On the first pass, I offered a nod and a “Namaskaramu.” He volleyed back a soft hello.
A few minutes later, we passed each other again. It’s not all that surprising, seeing as we were walking in opposite directions on the .5 km path around the still – or stagnant, your choice – pond in the local park. Jalagam Vengala Rao Park, a monthly pass costs 45 rupees. $1. Wherever I wander, I find at least one park that makes me feel content, and I think two-days into Hyderabad, I’ve already found that spot, a few blocks north of my apartment...even though it requires two death-defying road crossings.
That second time we walked past one another, he said “You are walking very slowly.” In English. I knew I’d found a friend.
Five years ago, it was Zsofi. She has a special place in my heart. And she always will, even though I’ve only every met her three times. She was my first friend in Heves. The first of many, it would turn out, but for a moment she was the first and only.
I couldn’t understand her name when I met Zsofi at the pencil store, I wasn’t accustomed yet to Hungary or to Hungarians and their names. And it’s to same right now in India, that same exciting sense of wonderous knownothingness. I don’t know my new friend’s name – I took to calling him Shri Rao – because my ears are still new to India.
I changed my direction and we walked for half an hour before sitting on a bench for half an hour. Then he invited me to his home, close by, for coffee. I thought about declining, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep talking Telugu/English to my first Andhra friend. So I joined him.
I kicked my shoes off at the door, just past the rangoli his wife or daughter-in-law had etched on concrete with lines of flour. I smiled. It took me seven months to be invited into a Hungarian’s home in little Heves. Here I was, my second morning in bit ole Hyderabad, invited into an Indian’s home.
It was just the second time in my life – both pleasantries with foreigners – that I’ve choked down a cup of coffee. It was far tastier to savor an indigenous friend. We talked about his family. We flipped through Telugu political cartoons from a week’s worth of newspapers. He demanded I eat breakfast with him, upma. So I did, even though I had brunch planned with G&A.
After another hour, I was finally able to extract myself from his friendliness. I promised repeatedly that I would see him again in the park someday soon, then skipped away with a smile.