India for me… (Scene 1)

There it was, a full page ad in Torah Tidbits (the ubiquitous weekly publication of the O.U. Center in Jerusalem) announcing the “Historic Adventure & Mission To Jewish India With Ari & Ari.” That’s all Barbara had to see.

We all do this in our mind: divide people into groups with opposing points of view. For example, people who like herring and people who don’t like herring; people who like bourbon and people who prefer Scotch; people who drink wine and people who (shudder!) drink grape juice; people who go to our shul and people who, for one reason or another, go to the other one. You get the idea.

I had never considered India as being a topic of controversy, but there it was. Barbara being in the “I always wanted to travel to India” camp, whereas I have always been firmly in the “Why would anyone in his right mind want to go there” school of thought. (Of course, there’s the third group, the billion or so people who actually live there, but they’re not part of the equation.)
thumb_IMG_0471_1024Barbara did have some compelling arguments for going on this particular tour. The first had to do with the Ari’s, both of whom we have come to know. It so happens that Ari Greenspan is our dentist, and when he is not peering into the mouths of his patients in Jerusalem, he may be off to some out of the way village in Transylvania in his capacity as mohel. Or he may be called up to use his talent as a shochet and a sofer. Here’s a guy who can circumcise your son, slaughter a chicken for your dinner, and write a mezuzah for your door. Pretty handy guy to have around! Ari Zivotofsky is a rabbi and the head of the Ocular Motor and Visual Perception Laboratory at Bar-Ilan University. The two of them together have been traipsing the world since 1981, in search of Jewish customs and traditions that are on the verge of being lost forever. So if you’re going to some remote area, looking for something of Jewish interest, these are definitely the guys you want to go with! And would we get another opportunity?

But there was another point that Barbara brought up, our age. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, neither of us is getting any younger. Would we be able to make this jaunt in five years? Maybe yes, maybe no. It certainly wouldn’t be any easier for us sometime down the road.

What chance did I have against such debate points? I reminded her that we had already agreed to go back to The States in March, so that my brother and I could celebrate our collective 150th birthday, and that two such journeys a month apart might be considered gilding the lily. While the one trip would be a fairly modest affair, the trip to India was insanely expensive. (There is no way to organize a trip involving six flights to, from, and within India, provide two weeks worth of kosher food and the kind of five star hotels that some of the travelers would insist on, and do it on the cheap.) True, we have the money. (The minute we left northern New Jersey, our financial situation improved dramatically.) But we don’t have to spend it all in one place!

My wife was determined to go – by herself, if need be. I could have taken her up on her very sincere offer, to stay home while she went gallivanting around the Indian subcontinent. But………….   I just couldn’t see doing that, sending her off by herself. Sometimes, if you’re smart, you’ll do what your partner wants. Alright, I’ll go. If nothing else, I’m likely to get some amazing photographs for my troubles. Maybe if I try hard enough, I might even enjoy the trip. It certainly will be different from anything I’ve ever seen or done before.

And, I figure that if you’re going to head to India, this is the way to do it. All we have to do is show up at the right place at the right time and the rest gets taken care of for us. It’s the getting ready for the trip that makes you start to wonder.

The first order of business was to trot over to a health clinic to get our immunizations against everything. Remember, we are going to a place where there are five hundred million people without indoor plumbing. A few punctures in the arm and I am now protected against tetanus, polio (yes I had the shots in The States when I was a kid, but I can’t prove it), hepatitis A, and typhoid. (TYPHOID???!!!) Oh, and don’t forget to get a prescription from your regular doctor for anti-malaria pills, which you start taking the day before you leave. Oh, and don’t forget: do not, under any conditions, drink the water there – unless, of course, it’s bottled. Don’t even brush your teeth with the liquid coming out of the tap. (Tell me again, why am I going there???)

The next step was to get our visas, which involved completing an form on-line that kept on asking intriguing questions like: Anyone in your family ever been a member of the Pakistani army? (My Uncle George was in the U.S. army in W.W. I, and Barbara’s father was a pilot in W.W. II. Does that matter?) We had already made a trip to the Indian visa office in Jerusalem, a seriously difficult place to find, a tiny cubicle staffed by a lone Israel woman. We, of course (of course!) didn’t have everything we needed, so a second trip was in the offing, when Chana from the O.U. travel department stepped in. She would collect all the applications from everybody and get us all properly processed. Fine by us.

Somewhere in the middle of our preparation, I read something that made me shake in my shoes and quake in my boots. In Mumbai, the first place we’re stopping, there are currently living 35 LEOPARDS!!! Thirty five random leopards hanging out in the city itself, stalking the streets after dark in search of stray animals for dinner. Seems to me that might put a damper on the city’s night life. (Tell me again, why am I going there???)

During the next few weeks, we began thinking about what to take with us and acquired some things we never needed before, like a pair of international adapters. (India, like most of the world, uses 220v current, but in different parts of the country, you need different shape plugs – because why make things easy?)

To make matters more interesting, we need to deal with some rather stringent weight restrictions for our luggage. Because we’re flying from place to place within India, we can only take one suitcase weighing up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and one carry-on weighing no more than 7kg. (15.4 pounds). My friend Michael lent us this little device that is perfect for figuring out how much one’s luggage weighs. Lets test it out. Empty my backpack – which would be my carry on – and put in it some bare essentials: tallit, tefillin, and camera. Attach the backpack to the hook on the little scale and turn it on. 6.25 kg?????!!!!!! That’s without a siddur, extra battery for the camera, pen and notepad, a package of tissues, or anything to read on the plane.

I started to do some mental arithmetic. If that’s six and a quarter kg., how much – or how little – will I be able to put into a suitcase and keep it under fifteen? We will be away for almost two weeks. I might be able to fit in about as much as I would normally take with me for a long weekend. Or for an Encore! production if I have more than one costume. How much can I stuff in my pockets? Maybe we can wash our personal effects in the River Ganges? (Tell me again……)


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