This year it will be twenty years since we first visited India. In 1996 my wife and I came with a group of 24 people to Varanasi for one month. In 1998 we stayed in Chandigarh for 6 months, went back to South Africa for 6 more and then came for 4 more years. We left in 2002. We came back in 2007. We are still here.
If we should ever leave, we will be bound to this place by our memories.
There was the first year, learning Hindi with Harpreet answering my endless questions patiently. I remember the excellent barbecue grid he made for us from my description. We lived on a meager budget, trusting God for His provision as He did (and is still doing). Eating out with Rs. 25 in Sindhi Sweets with a shared channa bhatura, lassi and even a gulab jamun each. There was a heat wave that year with temperatures staying around 47 degrees Celsius for a week. We had a small water-cooler that was desperately inadequate. We had a one-plate burner screwed on top of a small cylinder for cooking. (And it was not quite straight so you had to keep the pot from sliding off when you wanted to stir)
I remember the cockroaches. Shortly after moving in, we saw one or two of them in the day time and got this chalk with which I drew circles around the drains one evening. The next morning I picked up 47 huge dead cockroaches everywhere in our house. And for the next few days in diminishing numbers.
We were super fit as we cycled everywhere. From Mohali to Khuda Ali Sher for a meeting and back again afterwards. At first negotiating the roundabouts was a challenge until we realized it is all in the attitude. Enter confidently and room would be granted. Merge in, merge out, simple. I remember riding into the pavement and falling over the handles at that funny slip road opposite Aroma. I picked myself and my bicycle up, none the worse for wear and continued on my way.
While back in Cape Town later that year we enrolled in a 55 km. cycle race together which we completed quite easily. Although we had no chance of really competing (since there were huge numbers of contestants) my number got picked in a lucky draw afterwards and we got to spend 5 days on a luxury cruise from Durban to Cape Town.
I remember getting to know this city which we still call home. We went to the Rock Garden and enjoyed the swings. Meeting Point in sector 35 was where we got internet, read emails and sent some out. Sector 17 was the place to go for a “softy”. I remember going to the mango mela in Yadavindra gardens in Pinjore.
Maybe more than all else I remember the people. There were the others in our team who have since scattered in all directions except for one couple, the only Indians that was part of us and are still here. There were the Grewals (our landlord and his family), there was a young Ashish, who remains our friend to this day. There was Henry and Vijay and our dear friends the Sehgals. Also many others. Is it not friendships that make this world bearable?
This account would not be complete if I didn’t mention our Friend, my running partner, our constant companion and guide. How many times and in how many ways He has saved us. Thinking about that first year in India, how desperately we needed Him. We made many mistakes, we were young and ignorant (still ignorant, but less young now) but He has always been there. His forgiveness, provision and strength, his joy and peace and purpose. His grace and mercy and love. Whatever good has so far come of our lives we owe to Him. Jesus, our Friend.
You may be wondering… was I running in those days? Nope. I started running in 2003. I played squash and table tennis and even a bit of badminton, but no-one was running in the city in those days. Or at least very few people.