fed our family during these last weeks. Their generosity was truly an example of the “loaves and fishes”. Whenever we thought about preparing a meal, the doorbell would ring. And there was yet another kind face and a delicious, reviving meal…

I will see my father everytime I see my sisters: Mary Anne’s thousands of freckles, Eileen’s “Ernie knees”, the strong set of Patty’s jaw. My nephew Zachary’s long fingers and toes will remind me, as will the quick flash of my daughter Siobhan’s smile, and the sparkle in my daughter Julia’s brown eyes. I will hear my father every time my son Jesse tells a story. And each morning when I look in the mirror I will see dad’s nose, sitting just between my mother’s cheekbones…

I know of the love of my God because of the love of my father. I know of His unconditional love. I know of His fury, along with His forgiveness. I have experienced His tenderness as I myself was walked and rocked, and as I watched my dad walk his baby daughters, grandsons and grand-daughters, rocking and crooning us to sleep to the tune of Rockabye Baby, McNamara’s Band and, of course, “Who Threw the Overalls”…

Ma and Dad gave us a wonderful childhood, and created a safe, warm and loving home in which to grow and learn about life…It will be hard to come home without experiencing Dad’s bear-hug greeting. Yet, I know in my heart there will be another time, another embrace when we meet at Heaven’s Gate, and he is there to welcome us into that warm and loving Home…