Unexpected Turn of Events

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Another day on Main Bazaar. Nathaniel and I woke up leisurely, went downstairs for breakfast, used the internet. We dutifully applied our DEET mosquito repellent, braced ourselves for the heat, and headed outside and into the market. Immediately, Nicky waved us down from across the street. “My friends! You drink chai?”

Yes, we drink chai. That’s pretty much all we do here. We walk a little down the road, see a friend and have chai. An hour later we walk a little further down the road before we are accosted by someone who likes Nathaniel’s tie/ rosary beads/thinks we need a travel package/etc and drags us into his shop for some chai. These people are almost always Kashmiri and are insistent that we can’t really like Delhi, we must want to get out of the city, and if it is not our life ambition to visit Kashmir, it should be.

So we ended up (as we usually do) drinking chai in a back alley with Nicky, a Muslim boy watching his brother’s shop, and eventually, Amar. (Amar is back in Pahar Ganj, and all is well at home, by the way. Thanks to those who prayed!) Nicky pointed at my shoes. “You want I clean for you?” I handed over the brown clogs I have been wearing almost exclusively since January, about at the end of their usefulness. The soles were ripping, and the back of the right shoe was coming undone. Two hours and several rounds of chai later, they were stitched and patched and polished and looked almost as good as new. Nicky refused any sort of payment for this service. This was especially dismaying as I had just watched him use most of his remaining shoe rubber (for patching soles), and a lot of wax.

Instead of pressing the issue, I brought up an idea that Nathaniel and I had batted around the night before. Neither Nicky nor Amar have had much time for school, and neither of them can read or write. They do not complain about this, having accepted it as the way things are.

Nathaniel and Amar in Sketchy Chai Alley.
Nathaniel and Amar in Sketchy Chai Alley.

“Nicky, do you want to learn to read?”

“Yes, of course, why not?” came the immediate reply. “But it is impossible. I went to school before, but the books are very impensive for me.”

“Nathaniel and I can teach you,” I suggested.

“Really? This is very good for me. And books? I no have money for books.”

“No books. Just paper. If we find some books, we can buy them.”

“Paper is good. Very cheap. 2 rupees for one piece. This is good. When can we do this? Tomorrow?”

I pointed out that Nathaniel and I had, quite literally, nothing on our schedule. Amar took us to the school supplies stall down the road, where we purchased two notebooks and the closest thing to index cards we could find (blank visiting cards!).

And so we found ourselves sitting in the Grand Sindhi with two eager pupils (and a very curious audience), trying to combine Nathaniel’s Learning Rx training with my preschool teacher heritage. I don’t know how long we’ll have to teach (Nicky is considering moving to Goa in search of more business, and we hadn’t planned on staying in Pahar Ganj for more than a few weeks), but we’re hoping to give these two a good start in the world of literacy!

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