Chandigarh: The Rose Garden and Unending Togetherness

Good morning,

Let’s talk about Chandigarh for a bit before we get to its really nice parks.  It is a special administrative region, like Delhi and is apparently the capital city of both Punjab and Haryana states.  Haryana used to be part of Punjab but was made its own state some time ago.  Chandigarh is a more modern city than most here.  It’s streets are broad, well marked with clear signs everywhere.  There are more traffic signals and controls, and the city (at least during our visit) appeared much cleaner than other places here.

More modern also means less of the historical stuff that you might see in Delhi, as well.  There is some of that here, but not a lot frankly.

The Rose Garden in Chandigarh.  Lovely, huge park filled with hundreds of varieties of rose and other flowering plants and trees.

The little sister and I took a ride on the biggest camel I have ever seen in my life.  It was huge.  It was also wearing a very heavy spit and bite guard which didn’t seem necessary.  He (and you could not miss the fact that he was a he) was a very calm animal.  The elderly man who was leading the camel on the walk had only one arm, so I don’t know what he would have done if the camel was more lively.  We strolled around the edge of the garden on this big guy before returning to a 4 foot wall which we used to dismount.

Little sister wanted to touch the camel (it was her very first camel ride), so the handler was nice enough to let her pet the camel’s neck for a bit before returning him to his resting spot.  She was really surprised at how soft his fur was.  He was obviously a very healthy, well cared for animal.  No signs of nervousness or aggression either which may have caused him to want to bite, spit or kick – all good for your first experience with a camel.  My first camel experience ended up with the animal spitting in my friend’s hair… so this was better.

When you walk through the entrance of the Rose Garden you are greeted by dozens and dozens of flower beds and so much colour!  The park is at least 15 acres by my estimate and besides the roses, contains varieties of other flowers, flowering trees and other local trees.  It’s quite a sight to see.

Also awesome was the tree made of wind chimes just to the right as you pass the entrance of the park.  It’s amazing!  I wouldn’t want it in my back yard because … well the noise but every park should have one of these babies.  It was so nice to hear the tinkling in the breeze from all those chimes.

I gave the camera to the nephew unit, Ranbeer, because the boy likes to take pictures.  He’s 17 or so and has a real talent for photography that could develop nicely.  I’m going to try to find the kid a good camera and computer so he can hone his skills.  He took a lot of the pics in this post and I really shouldn’t get credit for any of them.  The little sister unit also took some of the pics – she has a bit more of a flare for photography as well.

The sky was an awesome shade of blue with not a cloud to be seen, which isn’t that great for grass and roses.  It hasn’t rained at all since I arrived in India six weeks ago.  The sprinklers were hard at work on many parts of the garden, so there were some areas we avoided because we didn’t want to be soaked, obviously.  Also, it was closing in on the late afternoon and we had to get to the zoo before it closed for the evening.

We had to use the bathroom while we were there.  It’s a public toilet (of the squat variety) with no locks on the door.  There was a woman outside who occasionally threw some water into the sinks and maybe swept the tile floors very occasionally.  She demanded money before we entered.  I thought, well maybe she’s legit and probably she isn’t but if we don’t pay her what could she do?  The doors are wide open and it’s a public toilet… then I gave her 5 rupees because she at least was doing some work to take care of the place and she ought to receive some pay for that.  I did not have to walk into a disgusting, dirty bathroom after all.  She seemed satisfied with the 5 rupees, luckily enough.  I had no idea what the going rate would be anyway.

Walking through the gardens was my only chance recently to have some somewhat alone time.  The host unit and her family don’t believe in alone time.  I’m not sure anyone here does.  It’s been a real cultural difference that I’ve had a hard time adjusting to.

It wasn’t real alone time – just the little sister and nephew unit wandering off with the camera and the host unit trailing behind so I was alone in the middle of the pack for a half hour or so.  It was nice to have that time to breathe and just wander on my own, without having to make conversation or worry about translating.

Don’t get me wrong.  I really, really like these people.  They are wonderful!  But they are unendingly together.  There is always one or more people with me at all times.  That’s nice most of the time but occasionally it feels like some sort of bizarre shadow happening.

I’m accustomed to having lots of time on my own, to practice photograph or to write or to work on the Born a Sikh sites.  Having no alone time for the last five weeks, has been a difficult adjustment for me.  It has had an impact on my writing and on my photography as well, as you may have read in previous posts.

Today, one of the group was standing over me while I tried to write for the blog.  For an hour, she stood over me not six inches away.  And before that, she was telling me to come eat, or come have tea, or come sit with her, or come sit in the sun, or come relax (which is what I was trying to do really).  I didn’t get anything written, not a word that didn’t have to be rewritten later on in the evening while she was busy with other things.  It was frustrating to say the least.

I love that they can be on top of one another all the time and not get frustrated.  I realize that this is a real opportunity to test and stretch my patience and my social skills but it is really incredibly hard.  They don’t understand my need for alone time either.  It seems to insult or hurt them in some way.  I’ve decided though that I just have to be straight with them and ask for (demand if I have to) some alone time every day.  An hour or so to myself so that I don’t lose my mind in all of this.

I also love that there is always someone around to do things with but… it sometimes also makes me feel like I am being babysat or guarded from the rest of the world.  It’s a little to insular for my liking.   Especially since the men seem to have alone time whenever they want it.  They freely move about and come and go, often without even saying that they are leaving.  It’s the women in this group that are never alone – like we can’t be trusted or we won’t be safe on our own.  I’m sure I’m reading too much into it but still.

Maybe you all will have suggestions?  Anyone from a big, close knit family want to tell me how you do it?  I’m open to suggestions.

Other than that and everyone trying to feed me all the time (so many sweets they want me to eat), I haven’t really felt like I have to ‘adjust’ to anything here.  Not even the noise, pollution and traffic are stressing me out.  It’s pretty much as I expected it would be.  Everything is going well and there isn’t anything that has left me feeling out of place or disoriented.  I think in time I’ll even get used to the unending togetherness as well.

UPDATE:  Since I wrote the above paragraphs on the unending togetherness issue, I’ve had a bit of a talk with my second host, my brother Anoop.  He explained to me, in the awesome way that only he can accomplish, that guests are like god here – they must be treated with respect, honoured and cared for.  It is because the host unit and the little sister love me and want me to feel comfortable that they hover so much.  They are just trying to ensure that I’m happy, entertained, and I have anything I might need or want.

When you look at it from that perspective, the togetherness shifts from a great thing that is an occasional burden to something that is not a burden at all.  I am feeling a little ashamed of my reaction to it all frankly.  I could easily go back and delete the previous writing on the topic, since I have not yet published this post but that would be a little dishonest and frankly, it would miss the point entirely.

The communication issues left me assuming that they were just not respecting my request for a little bit of alone time.  That was not the case and it is entirely my fault that I misinterpreted what was happening rather than taking more time and exercising more patience to both understand their perspective and explain my own.  My bad.

I still need the alone time so that I don’t feel too overwhelmed and so that I have the time to write.  But now, I will take more time to explain that it is not a slight on their wonderful hospitality – just my own way, part of my own culture.  Also, because I am hard of hearing, a lot of people is often overwhelming to my sense of hearing – I can’t hear much in a crowd so everything becomes random, tiring, stimulating noise.  I just need to learn so new coping mechanisms to control that – my hearing loss certainly isn’t their fault.

I have started taking my alone time in the early mornings and late evenings while the hosts are still in bed or busy with their morning routine.  There is still the roof that I can escape to anytime I want (almost) and there is also the gurdwaras where I can go to reflect and pray when I need some time to do that peacefully.

So that’s it.  Despite all my experience in other cultures, I made a huge but common mistake.  I’ll keep working on that.

Until the next post, please enjoy the pictures from the Rose Garden at Chandigarh!

Next post we’ll talk about the zoo.  Also, we’ll talk about Amrit, the Sikh baptism ceremony and what it means (at least to me) to be part of the Khalsa.

Until next time,
Peace & love,
– Preet

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