I am in Delhi! It’s been amazing so far.
I left Bennington, Vermont after an absolutely incredible week on Sunday around noon, drove all the way to Newark, partly in a torrential rainstorm, and then got onto a fourteen hour flight which left two hours late, got into Delhi around 9:30 the next evening, and finally made it to the Taj Hotel at around midnight. It was 26 hours of traveling, plus a 10 hour time difference from door to door.
For all the practicalities that I’ve had to worry about from the time I found out I had a Fulbright, the plane ride was a really nice chance for me to finally start to be idealistic, and think about how excited I am, and how much it means to me to have this opportunity.
Two years ago, I set Carol Muske-Dukes’s poem, White Key for choir. I was so close to that poem for the year and a half it took me to set the text that I can’t help but think of her words whenever I am in a plane as it lands:
… The plane hovers
Over its perfectly-marked lines of entry — like thought
Flying parallel to revelation — dreaming of all the places
Along its body it could intersect with sudden light.
I definitely felt this electricity the moment we touched down in Delhi – I am really here, in India. This is really happening. I still can’t quite believe it.
Though I slept for the majority of the flight, I was awake near the end, when we flew over Afghanistan and Pakistan. I must admit that it really struck a chord in me to fly over Kabul – there were these huge, still, grey mountains outside of the city that were covered in a thin layer of eerie haze at dusk. As much as we hear about the war, it became real to me at that moment. So many lives lost while looking at those same mountains.
Pakistan was also amazing to see from the sky. There were these small towns that spanned out at strangely equal intervals from a bigger city. Looking at them from the sky at night, they appeared like little fireworks on the ground. It was like nothing I have ever seen in the many times I’ve flown over the US.
When I got up to the desk at customs, the officer said, “Reena. That is an Indian name.” I said yes. “Your parents must be from India.” Yes. “And now you are also coming to India.” Yes. He looked up and said, “Welcome to your country. Enjoy India.” I teared up a tiny bit as I walked through the doors. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to be welcomed to India as an Indian. In America, being Indian is part of my identity – it’s what makes me different from other people. Here it means familiarity and acceptance, and maybe even a little more trust. I may have a foreign passport, but in many ways, I am not a foreigner here.
It turned out that about ten of us were on the flight from Newark. After we all cleared customs at the airport, we took our luggage out into the humid night, and waited for the bus sent to pick us up and take us to the Taj. As we tried to take pictures, the air was so humid that our lenses fogged up before we could even press the button. It was India’s independence day, and a band was playing outside the airport as we waited.
When we finally made it to the hotel, just before midnight, the staff greeted us warmly, gave us each beautiful leis of fresh flowers and a spot of red colored powder on our foreheads, and sent us off to sleep.