Today the children learned an important lesson: sometimes their parents haven’t got a clue what is going on either. Took me years to learn that one myself, so I’m hoping we haven’t permanently damaged them with this startling revelation at such tender ages.
We landed this morning at Delhi airport after a night flight that wasn’t really long enough to get any sleep. We’ve not flown longhaul with the girls since Daisy was two and a half and Clover six months, and I’m pleased to report the experience has got better. Daisy no longer wants to walk up and down the plane shouting, and both of them even ate some of the food.
If I was going to be an ungrateful whinger about travelling with kids, I would point out that I don’t get to watch films very often. My enjoyment of Far From the Madding Crowd (and the eye candy therein) was somewhat dampened by Daisy pointing out the funny bits in the Shaun the Sheep Movie at various crucial moments. But you can’t have everything.
We’ve not planned long in Delhi, as we expected the girls to find it too chaotic, but I’m pleased by how fast they adapt. They like tuktuks – but only if our driver overtakes everyone else’s (“tuktuk race”, Clover shouts excitedly), and are awarding each other points for spotting cows and monkeys in the middle of the city.
Delhi, it turns out, likes them too – it’s hard to feel like a gawping tourist when the locals are as keen to take photos of your daughters as you are of their city streets. One of the perks of travelling with children is instant connection with many of those around you. Quite what these people are going to do with pictures of themselves posing solemnly with Daisy and Clover though, I’m not sure. If you spot them on Facebook, do let me know.
This morning we took a trip to the local Gurdwara, or Sikh house of worship, a humbling, not to say confusing experience. It is monsoon, so we arrived in sheets of warm rain, completely missed the ‘foreign tourist booth’ and ended up wandering around on our own.
The girls learned that their own strategy of “watch, and do what everyone else does” works for adults too. We covered our heads, handed our shoes in at the counter, and wandered clockwise around the holy pool at the centre of Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, quite enjoying the feel of the wet marble on our toes.
Everyone at the Gurdwara seemed to be having a grand day out. Whether they were accepting prasad – an edible religious offering- helping in the temple kitchens, or simply reclining around the holy lake at the centre, no-one seemed in an excessive hurry. We loved the guru, resplendent in his air-conditioned box (so glad he has air con – not sure our church leader would be delighted with a similar set up), and the time spent sitting on the floor and people watching.
Most amazing though was our time in the Langar, or communal eating hall. How like us to arrive just in time for lunch. Forget our food banks, the Sikhs have been providing ‘food for free’ as part of a tenet of their faith for centuries, and the Langar in the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara feeds 10,000 people a day. Yes, you read that right.
It’s movingly democratic and meticulously organised. Men, women, children, rich and poor sitting down together crosslegged on the floor, eating roti, daal and pickles, all served and cooked by volunteers. Surrounded by so many, the children, stunningly and stunned, ate what they were served (and Clover had extra bread).
We couldn’t help noticing the families who took extra plastic bags for a daal takeaway, since this was probably all they had to eat all day. The volunteers asked even us several times whether we needed anything, and whether we wanted to take more. And they do this Every. Single. Day. Ten thousand people. I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by breaking bread with anyone.
After our Sikh experience we moved out of the centre to visit the Ba’hai Lotus Temple. If I realised I hadn’t listened much in RE lessons on Sikhism, we didn’t even cover Ba’hai (which appears to be a sort of UN religion, covering almost everything including the need for a universal language – esperanto, anyone?), but the temple, designed with nine entrances (nine is apparently the perfect number), is impressive, in a kind of starship way. Looks like it might take off, doesn’t it?
Odd fish though, the people running it. The children could go in the temple, but not the information centre (resulting in us feeling very illinformed). They are predictably unimpressed by this, and by the silence in the temple itself. “I liked the Gurdwara, it was more… active”, says Daisy, who won’t be converted to Ba’haism any time soon.
Not surprisingly, after so much newness, the girls craved something familiar this evening. Which is our excuse for an evening of Minecraft and, er, McDonalds after Daisy said with feeling “I just want to eat something that tastes NORMAL”. She was only slightly aghast that they don’t serve beef burgers in Delhi Mcdonalds. “But some Indians are beefatarians,” she fumed. “Not beefatarians, meativores,” Clover corrected her sternly.
I never thought I’d say it, but thank heavens for Chicken Mcnuggets.