In which I am welcomed to Delhi…

I am sitting on the ground with four or five women on either side of me, trying to keep the scarf covering my head and shoulders out of the way as I roll out roti from small balls of soft dough in the enormous kitchen of the Sikh Gurdwara.  Tucked in the heart of Old Delhi, the Gurdwara welcomes anyone and everyone each day – homeless, travelers, lost souls, neighbors – to share in several communal meals.  As I have just learned, they welcome an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, too.  My roti are a little lopsided and I certainly have not mastered the frisbee toss onto the plate from where they will go to the oven for baking (each of mine lands a bit crumpled and one of the women quickly straightens them out), but apparently, they’ll do.  As I leave the Gurdwara, brushing flour off from my hands (and scarf, and sleeves), to venture back out into the Old Delhi bustle, I feel a little proud of myself – for trying something new, and for contributing to a practice that is such a beautiful gift to the surrounding community…

It is early Saturday evening and I am standing at one edge of a fairly enormous athletic field in the heart of a busy Delhi colony (the Delhi term for its neighborhoods), watching two teams of enthusiastic youngsters (boys and girls, together!) scrimmaging at football (real football).  They are kids who likely otherwise would be out wandering the streets of Delhi; instead they have been embraced by a grassroots youth outreach program – 16-20 twenty staff strong – that works with those who have the least, offering them academic support – English, Math, and Hindi classes – and numerous activities, from theater to football.  As the program coordinator explains their efforts, the successes they have seen, and the challenges they face, he tries to be nonchalant, but he cannot disguise his passion for their work and his hopefulness.  We ask him what the program needs, in terms of supplies, etc. – books, children’s toys, socks, cleats, for people to take an interest in keeping it going.  We think we can help with those…

My first visit to Delhi was kaleidoscopically overflowing with new flavors, colors, sounds, and faces.  I only thought I had tasted a mango before coming to India.  I only thought I knew what traffic was (driving in Delhi is something akin to controlled chaos (just barely)).  Every moment was a new learning experience – from tasting seven different daals in as many meals (there must be hundreds of “standard” recipes and every family, nay, every cook, has an unique take on those anyway); to being introduced to practices of yoga that were new to me – and yet finding the connections to the practices I know in the process; to shopping for kurtis in striking patterns and hues (yes, friends, I officially purchased clothing that is not black!); to hearing an explanation of the differences between Vedic Sanskrit and regular Sanskrit (which are pretty profound, by the way); to simply walking down streets entirely unknown to me and gradually piecing together the shape and layout of the city, from its ultra-modern stores, to its fruit and vegetable sellers, to its centuries-old buildings poking out every so often from behind a housing development or in a lush public garden.

I am finding that the moments that most moved me, though, were the ones in which I realized that, even briefly, I was actually a moving part of the community. Delhi for millennia has been a city of immigrants, with a constant influx and outflux of people, and it seems that finding that you are part of Delhi is not so much about how long you’ve been there, or how long you will stay, but allowing yourself to get caught up and connected with the people and the energy thriving around you.



  1. A very intriguing description of Delhi! It sounds like a fascinating place to visit. It was great to hear about such an innovative way of helping needy children and adolescents.

  2. Nicole Acevedo
    September 25th

    Such a wonderful description of your experience in Delhi, and it is great that you were able to spend some time in a Sikh community…I would love to be of service in that way!

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