The palace at Orchha was built in the seventeenth century a Madhukar Shah who was not only housing himself but his main wife, four others, four concubines, and his personal dancer. She must have been some dancer, because he also built her an additional property within spitting distance of his bedroom window.
Our guide told us that, once completed, Madhukar Shah stayed one night at the palace before continuing on a pressing journey. Apparently he died shortly afterwards making this, the guide said delivering a clearly practiced joke, “the most expensive overnight in the history of the world.”
The guide moved on and we started following when I felt a small hand at my elbow.
“Take a picture of me, Mom,” Spencer said. “I want a picture of me at the most expensive hotel ever.”
I snapped the picture and Spencer ran off to join the others. Earlier he had wanted his picture to be taken in front of the huge door to the palace fort. We had been told that the large spikes that dotted the two story high door, would impale elephants that were routinely used to break through. Spencer was appalled, but fascinated, to hear that invaders found a way around this by blindfolding the elephants and ramming them into the doors anyway. The image was gruesome, but what ten-year-old child doesn’t secretly cherish these dramatic stories in some fashion? It’s so much cooler than the body scanner at the airport.
As I watched Spencer skipping along with the guide, pointing out sights to Murphy, and even running ahead from time to time, I was surprised by the thought, “He has adjusted. He’s discovered what is so fun about this and he’s embracing it.” The reason why the thought surprised me was because I hadn’t allowed myself to think that he hadn’t been adjusting in the first place. But here was evidence. Before and after a shift in him: he was bouncing again. When Spencer bounces, all is right with the world. Unless you’re his soccer coach.
Of course, there had been periodic bouncing throughout the journey thus far. He had bounced at Mogli resorts. He had bounced at every delivery of finger fries. But this was sustained bouncing, not simply a bounce back from experiences that had been emotionally and physically challenging.
Something in me rested. I had come to India to visit my family and to see the country. But I had also come in search of meaning. Life at home had stalled. I had found myself daily victimized by my own fears. I had assumed that this kind of trek would inspire Pat and the kids too. But I could have been wrong about that. So very wrong. Every bounce that Spencer took ahead of me was reassurance.
The boys had spent a leisurely morning at the campground with our host whose name, we soon found out, was Vinod. He was a natural with children, showing them how to play an Indian game called Carrom and taking them down to the rocks on the shoreline. Robyn told me that Vinod had told her that he ran the campground for a good portion of the year while his wife and son lived down south. She said that it was not uncommon for Indian men to leave their wives at home while they traveled far distances to obtain work.
I looked ahead at Spencer circling Vinod who lifted Murphy to show him a view below. I wondered how Vinod managed long absences from his son. Were they in touch by phone? How often did they visit each other? I resisted the urge to imagine that being around my children might ease any sadness that might come from such a separation. Creating such a construct in my own mind assumed, first, that he was unhappy alone and, second, that my sons could assuage such a longing.
I could, of course, have no idea of the thoughts that passed through Vinod’s head as he put Murphy back down on the palace floor. I could see by Spencer’s continuous bounce, however, that he had assumed an intimacy with Vinod. And for that, I was deeply grateful.
|Bad door for elephants|
|Our two families in the center of the fort|