Its our last dinner before our early morning departure, Annie’s and mine, that is. Narain Niwas Hotel’s dining room hosts us yet again. We are the temporary, non-Afghan team of Sophia Swire, Ben Phelan, Sam Le Prevost, Paul Spurgeon, Annie Fensterstock and Anna Ruth Henriques. I’m naming us for posterity because this might just be the last time we will all be together. And what a team! Visionary, smart, talented, kind, gentle, open people, all in one and all together. THANK YOU SOPHIA! THANK YOU ALL!!
And did I mention FUNNY? Here is self-effacing Paul who sculpts wax into sensuous, sophisticated abstractions that are worn by chignon-ed Japanese matrons.
Below are Sophia and Sanjay, our Indian anchor, who joins us for the evening. Sanjay is a man who likes to hold court and make everyone think he’s a intolerant curmudgeon. Fiercely intelligent, his favorite dinner subjects, politics and religion. If you want to digest your hot and spicy meal well, make sure you are an atheist and support benevolent dictatorships. I am betting on another book from this crowd, this time The World According To Sanjay.
(Sanjay and Sophia, glamorous and gorgeous in every expression, pink streaks still intact.)
And the sweet and luminescent Sam (he called himself ‘moon-faced’ but its less the shape than his light. Please ignore the glaring bulb in the background. These night-shots don’t do anyone justice.)
And then the best-traveling-companion-ever, lovely Annie, the epitome of easy-going, with a constant positive and appreciative outlook. Indian food expert to boot. She has been culinary adviser to my sensitive stomach that has been threatening to go on strike.
(Annie, on the left)
Rasool and his wife arrive at the end of the evening. For me, it is a symbolic handing over of all that I have received and can give. The project belongs to him, to his wife, to the Afghans.
Thank you again Sophia, a veritable goddess, filled wisdom, the embodiment of us all!
But its not quite over. Annie and I haven’t left yet. The next morning, we catch an early morning flight from Jaipur to Delhi to wait for our 13-plus-hour connection to New York. Yes, you read correctly. Jaipur to New York on United and its partners is an approximate 30-hour commute from the first flight to the landing of the last. It doesn’t help that I misread the departure time so we end up getting to the airport four hours before the flight. There’s a big upside though – we get to spend the day in Delhi. From what I remember, it is a beautiful, luscious green, well-planned city, at least in the center.
Annie and I arrive without ado to Delhi and are met by Sam, a long-haired and long-limbed Punjabi who unfolds himself from his car to greet us. I have deliberately left out last names to protect identities. You will soon see why. Bleary-eyed and with only a few sips of Indian instant coffee within us, we make polite morning conversation with Sam. You know… Where are you from? Have you been to Afghanistan? And all of a sudden, no caffeine is needed. Sam tells us he opened the first foreign restaurant in Kabul, Indian of course, with Chinese thrown in.
(An aside: Why Chinese? we ask. Its a good way of getting rid of the food you don’t use in Indian dishes, he tells us. Well, no wonder every restaurant, we notice, serves variations of Chinese dumplings on rice, in noodles, in sauce… Chop up all the scraps, shove them into a dough skin, and call it a dumpling. Paul, if you’re reading this, NO MORE MOMOs!)
Soon, Sam’s restaurant became patronized by ambassadors, envoys, military men. Imagine, early James Bond films crossed with Casablanca. Sam fills out the picture – a side street, no sign over his door, just a discreet placard with a single word in Dari (Afghanistan’s main language). Security details of fifty uniformed and armed men that position themselves in every street leading to the restaurant, every possible entryway, when the head of NATO came for a meal. The NATO man also booked the whole place out as a safety precaution each time he ate which upset the diplomat-regulars. So Sam asked the NATO man to have his meal early so as not to put out his other patrons. Imagine the Taliban-targets eating under Sam’s roof… until Sam became a target himself. So he fled.
Which is why he’s now in Delhi. On a Sunday-drive to the park. Where he drops us for a morning stroll before shops and restaurants open. This is Lodi Gardens, a botanical garden and heritage site with tombs from the 15th and 16th centuries.
(Lake at Lodi Gardens, Delhi)
Annie and I take a visit to the park restrooms. I just love how creative this country is. Look at the signage. Don’t miss the name of the company that manages and maintains the facilities. Or the fact that discount coupons are available. I love India!
Returning to the the old ruins that are exquisite in their forms and proportions, we climb the worn stone steps and into the hollow interior. Here are some views from the doorways and windows.
It is pure peace and beauty. I look up to the domed roof inside. My eyes adjust to the dark interior. A pattern in the stone emerges. An eight-pointed star! If this is not pure magic, nothing else is. My trip has started on the premise of the eight-pointed star and, how aptly, so has it ended.
(The eight-pointed star in the weathered and worn domed roof – two exposures since the star is hard enough to see.)
(My original sketches. The star is just a start… from all the amazing imagery of the India blogs, please share with me your favorite forms that I may hopefully incorporate them into the designs.)
And so we depart.
Good morning America!
(Flight tracker on the airplane.)