Jackie and I wanted to share some thoughts and thanks as we near the end of what has been a wonderful ten weeks in India. In one of way or another, you all made it a special experience for us.
We begin with our hosts in two month-long homestays, Pervez and Lubna in Delhi and Jos and Lyma in Kerala. You made us feel very much at home in two very different places; we enjoyed your respective cuisines every morning and many evenings; you helped organize our nearby shopping trips and our more distant travels; you provided administrative support when we needed connectivity or hard copy; and you taught us a great deal about this complicated country in our many conversations—its idiosyncrasies, its religions, its social structures, its politics, its food, to mention a few. In short, the four of you provided something of an anchor, or order, in what otherwise could have been a bewildering experience.
We also want to thank some people who made the Columbia Business School part of our trip thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable. Our decision to spend my sabbatical leave in India rested in part on my need to know more about India’s geo-political prospects. Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University colleague who is doubling as a top economic advisor to Prime Minister Modi, was kind enough to share an hour’s worth of his thoughts on what was clearly a very busy afternoon for him. Rajesh Dhuddu and Tina Saighal, the leaders of the CBS Alumni Club, organized an event and dinner for Jackie and me that gave me a chance to catch up with a good number of former students. And two of our country’s diplomats, Jonathan and (my former student) Robyn Kessler organized a fantastic dinner party at their home and a lectureship at the American Center Library the following day.
We also became friends in an uncharacteristic way with Harash Talwar, who we met upon wandering—or was it ineluctably drawn?–into his wonderful carpet store in Delhi. Over the course of several meetings, including lunches and dinners, we managed to talk about a lot more than the value of three antique carpets we ended up eyeing and buying.
And last but not least among our Delhi friends is Jay Dehejia. He helped us with loads of advice before we even left for India, but we had a chance to lunch with him at a special place—the India International Center. A quarter-century ago the IIC was my base camp for treks into the mountains of High Asia; thanks to Jay I had a chance to see that it hasn’t changed a bit since then.
The ten days between our stays in Delhi and Kerala can best be described as a whirlwind of travel that brought us to some cultural highlights, Bodhgaya and the Ellora Caves come to mind, but afforded us little opportunity to meet people and make friends except for a three-day stay in Kolkata. The highlight of our stay in that indescribable city was having a chance to meet Samir and his wife Krishna, not only to meet but to dine with them at a club, the Calcutta Club, with a storied history (and a dress code that I nearly failed). If we ever get back to Kolkata we hope to catch up with Samir and Krishna again.
Our month in Kerala has proven to be a time when we could recover from the fairly hectic pace of our first six weeks in India. We’ve only taken one serious trip, a three-day journey to the mountains and tea plantations of Western Kerala. We stayed at a wonderful lodge that is managed by a man, Joseph, who is another of the persons who leave an indelible mark on our experience in India. In one spectacular hour he led us through the jungle surrounding the lodge which he has turned into his personal fruit, vegetable and spice plantation. He is a true agronomist.
And then there is Minnie, our personal chauffer in Kerala who has driven us, particularly Jackie, on shopping trips for things that can’t be purchased in the local markets of Kumbalangi Village. Minnie is one of the scores of tuk-tuk drivers who have somehow maneuvered us safely through the chaos of traffic everywhere we’ve traveled in India. In addition to being the only woman tuk-tuk driver we’ve encountered, her vehicle is the only one we’ve run into with a functioning meter that obviated the need to haggle over charges. I wish we could bring Minnie and her vehicle back to New York City with us.
Beyond those of you who we’ve come to know, are the hundreds of others we can only thank anonymously for befriending us one way or the other—from those who smiled with us in innumerable “selfies,” to the subway riders who gave up their seats to an old man, to the drivers and guides who directed our excursions, and, finally, for one last unforgettable moment, to the newly-married couple from Srinigar who asked us at Humayun’s Tomb if we were a “love couple.”
Again, our deepest thanks for helping to make this the memorable experience it has been. We hope somehow that our paths will cross again.
Very best wishes,
Ray and Jackie