In India, especially Mumbai, one day can seem like a week. On other days nothing obvious may happen as everyone I know is booked, busy or bustling to and fro spinning multiple plates. On these days I work alone at various places at the hotel to provide variety other than my room. There is the Club Lounge with its beautiful sea view and abundance of tea, coffee and cookies. There is the Business Center, with its beautiful sea view along with city views as well- with an abundance of tea, coffee and cookies, maybe even a sandwich with fries if I ask for it. And then there is the poolside with it’s beautiful sea view containing gentle or strong breezes depending on the day. I can pass the time reading, writing, texting, calling and complete the day in the exercise room while catching up on the news. This is a day of quiet, content harmony filled with the simple joy of being. And then there are the other days that only happen in India – so jammed packed with experience it would take a whole book to document it all. Here are some highlights from Sunday, October 20.
The day began sharing a cup of tea with a friend in the early morning overlooking a view of a fishing village with the sea filled with boats both large and small. So much life happening right outside the window. Some of that life flew right up to the ledge of the open window and peered into my friend’s flat, scouting out possibilities for its own agenda. My friend would have none of it and chased the crow and then the pigeon off, shouting “Out with you – I pay rent here!” As there are no window screens in India, he said he has to do this quite often, which I find a hilarious way to start the day. Starting the day with a laugh is not a bad thing; in fact I was quite happy to be laughing before I set off on my next visit, after one more cup of tea of course.
There is something called IST – Indian Standard Time, which I often forget, but when it happens I have learned to take a deep breath, relax and just chill. I was due to be picked up at the hotel at 11 am and was all ready to go, sitting in the lobby enjoying the view of palm trees and people walking by on Marine Drive. 11:20 came and went so I took out a pen and notebook to write down some ideas that were dropping into my mind about a program that could both enhance business and contribute to raising the global peace index. I checked in by phone with my host who assured me a ride was on the way. I decided to get some fresh air and sit by the poolside while continuing to jot down one creative idea after another. By 12:30 pm a call came in and a young man told me he would arrive in 10 minutes. Miraculously he was there in exactly 10 minutes and we were on our way down Marine Drive and across the sea link to Rizvi Law College in Bandra.
Along the way, this young law student and I had a very interesting conversation about the global peace index and pirates on the high seas. His father is a seaman and once narrowly escaped being captured by Somalian pirates by turning all the lights of his ship off. Apparently, a pirate doesn’t know his way around a dark ship and will not attack. Something to remember for sure. Because of his father’s seafaring connection, this law student was planning to specialize in international maritime law. He also had aspirations for being associated with the United Nations. I found this fascinating and quite inspiring since I have also wanted to work with the United Nations to strengthen their influence in regard to preserving peace. We agreed that this would require a greater degree of partnership and collaboration between countries. After we got this sorted out, we arrived at the college and I was ushered into a conference room for tea with an Indian Supreme Court justice and three high court judges. I was introduced by my friend Daisy Alexander, the Principal of the College Law School, as an American who is here to raise the global peace index after her family was killed in the 26/11 terrorist attack. This was a conversation stopper, so I decided not to launch into a passionate speech about loving like an extremist. I thought it better to wait until lunch. I simply sat quietly while they chatted in Hindi until we were led into the main hall for the student awards.
I sat next to the Supreme Court judge’s wife who seemed very interested in my purpose in being in Mumbai so I gave her my card. The students were all decked out in dark suits like professional lawyers about to defend their cases. But since this was an award ceremony and this being India, they instead sang We Are the World which brought a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes. Next was lunch. A group lunch at an Indian event involves long tables with mountains of curry dishes and Indian breads being served in abundance. Any space on my plate was quickly filled with another spoonful of vegetable curry, dahl or rice. I tried to beg off, saying “It’s delicious, but I am so full!” The reply was “You must continue eating Mrs. Scherr.” And then comes a traditional Indian dessert followed by chocolate cake. By this time I was begging for mercy, but to no avail. In between bites we managed to discuss collaborating ideas for a peace concert and a Mumbai peace alert.
The human tendency to compete can serve to propel action. First of all, there is the Global Peace Index, which I find the perfect introduction to demonstrate the importance of making peace on earth a priority, both individually and collectively. I wasn’t taken seriously by business people in Mumbai until I began quoting Global Peace Index rankings. Out of 162 countries India ranks at 142. This brings a surprised and indignant look on most Indian faces. And well they should be indignant (though not surprised considering the daily news). Yes, they are a peace loving people and deserve a higher ranking. Now it’s time to prove it. This is where I come in to connect people in education, business and government to this information so that together we can sort out what needs to be done to raise the peace index in their communities. I love to watch how people are inspired to bring peace to the world in their own unique ways. After lunch while chatting with a group of law students from Delhi University, I shared with them about the Peace Flash Mob project that is currently in process in Delhi. They immediately asked how they could get involved. Young Indians like to take action straight away, which is why this project is happening in the first place.
After a round of group photos and more peace songs, we made our way back to S. Mumbai across the sea link listening to Jimmy Cliff sing “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.It’s gonna be a bright (bright)bright (bright) sunshiny day.” At that point Daisy and I dozed off as we hit Marine Lines.
We soon arrived at the Armenian Church of St. Peter’s in the Fort neighborhood, built in 1762. There was to be a special prayer and meditation for world peace led by Brother Patrick from Taize, France. For over half an hour Brother Patrick led us in some beautiful chants interspersed with Hallelujah chants, and then we sat for several minutes in silent meditation. The divine presence in the sanctuary was so strong that I felt I could almost levitate off the chair. My mind was empty, my heart was full and my soul was bursting through the ceiling into the night sky.
This service concluded with tea and cookies as all events in India do unless there is a full meal. That was to come later as I discovered when I thought I was going to float back into my room at the Trident and sink into a blissful sleep. Daisy insisted I join them for dinner even though I insisted I was still way too full from lunch. She would not take no for an answer and since they were driving, I decided to go with the flow and surrender. Along the way was much discussion about where to go – Daisy voted for the Taj, but then they thought since I was to be delivered to the Trident, why don’t we just eat there? Yay, I thought, saves time! I was really exhausted, just wanted to go to sleep and was not the least bit hungry. We got to the Trident and there was no parking! I suggested I just get out at that point, but was shut down emphatically as we headed off to the Taj. There are tons of places to eat around the neighborhood of the Taj Palace and these were all discussed with various opinions. One option was Pain de Quotidian, where I had eaten many times in Washington, DC. This would be good, I thought, it’s quick. But no, Daisy was set on the Taj, and so we deposited the car with the valet in front of the beautiful Taj Palace by the Gateway of India.
The lobby of the Taj Palace is quite magnificent. It always takes my breath away. Because it was a target of the 26/11 terror attacks and the place where I met President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at a special event with Taj and Oberoi staff members, I feel a strong bond with the Taj. It both warms my heart and gives me chills every time I walk into the luxurious lobby. Daisy led us straight to the Taj Zodiac Grill, located off to the right of the main lobby. I walked in feeling compliant but quickly became enamored with the elegance spread out before me. Wow, I thought, this is a heavenly ambience for a meal! There were twinkling lights resembling the zodiac on the ceiling, classical piano, candlelight and waiters wearing white gloves. At least I was wearing heels and a skirt, although a gown would have been more appropriate.
The first order of business was the wine. Being from Taize, France, Brother Patrick apparently knew his wines. I was beginning to feel happy I gave in to this dinner as the prospect of some good wine with a meal that was bound to be beyond gourmet was unfolding. It turned out that everyone was still full from lunch and wanted a lighter vegetarian meal. I breathed a sigh of grateful relief as we ordered vegetable risotto and cannelloni, along with signature appetizers recommended by the waiter. The waiter, it turned out, was on duty the night of 26/11. I meet people like this all the time in Mumbai. He related how the Zodiac itself was not attacked, but about 40 people ran into the restaurant that night for refuge. All were trapped inside for about 48 hours until the seige was over. This waiter was also present at the special event with President Obama and so we shared memories of that inspiring visit.
The most beautiful artistic food began to arrive – truly works of art. The chef, Mr. Hemant Oberoi, was also on duty the night of 26/11. Before we could get too much into a discussion about this tragedy, the waiter asked what musical requests we had from the pianist who was beginning to play. I requested the first music that came to my mind in that moment – Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. This was followed by ‘We are the World’ and ‘Que Sera Sera’ as well as ‘Let It Be’. I was ready to let it be after the complimentary sparkling white wine followed by a lovely Riesling. Desserts of course soon followed and then a delicate demi-tasse coffee. In between all courses the waiter appeared with a silver tray and brush to remove any stray crumbs. And then there was the pina colada sorbet offered to cleanse our palates in between the appetizers and main dish. At one point I leaned over to Daisy and whispered, “This is food orgasm!” We shared a good laugh as we dove into the gourmet cotton candy that was light as air and melted in our mouths.
The words to a traditional Christian prayer we recited at the church earlier that evening drifted into my mind…’give us this day our daily bread’ I felt truly blessed and full of the abundance of life in that moment. This is our daily bread. We are nourished by love and friendship. So many people, especially in Mumbai, have embraced me like family, that I am left with stunned gratitude for this abundant blessing. At the start of our elegant dinner we toasted to ‘peace on earth’ to which Daisy added ‘and good will to men’. Yes, good will to all in each moment of our day will bring peace on earth. Hallelujah!