Last weekend felt like a cumulative test -- a tough exam that could make or break me. I was taking seventeen kids to Delhi. Not kids, but teenagers. Teenagers with hormones, with money to lose, with a strong independent streak.
The mission was to take our budding dance troupe with their flashy clothes and skinny jeans to Tiny Drops, an organization that believes in a hip-hop/Bboying as a transformational art, a way of life and expression.
Our music group, with their Sufi-driven vocals and classic style would be teamed with the Manzil Mystics, a completely youth created band that I have had some kind of cosmic attraction to since I sat on that terrace with them 2 years ago during Inspire.
The plan was simple enough. It had been drafted, erased, redrafted for three months, but involved some touring and visiting and workshopping. Under the guidance of my NGO I had arranged for rooms at a gurudwara and had in my file a back up plan, and a backup-back up plan. I had just enough funding, but little wiggle room for mistakes.
But from the second I woke up on the morning of our departure, it was clear that Delhi, like my year, had jumped out of my hands and promised to wring me from inside out. Let me make this quick and painless:
At five a.m. my cell phone -- my lifeline to the workshops, hotel managers, and our staff, decided to call it quits.
The train ride went smoothly although we had one seat less than normal. "I can handle this," I thought calmly, eating some biscuits and running off of two hours of sleep.
Our accomodation was overbooked and overpriced. It was 100 degrees outside and the kids refused to drink the salty Delhi water or leave their shoes to eat free lunch in the langar hall. The music kids were already two hours late so I paid the extra cash and took them to the taxi, leaving 11 kids in the unsuspecting hands of the wonderous Kaval.
It took 45 minutes and a double-expensive auto ride to drop off the first batch of kids in the music workshop and come back only to find out that our second accomodation idea gave us one walk-in-closet sized room with a rug. The neighbor was a stoned sardarji. There was no way we were staying there.
Almost to tears I left to take the dance kids to their workshop, an hours metro ride away. Kaval teamed up with two teenage kids to find us a room in Pahad Ganj, reluctantly giving all extra money away. We showed up one hour late to the dance workshop, this time with my extra cell phone stolen from my bag. Luckily our hosts at Tiny Drops were gracious and enthusiastic and a couple of BBoying battles improved everyone's mood.
I spent the two hour workshop with one ear on my student's phone with Kaval, wondering where 19 people would sleep in this dangerous city if we found no place to go. Luckily, every good deed we had every done manifested through the one and only Buddha -- Kaval scored us a splendidly calm set of rooms and a Buddhist Temple where we practically passed out upon arrival.
Before sleeping we had a reflection circle where every child proved inspired and without complaints. I slept relieved and grateful for Kaval and Archana, two friends who had given up a leisurely outing in Delhi to make my plan work.
The next day, I thought, would go smoothly. I woke up at 4 a.m., only one hour before my kids who stirred on their own at 5. They spent the morning, with absolutely no coaxing or hints, cleaning up the temple grounds -- weeding and picking up trash.
But the beating sun was not about to let us relax. Even the Delhi metro, my favorite sign of "development", proved to be a nauseating carnival for sensitive stomachs, and the Bank of Ankita had to shell out some extra cash for our misadventures.
Practically wilting in the sun, we made our way to India Gate, the National Museum, and to Saket for our next dance workshop. Meanwhile the music group was composing their own songs, learning guitar chords and rapping in Sarojini Nagar with Manzil thanks to Archana's guidance.
For an added bonus, my American stomach decided to remind me of its lack of immunity in the worst possible time and I lived on water and Maaza for hours and hours of trying to remain upbeat and yank the kids safely through the city as we scoured for dhaba food and water.
By the time we found our BBoys in Saket, the kids were hardly ready to do headstands and break dance. But their stubborn passion found its way to their veins and they continued to defy gravity with new rhythms and teachers.
At end of the day we stumbled, exhaustedly, into the Habitat Centre to meet the music group and watch Manzil perform. The kids' eyes were shining, their faces bright -- it was the look of inspiration. Every next conversation was about possibilities, about what could happen at our center, about guitar and keyboards and performances.
On Sunday we finally had the chance, as a group, to visit India Gate. The relentless sun seemed friendly this morning. We sat in the gardens and ate ice cream, happy to be together, inspired to sing and dance.
We followed up the trip with a music session with Manzil, the most gracious of hosts who just continued to give and share. Only one mishap was counted that day -- a stolen wallet, but even that seemed to just blend in with the theme.
That evening we went back on the train as a family. We lay on each others shoulders and the kids shared their dreams and their love stories and their exhaustion. I recognized that there was no other group of kids I knew that could have endured the craziness, the uncertainty, the heat without complaints and with a passion for the arts that kept them going.
As for me, I don't know if I failed or passed that test. But I know that I have never felt more supported by the universe, by the surprising strength of love and friends and family, than I ever have before. And I feel at once powerful and powerless in the wake of one of life's many unexpected exams.