Jeh the Crusher
To say “how are you” in Hindi should not be a difficult task – unless, of course, Jeh “The Crusher” is at your back. We were working aloud on common phrases, and I tried out “tum kaise hain” with my Cathedral School partner, Jeh. But no, I was incorrect – it’s “DToomb,” not “Toomb.” Both sounded the same to me, yet I tried again to no avail. We started a little call and echo session until we escalated to a near shout. “DTOOOOOOOMB,” Jeh screamed. Half laughing, I spitted back, “DaaaaOOOOOOOOOB.” I had tried at least 20 times until we turned to more unconventional methods. John held down both my arms, and each time I mispronounced this distinct “D” and “T” blend, I received a light slap to the face. Many failed attempts ensued. At last, Jeh said that I should never try to study another language again. That is my host brother and I at our finest. However, all jokes aside, I am indebted to his incredible hospitality, as he went out of his way time and again to make a second home for me in Mumbai. Nothing epitomizes this more than his characteristic “Okay....no problem” at any request – a response he says so goofily that most of us on the trip still laugh thinking about it.
These past five days, India’s “Emerald City” has been the playground for Jeh and I on our adventures. We spent away one afternoon on the black rocks of Bandra, surprised each time a wave aimed for our ankles suddenly jumped and soaked our pants. Another time we walked together into Palladium Mall and ventured into the Manchester United Bar – a namesake to his favorite football club, since the day previous I had worn a Chelsea jersey just to spite him. When night fell, Jeh’s parents took us out to some of the finest restaurants around and our dinner conversations wandered from the Kashmir situation to Winchester College, where Jeh will enroll this September.
My appetite for everything Indian, however, caught up with me on Thursday and I came down with a stomach flu or infection of some sort. To say the least, I had made a mess of myself at the American School of Bombay. I distinctly remember then, on the way back to his house, that Jeh cared for me in the back of the car, shoving pills into my mouth and stirring up a foul concoction of Electral. The doctor saw me right away in Jeh’s room, where soon enough I was bed ridden. In the ensuing 12 hours, my recovery resulted as much from the heart-felt care of Jeh’s family as the antibiotics themselves. I also appreciate all the care given to me by the domestic hands – especially Shankar. Between our mutually broken English and Hindi, along with full body gestures, we managed to get virtually nothing across. Nonetheless, barely anything got across – a lot of laughs passed between us.
Our whole time together has wrought two promises: to meet again sometime very soon, and on at leas one occasion, Jeh must come to camp Calleva with me and by the fire, roast his very first smore.
The basis of Niswarth, to be sure, finds its roots in our ability to empathize with the less fortunate and the less privileged. My reaction to Dharavi, as others also contest, left me confused and I'll still be grappling for quite a while. But as Adichie warned in her TED talk against “The Single Story,” I don’t want to define my view of India just by the issues of squalor. Just as I would not want my life in Maryland to be defined by the HBO series “The Wire,” I doubt that many Indians would want their nation to be boxed in by the pictures of “Slumdog Millionaire.” Jeh, in many ways, has showed me the great prosperity and vibrancy that Mumbai has to offer. What I will tell my friends back home will be the full story of India, the good and the bad, and for me, at its heart – Jeh the Crusher.