REFLECTIONS OF INDIA - SANJU SUMADRE
January 18, 2007 - to Nirmal
SWEATING THE DETAILS. His nickname is "Gope." He is a professional driver, by trade. In spirit, he is the very embodiment of a servant. Even today, one year and half a world away, Sanju Sumadre is an inspiration to me of grace under pressure. While we pedaled along on our bikes feeling like we were working hard, Gope sweated detail after detail, request after request day after day. Where would we eat breakfast? What about lunch? Was the food safe for us to eat? Could he toast bread for us at the dhaba? Could we get more mango jam? Where would we spend the night? Where would we share an evening meal? How would clothes get laundered? How can we get all that luggage in the back of the Tata Victa?
TRIP MANAGER. And all the while Gope smiles, genuinely smiles. "No problem," he responds. When we arrive at a place of lodging, we head for the showers. Gope, however, heads out to locate an Internet cafe for me, scopes out places to eat, buys fresh fruit and supplies for the next day, and performs--unasked, unprompted, but in ready anticipation--endless menial tasks. He handles all our money, makes all purchases, barters for the best price. At the end of the trip, his thrift has brought our journey expenses well under budget. He is paid well and we are able to give left-over expense money to the capital fund to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital.
RESISTING GOPE'S HELP. I acted like a "proud American" during much of our 2,000-mile ride through India. I insisted on carrying all my own luggage, getting my own supplies, finding Internet sites for blogging on my own. Still, there was Gope ever insisting: "I take." "I help." "I buy." "I find." He would seem genuinely disappointed when I resisted his offers of help. I tried to convey to him that caring for my own things was not only fair, but my way of relieving him of unnecessary stress. He just didn't see it that way. Eventually, I began to cooperate with his way and his way helped me accomplish all I'd hoped I would.
LOOKING FOR GOPE. I miss Gope. Of all the people we met and all the friends we made, whom I hope to see and be with again, Gope stands out. I'd like for Gope to be able to visit America; he has a brother living here. Several times he has applied for a Visa and each time has been denied. But if he can visit, I would like to serve him here as he served us there. I hope to return to India, perhaps for another bike ride, perhaps at the dedication of the new Umri Christian Hospital. I will look for Gope, waiting again outside the airport terminal. And the excursion, for whatever else it holds, will have been complete.