July 13, 2009

Steps into a well

An extraordinarily generous soul, our young friend Chirag in Ahmedabad. We had met him just once. But when we visited Ahmedabad, he insisted on showing us the sights, taking us where we wanted, inviting us home for a meal. He went out of his way to be hospitable, and his warmth overwhelmed us.

So today, I feel distinctly ungracious writing about two Chirag peculiarities. Still, they made the trip memorable.

The first was merely amusing. We asked Chirag to take us to Dada Hari's Vav. This is a fine example of that uniquely Gujarati invention, the step well. Magnificently carved, built on several levels, it is a masterpiece of simple design towards a very functional end: escaping the heat of summer. At the bottom on a blazing Ahmedabad day, we felt definitely cool.

Chirag was cheerful enough as we explored the Vav. But he clearly could not understand why we had wanted so much to see it. Almost chafing at the bit, he kept repeating that he would show us what was "really worth seeing" in Ahmedabad.

He got his chance that evening. We drove endless miles through opulent buildings risen amid rubble on the road, braving ridiculous traffic, to the very outskirts of the city, on the Gandhinagar highway. The driver gunned the little Zen over a hillock of mud, through traffic coming the other way, and into the gates of what Chirag explained was a "top" Ahmedabad attraction.

A swanky club.

We followed Chirag over the dusty marble floors, under the faux-wooden eaves. A proud tour of the tennis courts, pool, newly-laid lawns. Then we got back into the Zen and drove back into town, to another of the city's major attractions.

Another swanky club.

Proud tour again. Badminton court, library ("best in Ahmedabad"), health club ("No. 1 in the country"), restaurant.

We nodded as appreciatively as we could, but we couldn't help wishing we had spent more time at the Vav. Or visited the textile museum, or the Shaking Minarets. Or almost anything, other than ogling snazzy clubs and their inmates. But we wished in silence. Chirag, bless his friendly heart, would not have appreciated our ingratitude.

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