Do the head Bobble. It looks a bit like that Ken Griffey, Jr. bobble head they used to give out before the Seattle Mariners game at the Kingdome. To say the least it can be a bit confusing, as many things are to a westerner like me during his first days in India. On my first day, I felt out of place and overwhelmed by the newness I was so eager to experience. They often appeared to be saying no with a bob of their head when they actually meant yes. Now, a week in, I’m beginning to settle (overcoming the 13.5 hour jetlag) and understand at least a few of the many intricacies of Indian culture and society.
The magic is taking off like wildfire and I could not be more excited. On my second day, I was already grateful for the opportunity to escape the horns and bustle of Mumbai for a trip to Matheran, about 3 hours Northeast of the city. I met some of the most wonderful people I have ever met there. It was a conference for NGO leaders from every corner of India – truly incredible people who do amazing humanitarian work on a VERY large scale. These are the humanitarian leaders of the country. The group is called Caring Friends and it is comprised of extremely wealthy donors who unite NGOs that do outstanding work. Some examples – A doctor who works with malnourished children in hundreds of rural villages; the government has tried to put him in jail multiple times, a couple who practices Gandhian teachings and offers education to thousands of garbage scavengers in the slums, Wildlife SOS rescues elephants and other animals from poachers all over the country, a 26 year old guy who has been working for 10 years in Kashmere to rescue orphan girls from militant groups – he and others now care for about 120 orphan girls; this guy is a legend – he has been kidnapped 17 times and had AK 47s held to his head for his work, the list goes on… This conference was an enriching experience and I witnessed profound faith in action, unmatchable collaborative support networks, and finessed expertise in the leaders’ respective fields. Trying to explain this in words does an injustice. It was truly an honor to be there on my 3rd day in the country.
They gave me a 15 minute slot to perform in Matheran. After my performance, I had an overwhelming amount of invitations to travel to every corner of the country in order to perform for the communities that these wonderful humanitarians serve – all of them offered to pay my expenses. These 3 months will go fast. I would love to take them up, but it will be tough because plans are beginning to take off here in Mumbai and I do not want to get spread too thin as the focus of our work is with our students at Prerana.
The logistics of how I will be spending my time here are coming together incredibly well. I had the week to get my bearings, and do some visits for birthday parties at orphanages that Our Children collaborates with. Tomorrow, the games truly begin. I will be teaching English on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Prerana to two groups of 14 girls – all of whom are daughters of sex workers. Saturday afternoons, we will have our magic club with our 12 wonderful students – about half of whom are already seasoned performers. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I will perform an average of 2 shows/day at various hospitals, orphanages, and non-profits in and outside of the city. I will also have performances scheduled for the mornings of Tuesdays and Thursdays before I head to Prerana which is in New Bombay (about an hour Northeast of the island city). All of these shows are being coordinated by our incredible support network, Our Children – they work hard to unite orphanages and NGO’s throughout the city. And with a couple of phone calls, they can arrange as many shows as I can perform. Needless to say, I sense that these 3 months are going to fly by.
The leaders at Our Children not only arrange our shows, but they have welcomed me as their own son. I am filled with gratitude for their warmth and generosity. I am currently staying with Bharati and Mukesh, who are trustees for Our Children. Mukesh is a CPA who constantly battles systemic corruption and Bharati helps at his office, is a trustee for Our Children, and manages another trust that gives non-binding loans to underprivileged students. She has become my mother here and carefully supports and oversees the details of my life as it unfolds – from my food, to my transportation , to my shows, and even my laundry, she makes sure it always works out. She rarely lets me lift a finger to help. I do not know how she does it with all of the other responsibilities she has. Mukesh and I enjoy walks to a nearby park in the morning and he inspires me with his frequent laughter and thoughtful questions.
With only a week under my belt, I am feeling confident about finding support from the magician community to meet with our magic students on a regular basis. We are discussing the possibility of hiring one of our students, Kavita, who is now 19 and beyond her time at Prerana to facilitate the club on a weekly basis. With Kavita’s help, we will still aim to find a magician or two to teach at least once or twice a month to keep the energy up. Last night, I met with a magician, Peter, who is a childhood friend of Dhiren, whom I met at the Caring Friends conference. Peter was great – and he already performs magic when he travels all over Asia and Africa trekking and being a professional wildlife photographer among many of his other talents. He connected with what we do because he already does it! Peter will be attending a magic class at Prerana in the next two weeks. Today, I visited Patil’s Magic Shop and shared the idea with Patil, whom contracts shows throughout the city. From my understanding, Patil runs the professional magic scene here and is familiar with what we do from previous visits by Tom. Patil was enthusiastic about helping us find some magicians to help us with our mission. Once again, thank you for your generous support of my work here in India. I would not be able to do this without you.
A few intriguing bits from India: On the back of every truck are the words “Honk OK Please.” I have asked many different people about this and no one seems to know why, but it’s there. And so are the horns. Everyone honks at everyone, sometimes they even honk at no one. The food: it’s flavorful and mostly delicious, although they are sometimes pushy about making me eat until I feel like my stomach will explode. We eat on stainless steel dishes and use our hands for eating utensils; I love that. The driving: it’s absolutely insane, and driving on the left side definitely twists up my brain. It’s strange to get into the left side of a car and be a passenger. The dress: women are so elegant in their colorful saris. The greeting (hello and goobye): A smile and “Namaste” as one puts her hands together and bows her head. Lastly, but probably most importantly, that uniquely difficult and confusing head bobble:
The more head bobbles I receive, the more connected I feel. While the Indians are busy wagging their heads at me, I am frenetically bobbing my head in every possible direction as I roam the busy streets and am overtaken by the sensory input overload. One week has passed. I am adjusting. Shows are booked. Classes are arranged. Magicians have been met. Cricket has been played. Food (lots) has been eaten. Meaningful connections have been made. I yet to scratch the surface. Magic on – Do the head bobble!