One day I was paddling my paddle boat around Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh and I saw another boat coming toward me at breakneck speed! It pulled up alongside me and the occupants introduced themselves as Suresh and his young teenage daughter Pinky.
They were from a farming area in Haryana and Suresh said he had brought his daughter to visit this lake specifically to meet a foreigner! I seemed to be the chosen one, since I suppose I stood out with my blonde hair. Pinky had never met anyone from outside India.
We ended our boat ride and spent time talking on the water’s edge. They wanted me to come to their village and visit the village school that Suresh had created to educate the farm children from the surrounding villages. He had built this school himself and it now had over 600 students! He seemed quite proud of the school and said that most of the students were like Pinky. They had never seen a foreigner up close.
Unfortunately I was on my last day in Chandigarh and had train tickets back to Delhi the next morning. I took their phone number and promised to call if I got back here in the future. The next day I boarded the train to journey back to Delhi.
As I was traveling away from Chandigarh a great sense of regret came over me. I was letting Suresh down and possibly disappointing 600 children! Suresh had told me he was going to announce to the kids at the school that I’d be visiting them, even though I told him it might not be possible.
By the time I reached Delhi I had changed my mind and went straight to the ticket office and booked a trip back to Chandigarh the next morning. There are just some things that I can’t do, and one of them is to disappoint a child. In this case there were over 600 of them!
I called Suresh from Delhi and got directions. When I arrived in Chandigarh I went to the market to get candies for all the kids. I ran into an old friend there and he asked if he could join me. Surender Singh was a Sikh gentleman in his 70s who I had met and talked to on previous visits. He was an award winning guide in Chandigarh and he wanted to experience the Haryana school as well. I thought I might need a translator anyway so I welcomed him to join me. I arranged for a cab to take us, after getting the key towns we should pass through from Suresh.
We started out on our almost 3 hour journey into Haryana state. It was a lovely drive past farm fields and small towns. Luckily we got to Ambala about lunchtime and Surender suggested that we visit a very old gurudwara (sikh temple) for the lunchtime langar (a meal served to the community). I covered my head and entered the temple to have some lunch. The local people were happy to have visitors and I made a lot of friends during that hour.
Back on the road we began looking for the 25 foot high Hanuman statue on the side of the road. This is where we were told to stop and call Suresh. He met us and led us on dirt farm roads into the sugarcane fields. We came upon a small village and just beyond that we found the Friend’s Colony School.
I never felt like a celebrity until that day. The children mobbed me! I was surrounded by 600 children. All of them were trying to get close enough to touch me.
Suresh ordered them all back to their classrooms. The school was built around a courtyard. All of the classrooms were open to the courtyard. I began making my rounds, starting with the small children in the 1st grade and as I advanced around the courtyard the children became increasingly taller. Every class had questions for me, which were translated by Suresh. Few of these children could speak English. Several of them asked Suresh to tell me that the next time I visit they will speak to me in English! Just my presence was somehow a great encouragement for them to learn the language.
We had some tea with Suresh and he told us he had arranged a show for us. The children were going to dress in their cultural dress and do some folk dancing for us. We all went to the roof of one of the buildings and the children put on a lovely impromptu show for us.
It was getting late in the day so we had to start back. Suresh asked us to please visit his village temple first, to meet his guru. That will be another story…..