Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Kamaraj the Gypsy
On my first visit to India two years ago, I failed to show up for a "party" me and my family were invited to. It was an invite by a man selling beads in a small stall the half the size of my bathroom back in Brooklyn. His village in Tamil Nadu, about six hours by car travel where we are now in Puttaparthi, was one of the recipients of SQ Foundation's charity work in the past several years. So when we mentioned that we knew Derek O'Neill, the founder of SQ Foundation, Kamaraj acted like he knew us thousands of years ago, hence the invite. At the time, I was hesitant because of fear. I was afraid that after having masala chai with him, we'd all end up in the bathroom or worse. Of course, I've regretted not going since. So when we returned to India a few days ago and saw him on our second day, he immediately reminded me that I didn't show up to the party and that this time around, we have to come and have tea with him. So I agreed and my family followed suit. It was easily one of the best times I've had in India.
He took us to a cafe we'd never been to before. If you had no idea that there was anything inside, you'd never even think to go through the narrow hall from the outside where all manner of souvenirs from Punjabi suits, saris to silver jewelry and Ganesh statues all vie for the eye's attention. So none of us thought of even looking on that side of the street when we'd pass by. The interior was painted a light sky blue and in one side of the cafe was open ground where actual banana trees twenty feet high grew. It would have been the most perfect spot only it seemed like everyone that was staying there who, by the way, seemed to all be Russian speakers, smoked cigarettes as if they were chimneys.
Kamaraj told us a little more about his life. He's married to his "big sister's daughter." We were surprised but kept the conversation going. I also thought, no wonder his brother-in-law looked exactly like him! He was shocked that the we didn't have our "caste" written in a piece of paper like everyone else in India. In fact, he seemed perplexed that there was no caste system outside of India (and possibly Nepal). I had no idea that his wife/niece, Kavita, has a hole in her heart. I asked him how come he never told Derek and he said he didn't want to tell him because everyone wants something from Derek. I was in disbelief. How humble and how well-meaning was this person that he didn't even ask for himself (well, his wife) something that was needed. I told him I would pass it on to SQ and, later on, having talked with my dad about it, we told him that we would help with the bill if the foundation couldn't. Kamaraj was elated.