Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Missing the Rose Bowl in Rajasthan

            The only question on my father’s mind as he climbed up the cobbled steps to the 14th Century Hill Fort Keseroli in Alwar, Rajasthan was where could he watch -- or at least get the score of -- the Rose Bowl football game being played that day in the United States. Ever since his plane had touched down in New Delhi, he had been asking about the viability of watching his beloved University of Wisconsin Badgers on television or online. He asked flight attendants, sales clerks, my brother’s co-workers, boys in the street, and a blind fruit seller. Either they didn’t know the answer or they told him, as his children had repeatedly, that during the game he would be spending the night in a 14th Century fort and chances were very slim that there would be WiFi.  When my father doesn’t get the answer he wants he doesn’t sulk or curse before accepting the facts like most adults do, he simply looks blankly at the bearer of bad news, shrugs, turns to someone else, and asks them the very same question. He firmly believes that if he can find one person who has the right answer, the cosmos will reverse itself. 
            The Hill Fort was managed by a company called Neemrana, which has converted several Indian landmarks into hotels.  Each room was completely different, combining old world charm with modern touches.
            “Do you think that Du’s mind is going?” Erik whispered to me as we watched my father ask a bellhop where he could watch the game. It was clear that the bellhop didn’t understand English because his answer was to point to a space heater. 
            “No,” I whispered back, “he just hasn’t gotten the answer he wants yet.”
            “Are you sure he hasn’t forgotten that he asked forty people the same question yesterday?”
            “Totally sure.”
            My mother looked out of the window at the endless fields of mustard surrounding the fort, “Du, even if you could see the game, this is the last night of our road trip.  Don’t we want to spend it sitting around a fire with your children in a gorgeous old fort? There are some Rajasthani dancers performing at nine.”
            Du sat on the bed to take off his shoes, “Maybe one of the dancers will have a newspaper.”
            My brother and I backed out of the room and rejoined our own families. Murphy was thrilled with his bed that hung from the ceiling and wanted to sleep in it right away. But the fun of pretending to be knights in a castle with his brother proved too tempting and they both ran out of the room, down the steps, and into the courtyard where we could hear them prepare for battle. Pat and I retired to the private balcony to read and look out at the scenery.  Within moments, however, Keir appeared with news, “Hey guys.  I got online in the office and looked up the game.  It’s already over and the Badgers lost.  Should we tell Du?”
            Pat and I looked at each other then back at Keir.
            “Don’t tell him,” I said.
            “He’ll get depressed and go straight to bed,” said Pat.
            “Let’s tell him in the morning,” I said.
            “And admit that we withheld information from him?” Keir asked.
            “Absolutely not,” I said. “Admit nothing. Say that you just found out.  He’ll be too despondent to grill you about details.”
            Later, as the sun set and our families gathered to watch the dancing before dinner, Erik whispered to me, “Are we telling Du?”
            “Keir told you?” I whispered back through a tight smile. Du was sitting to our left, asking a waiter where he could get an English language newspaper. I heard the waiter answer, “New Delhi.”
            Erik leaned closer to me, “Yeah, Keir asked what we should do.  I was thinking that maybe we tell him right before he goes to bed tonight. That way, he’s going to sleep anyway.”
            “But then he’ll know that we were withholding the information during dinner.  Let’s do it in the morning.  We tell him we woke up and found the Internet.”
            “Found it?” Erik whispered.
            “Whatever.  We can hone the story later. But the timing of telling him in the morning is more plausible.  Then he can sleep off his depression in the car all the way back to Delhi.”
            Erik looked at the dancers setting up their instruments in the glow of the campfire and thought for a moment before turning back to me, “OK.  That sounds like a plan. I’ll tell Mom.” He stood up and I watched him walk over to my mother and whisper in her ear.  When he finished, Mom eyed me and gave a slight nod like a Mafioso authorizing a hit.
            The Rajasthani folk singing and dancing was so entertaining that my father seemed quite distracted from what had been his singular quest to find out the Rose Bowl score. And throughout dinner the adult kids kept up a flow of storytelling that swept Du along with it. When it came time for bed, we all retired feeling good about having withheld the bitter truth from our patriarch for our family’s last night together in India. 
The entrance

The courtyard

The private balcony


Murphy and Zoe watch the musicians



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