We landed in New Delhi, the country’s capital, and the first thing my father did was buy $1,000 worth of duty-free Black Label. In India, you either live like a whiskey-guzzling prince, or a pauper under God’s grace. Following the immediate purchase, we took a driver to my father’s old friend Abraham’s house, where we’d be shacking up for the night.
Abraham lives in a cozy, stucco-like out-house off a dirt road in New Delhi. The out-house has two rooms – I stayed in one, my father and Abraham stayed in the other – and is surrounded by nearly an acre of greenery; a handful of gardeners live behind the out-house and dedicate their days to the upkeep of the vegetation. In the main house, Abraham’s daughter and son-in-law reside with their two boys, Luke and Mark.
At the time, I remember finding it odd that such a groomed estate is located in such a remote area, but I’d soon grow accustomed to the nonsensical clutter that is Indian landscaping.
The family kept three butlers, one of whom I befriended rather quickly after throwing an American-sounding Namaste in his direction, and he responded hospitably, not judgmentally, and I’ll be sure to remember him because of these two qualities, and not for the less-than-decent quality of his curry-stained teeth.
As soon as I set foot into the living room of the main house, Abraham and my father were already downing glasses of scotch-whiskey. Michael offered me Cabernet, and I grabbed the bottle from him, determined to get on the level of drunk, middle-aged Indian men. I noticed a Christmas tree standing in the corner of the room; it turns out that this particular Indian family were Christians, and they would be the only Christians I’d come across on my journey.
Michael is well-mannered and has an American accent, which threw me off for a while, until he told us his unconventional story of relocation. Michael lived in the states until he met his wife, and three years into marrying each other and having kids, they moved to India to live. Their anecdote fascinated me, considering one usually hears about a person moving from India to the U.S., in hopes of a better education, or freedom of opportunity — the list of possibilities goes on.
“Why did you decide to move here?” I asked him.
Before giving me an answer, he laughed, as if I were naive for not understanding why he moved to Delhi.
“Do you see this place? How much land we have? The help we can afford? Why would anyone choose a shoebox-sized apartment in Manhattan over an all-in-one deal like ours?”
My first instinct was to defend my native New York; still, I couldn’t help not only understanding his point, but half-agreeing. I didn’t know if it was his calculative method of argumentation – or the bottomless bottle of wine – that swayed my thinking, but I already felt myself beginning to align with the Delhi-ites.
“That’s a nice Christmas tree you’ve got there,” I remarked.
“Thanks,” Michael said. “We’re keeping the tree up until January 22nd to honor the Delhi rape victim.”
I didn’t understand the logic behind his reasoning, but I appreciated the sentiment.
I picked up my fork, eager to dive into the lamb kebab, then turned my head to catch Michael’s wife staring at me. She had a slighted expression on her face.
“We always say Grace before eating,” she said.
It was the first time I had ever been present to say Grace before a meal. The friends I keep close at home have adopted a religion called New York, and even my mother and sister aren’t very much in tune with Hindu religion. The irony of playing prayer participant in a devout Christian’s dining room while inhabiting a predominantly Hindu country on an underdeveloped subcontinent left me with heavy awareness of just how hopelessly jaded we’d all become in America.
I couldn’t entertain the notion of putting that much faith in anything.