As the clarion call of the Muslim early Morning Prayer call echoed into my deep sleep at 5.30 am, the cool chill of the winter airbrushed my face. A dash to the bathroom to turn on the hot water cistern was bracing but necessary if I wanted a hot shower in 30 minutes. Glimpsing the mist outside on this relatively mild winter in Dehra Dun, the Indian climate was to my liking.
I personally set out on my morning reconnoiter of the neighborhood and my hour walk. Adorned in beanie to merge with the locals, thick gloves and my new colorful wool stole woven at Raphael around my shoulders I set off. Once outside the gates of peaceful and secluded Raphael, the cacophony of India greeted me; tooting autos, weaving goats, motorbikes bearing 3 people dodging the potholes and a repetitious recognition monologue of ‘namaste’ to all and sundry, who noticed the ‘stranger in the midst’. The route never varied; across the bridge watching my ankles did not roll in the cavernous holes in the road, left along the narrow street overlooking the river bed/tip/playground for hoards of kids/slum dwellings and home of foraging swine, groups of roving mangy dogs, an odd cow chewing slowly on the rubbish dump and repository for household waste that over time, and due to the lack of rubbish collection, seemed immaterial. Further along, if I looked over my shoulder going up the hill, a paperboy threw his wares over fences as I viewed the glorious round orb of a pink red sun rising through the haze to commence another day. Further along, my new ‘friend’ who had engaged me by ‘come in, one coffee, one tea’ meant that the bonus of inclusion in her life plus hot morning mild coffee for 20 minutes were a highlight of the walk. All was well in the world.
Rushing off after a warm hug and promise to come again tomorrow, I re-entered the quiet of the long walk past Ava Vihar, waving to a few early risers crouched over a makeshift fire to warm their hands. And the bold yellows of the marigolds tended by garden staff were a touch of color as I walked to the Volunteer Mess for a breakfast of recognition; cornflakes. Although on occasions, Hari the talented cook used a balance of spices and tastes to perfection to treat my taste buds to excellent local cuisine. Certainly, we were treated to a splendid variety of meals, and my usual thanks for his inviting me to his ‘restaurant’ generally put a great smile on his face. Western news whilst we ate informed us of happenings far removed yet prevented gross culture shock so we could ground ourselves in ‘western normality’ if necessary.
Smiles continued as autos brought school students to the school and the Shiv Sadan children poured out of their breakfast room, hair combed and slicked with oil, clean faces and uniforms un-disheveled as yet. Punctually the teachers arrived, arrayed in bright combinations of jumpers, trouser suits and wraps around their shoulders, always with a warm greeting. General Assembly, the students standing in line as they sang a variety of school anthem, hymns, or Jingle Bells started the day. A wayward child would be lovingly restrained from hitting his neighbor just as with kids all round the world. Morning exercises for 15 minutes were a mix of long strides, arm waving, physical stretches and great glee; two girls would scramble to hold my hand each morning and off we set, arms swinging and happy, humming and following the pack. And school hasn’t even started…
The sights, sounds and smells left me daily with a sense of well-being; life was being lived in its fullness here in Raphael and Dehra Dun. There was a sense of well-being amongst the people, togetherness, sharing of lives, community that was reassuring and fitted well with my ethos of life; it is to be shared.