It started as we approached the entrance to Akshardham. A group of women, moving like a colorful flock of birds, embroidered saris billowing around them in the breeze, craned their necks to watch us enter. I avoided their gaze.
We entered the security checkpoint, following the bright women through the line, the men and boys on the distant other side of the wall, being checked as well. After patting her down, the security guard began to hug and cuddle Sprout, cradling her head with affection. Afterwards Spout confided "I kind of liked her hugging me, but I also thought for a minute that she might take me away somewhere."
After we were through security, the women were no longer sneaking glances, they were staring. One fell back to begin to talk to us, asking Sprout her name and complimenting her hair, which still has remnants of pink dye in it. "I like your hair, like fairy!" she sung out, her accent lilting side to side, like a hammock in the breeze.
Our groups walked together before separating naturally, us to read about the strong women of India, represented with graceful lines in bronze statues.
The complex is extensive, and as we stared in awe at the ornate carved domes of the temple*, or turned the corner to reveal endlessly repeating arches terminating in a water view, we would happen upon the same flight of bring women, shifting our measured neutral gazes to flash a shared smile. Amidst all of the people staring with frank curiosity, they had extended a kind interaction and it felt like we had a little secret friendship, a flash of joy at each other's reappearance.
Our driver dropped us off at Connaught Place, so we could grab a bite to eat. A central park encircled by two concentric rings, with seven main roads radiating outwards, CP is a bustling hub of business, shopping and restaurants. Immediately, I was struck by the bustle, the volume, the impact of the place.
The white columns are stained with what I imagine is some kind of red spit, and every arch seems to provide shelter to a wild dog covered in sores, a man sitting, looking for all the world like a windblown piece of rubbish come to rest against the column, or peddlers with their wares layed out in repeating patterns on rugs.
I found myself gripping the hands of my children, walking faster as a boy with a shoeshine kit tugged incessantly on The Captain's sleeve, persisting in his offer to polish my husband's green suede Adidas sneakers. How would he even do that? He stayed with us block after block until another man took his place, telling us all about the dangers of dishonest shoe shine boys.
Finally we broke free, and then, as I strode along seeking a calm looking place to duck into for lunch, I looked down and saw something my mind struggled to process.
A baby. A tiny, impossibly tiny baby, lying on a blanket in front of her mother. Both completely unmoving. Asleep? The baby was at my feet, lying on her side, the size of a newborn, but not curled up like a newborn. Layed out long, but not long. So, so, tiny.
I wanted to snatch her up. I wanted to hold her into that little place in my neck where I can feel how a baby is doing, that little place that indicates what they need. If her mother had looked into my face, I would have given her anything I had. I would have taken my clothes off and left them with her. I would have offered anything. But she didn't look at me. Was she staring into nothing? Was she asleep?
I hardly broke my stride. They were simply something I saw before I ducked into Nandos chicken, a restaurant we knew well in Sydney. I cried silently as I ate my roasted vegetable wrap. I choked each time I saw the baby in my mind's eye.
Later, as we drove through the city, I imagined how that girl, that tiny child, could be the next head of a company, an olympic athlete, a writer, a bright flash of life and beauty. Would she ever? I say I simply saw them, but it was not simple at all.