LUCKNOW, India — After a sleepless, 14-hour flight with crappy food, I found myself in a van in New Delhi, India, with really high seats, no seatbelts, and a crazy driver.
He wasn’t the only crazy driver, either. Lots of people were driving weird. Apparently in India, there are no seatbelt laws, no speed limits, no one-way streets and no little dotted white lines dividing the road, mostly because the streets are made of dirt.
I was a long way from Connecticut.
In the next three weeks, my family visited Lucknow, India, where my father grew up, along with some of the most famous places in the world, including the Taj Mahal.
I’m a boy!
My shoulder-length hair got me into trouble in India.
Every time I went into the bathroom someone who noticed my longish hair would direct me to the women’s room.
When we got in the cab to go to my grandparent’s house, the driver said something I heard a lot: ladki, which means girl. So I learned the phrase, “Mein ladka hoon,” which means “I’m a boy.”
But I didn’t have a chance to use it. By the time, I remembered to say it, it was too late.
India looks a lot different now that I’m 12 and more observant, but I still can’t believe that six years ago – during my last visit to India — I didn’t notice the hundreds of dogs, goats, cows and water buffaloes that roam the streets of Lucknow eating garbage.
What really amazed me was that I tried to give a cow some leaves from a tree and it didn’t want it – it just went back to licking a wrapper on the ground. Now that’s what I call adaptation.
In Lucknow, there are also a lot of beggars, which was the hardest thing to get used to.
The problem is that you don’t know if they really need money or if they’re using it on something useful. You could give a woman some money and she might go home to her gang boss, or you might let a guy with barely any clothes have money and he’ll come out of the store with tobacco. Another thing is that if you give someone money there’s a chance that a whole mob will surround you within minutes. That happened to me when I was six, and it terrified me.
Speaking of money, India has a weird exchange rate. One United States dollar is equal to 45 rupees. That might seem like a lot, but a bottle of soda costs as little as 20 rupees. A smaller unit of currency is the paisa. There are 100 paisas in a rupee, but if a Coke costs 20 rupees, I don’t know what you can buy with paisa.
Home in Lucknow
My grandparents’ house has an open cement drainage ditch carrying sewage and storm water running right beside it, as most Indian homes do. Some people use the ditch as an outdoor toilet.
High red brick walls and an iron fence enclose the garden in front of my grandparents’ house.
The three-bedroom house looks tall but most of the space is taken up by the high ceilings, which I think is a waste. But that’s one way to keep the hot air near the ceilings in the summer.
There is a marble entryway that leads to the living room, dining room and staircase. Everything is on the ground floor except a small apartment upstairs where my cousins live.
My parents and brother stayed in my dad’s old room, and I took over my uncle’s old room. A very small kitchen is adjacent to the dining room.
There are three bathrooms, all with doors leading outside. Two have holes in the floor instead of toilets, and the third has an American-style toilet, a bathtub with ice-cold water, and a washing machine for clothes.
We played and soaked up the sun on top of the house, climbing the stairs to the flat roof. Perched on top of that is my cousins’ home, which has lower ceilings but yet another accessible roof. There’s a water tank on top of everything.
There’s also a garage roof that is stable enough to play on.
One of our first trips took us to this awesome crocodile park that had eight to 12-foot-long mugger crocodiles and bizarre long-nosed ones called gharials.
Seeing the crocodiles is the most fun I’d had yet.
Other than that, I amused myself by using a magnifying glass and the sun to burn paper. It doesn’t work very well in Connecticut, but in India it smokes in seconds, even in winter.
A restaurant called Gemini Continental is supposed to be the best restaurant in Lucknow and it probably would be if everything didn’t have tons of chili, masala and black pepper in it.
Everything was so spicy. We ordered tandoori chicken — usually my favorite — but this chicken was drenched in chili sauce. My hot and sour soup was not sour at all, just ridiculously spicy.
Eventually I just ate naan, which is like pita bread, only better. But even while I was safe with bread, I accidentally ate a piece of naan that was stuffed with a sort of cheese and lots of green chilies.
That did it. I practically exploded. I was still shaking by the time we got to the car. I’m not used to my food being that spicy. At my grandparents’ house, most of the meals are pretty mild. I practically lived on lentils, aloo (potatoes) and chapattis – a thin, tortilla-like bread – that Dadiji (my grandma) makes every day.
For a snack, I ate KrackJack, sweet and salty crackers that taste like Wheat Thins. The tap water isn’t drinkable even for my grandparents, so we drank bottled water, seltzer and homemade lime soda.
I didn’t drink the milk because I’m accustomed to 1 percent and the closest we could get in India was 3 percent, which is too too creamy for me.
There’s Coke and Sprite, Pepsi and other familiar soda, but India also has its own soft drink called Thums Up. It’s made by Coca Cola and tastes a lot like Coke, but has its own appealing zest. I had lot of Thums Up. It’s really addicting.
We hired a cab to take us on a tour of some famous places in Lucknow.
Our first stop was the Indira Gandhi Dam, which was built for irrigation and named for one of India’s prime ministers. Though it wasn’t that exciting, it was surrounded by beautiful plants and lush green grass – a good place for a picnic, but we didn’t stay there long enough. We also saw a small snake with its head cut off near the dam museum, which freaked us all out.
Next we went to Lohiya Park, a new park named after a socialist leader who lived in Lucknow. It’s got lots of marble and polished granite structures, and you have to pay to get in, but it’s mostly dirty, with litter everywhere. The shiniest places there were the restrooms, which had an armed guard posted.
It was a pretty big park that had a duck pond – filled with garbage – and a small artificial lake with a fountain in it.
Next, we went to La Martiniere College, an 1840 British school named after the French soldier Claude Martin. La Martiniere is the oldest college in Lucknow, and one of the most interesting places we saw because of all the statues. Besides nude sculptures, there were several stone lions that hung onto the towers and sat on walls.
The school, which was once used as a fort for the British, also had some cannons. Sadly, it had lots of graffiti on it, like people didn’t care about it.
A pricey haircut, a cheap market
Following La Martiniere came the thing I had been dreading: a haircut.
We went to an expensive barber shop called Habibs. What waste of money! It cost 20 times what Dadaji (my grandpa) pays for his monthly haircuts.
Once the barber started, my dad left the room and I couldn’t tell the barber to stop or what to do because he spoke Hindi and I don’t.
I ended up with hair not even half as long as before. It looks horrible! My social life is ruined.
After the haircut we went out for lunch at Aryan’s, a fast food place. I ordered pizza and so did my brothers, but it had spicy tomato sauce. The French fries had spices on them, too. I picked the cheese off the pizza and managed to choke down the French fries with the aid of a lot of soda.
One of the last places we went to that day was the Aminabad Market.
I can’t imagine a cheaper or more crowded place anywhere in the world. People were practically shoulder to shoulder and there were tons of beggars. I must’ve given away 50 rupees to them.
Vendors were selling everything – from clothes to candy – for next to nothing, including a pair of leather gloves for 75 rupees (less than $2).
At the end of the day, we visited two tombs of an old leader of Lucknow: Nawab Asaf Ud-Daula and his wife. Each vine-covered tomb looked like a small version of the Taj Mahal.
A small, brown monkey sat on the wall surrounding the temple area. My two little brothers were thrilled by it, since there aren’t any monkeys running free in Connecticut.
We had some excitement at my grandparents’ house that night. In the middle of dinner, my great aunt shouted down from upstairs and she and my grandparents kept shouting back at each other. Then my dad joined in.
I thought there might be a robber from the looks on my grandparents’ faces, but I soon found out that it was a snake on the roof, not a burglar. That didn’t make me feel a whole lot better because in India most of the snakes are either poisonous or constrictors.
My cousin Robin came bounding down the back stairs and through the side door with a stick to try to kill it.
Here’s how the snake was disposed of as far as I know: first Robin tried to hit it with the stick, but it broke. Then my dad tried with a cricket bat, but that broke, too.
Finally my great uncle lit a stick with a match and poured kerosene on the snake. It was sizzled.
Superstition demanded that they burn it completely, put it in two bags and throw it far away from the house. We were worried about more snakes, but none came.
Kite games and an Indian “E.T.”
The next day we stayed home and flew a kite on the roof.
In India, you have to watch your kite a lot because you never know when someone else’s kite could come along and cut your string.
The first 30 feet of string on some Indian kites is made of ground glass. It’s razor sharp for cutting other kite string in a sort of game that Indian kite flyers play against each other. When my brothers were flying the kite, they didn’t want to play. Luckily, there were no other kites out that day, so the sky was all ours. A couple of birds flew through our airspace, but they didn’t bug our kite.
The night after kite flying, we watched an Indian version of “E.T.”
I couldn’t understand the words because it was in Hindi, but I followed the plot, which was a lot different from Steven Spielberg’s. There were also a lot of songs in it and a lot of product endorsements, including one for Coca Cola. My dad says the main things you need to become an Indian actor are the ability to dance and to lip sync.
Next stop: the Taj Mahal.
The train to Agra
When you hear the words “Taj Mahal,” you imagine great beauty, but don’t realize the effort you have to put in to get there.
A cab took my family to the Lucknow train station for our trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The train station, which is a great work of architecture on the outside, is pretty sick on the inside.
We arrived shortly before our late-night train so we could fall right back to sleep for the overnight ride.
When I had to use the toilet in the station, I didn’t go all the way into the bathroom because it was so revolting. If I had actually entered, I would have had urine dripping on my head. It was everywhere in the scum-covered bathroom except where it was supposed to go – into a drain along the wall.
Once on the train, we made our beds, which were folded out from the ceiling and the seats. After drawing a bit on the top bunk, I crashed. When we all woke up a few hours from Agra, everyone had to go to the bathroom. The bathroom on the train was not as disgusting as the one in the station.
At the beginning of the trip it was fine, even if it was just a small hole in the floor of the train. But by the end of our journey, it smelled awful. I almost puked. I ran back to our compartment as soon as I could.
Rickshaws, autos and cabs, oh my!
When we got to the Agra train station at 5 a.m., many people tried to get us to take their cabs. My dad finally found a guy with good rates who would drive us to our hotel.
Our hotel was called Clarks Shiraz and was the first five-star hotel in Agra. It was pretty fancy, even though our room was kind of small. We ate breakfast at the hotel and then, since we didn’t want to pay a cab again, walked to the Taj Mahal.
On our way, people in cars and rickshaws tried to get us to hire them to take us to the Taj Mahal, but we wanted to walk.
In India, there are many ways of getting around.
Rickshaws are like large tricycles with two wheels in the back that support a small carriage to sit in while the driver pedals up front. Auto rickshaws, or just autos, are like tiny four-seater cars that have three wheels like a rickshaw. Drivers of both these vehicles, horse carriages and cabs bugged us about using them.
My mom didn’t want a rickshaw because she doesn’t like how hard the drivers have to work. We couldn’t all fit in one, anyway. My mom also doesn’t like the horse carriages, because they are pulled by a single, tiny horse.
So we walked.
When we walked through the gates of the road that led to the Taj Mahal, vendors pounced on us, trying to sell their little trinkets. They shoved stupid pens and little cheap plastic Taj Mahal snow globes into our faces.
Self-styled “tour guides” wanted to show us around and photographers with big bulky cameras wanted lots of money to snap our picture. Food sellers also tried to get us to buy drinks, peanuts and other snacks.
The one that bugged me the most was a boy, a little older than me, who was selling pens. He had a burned face and I think his lip was missing. He used that as a sort of weapon by shoving his face into our faces and telling us to buy his pens. He followed us almost all the way to the ticket booth.
We had planned to pretend that three of us were Indians so we could get in cheap, but we didn’t have to because it turned out that my brothers and I could enter for free. We descended through the gates of the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal
I can barely describe the Taj Mahal with words.
The incredible majesty of the Taj Mahal, though, wasn’t as amazing as the feeling I got when I saw it.
It’s like, “Geez! I’m standing in front of the Taj Mahal!!!” I felt like leaping for joy.
A reflecting pool led from the entrance gates to the actual building. When we got close to the building, we had to take our shoes off or put covers on them to go inside. I went in my socks so I could slide on the marble.
Inside and out, the Taj Mahal was dazzling white. I can’t imagine how bright it was when it was finished in 1648.
Except for some ugly wooden barricades to keep tourists away from certain areas, it’s made entirely of stone. White marble makes up the bulk of it, but all the other colors on the lower part of the exterior and on the inside of the building are different gems.
These gems – carved centuries ago – had to be just the right shape, and the workers had to create perfectly-sized holes in the marble to fit them into. All of the outlines of the gemstone shapes and the Persian script that framed the entrances were a solid piece of a black gem. I couldn’t imagine having to carve out a pure gem outline and make it fit perfectly, but they did it.
Besides the marble brought from Persia, or Iran, 16 other stones were carried from across Asia and Europe for use in the Taj Mahal. They included turquoise, tiger’s eye and a bright blue stone called lapis lazuli. All this carving took 20,000 artisans and laborers 17 years, from 1631 to 1648, to complete.
I thought the Taj Mahal was a palace, but it turned out it’s a building with the tomb of Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife in it.
Her name was Arjumand Banu Begum, commonly known as Mumtaz Mahal, or Taz Mahal for short. But back then j and z were often mixed up so it was called the Taj Mahal. Now Shah Jahan’s tomb is there, too.
After the Taj Mahal, we went to the Taj Restaurant, which was a great place because, much to our relief, nothing was too spicy for us.
After lunch our family had a big dispute about what transportation to take next. My mom and I wanted to take an auto, my dad wanted to take a rickshaw and my brothers wanted to take a horse carriage.
Eventually we ended up taking something completely different – a cart pulled by a camel. This was a new thing. We thought the camel would be slow, but it was almost as fast as the horses.
Guess who was following us on his bike as we bumped along behind our trotting camel? The boy who sold pens. When my dad finally gave him 10 rupees for a pen, he raced ahead of us to the next group of people. We soon found out that the pen had no ink in it.
The Red Fort
We road the camel cart to our next destination, Red Fort.
Locally known as the Red Fort, Agra Fort was once used for battle and for the king’s palace.
A huge place, the Red Fort has many rooms and passageways, and monkeys perched on the walls all over the place. We had to stay away from them, though, because if we got too close, they’d might bite.
The most interesting thing about the Red Fort was the way they heated and cooled it. There were pipes inside the stone walls that had water in them and there were also pools of water below the tiled floors. The water was pumped throughout the fort but no one knows how they heated and cooled the water. It might remain a mystery for a long time because no one knows how to figure out the answer without breaking up some of the fort.
A king’s big digs
Then next day, we got a cab and headed for Akbar’s summer palace. He was the third Mughal king of India. The size of a small town, this place was enormous – probably as big as five football fields – not including the ruins.
King Akbar had a pretty sweet crib. Decorative pools and amazing, complicated structures filled the palace. There was one place where four very narrow bridges led to a platform suspended above a large pool.
Some of the things didn’t even make sense to build. We saw a two-story structure with lots of pillars that had very low ceilings, like it was made just for kids.
Following Akbar’s summer palace, we went next door to the Bulund Darwaza gate, which held a mosque and two tombs. We didn’t really get to see the front of the gate because the minute we stepped outside of the enclosed “plaza,” we saw hundreds of hornets, bees and wasps everywhere so we scurried back in.
We did go in the tomb of the Suffi Saint. Legend says that Akbar prayed to him and asked him to let his favorite queen (he had a lot of queens) have a child. After a few months, she did. They say if you ask for something you really want and you tie a thread on the Saint’s tomb, it will come true. They also say that when it does come true, you must untie it or have someone you know untie it.
We thought there would be thread there, but there wasn’t, so we didn’t get to ask for anything. If there had been thread there, I’d have wished for my hair to grow back.
After lunch, which included pistachio ice cream with the best chocolate sauce I’ve ever had, we set off for Sikandra, a monument to Akbar that includes his tomb.
Sikandra is 123 acres of land, 100 of which is a garden and grounds where animals roam. The remaining land is taken up by an elevated stone walkway with a big, five-story building in the center.
In the middle of the building is Akbar’s burial chamber. The room enclosing the chamber had high ceilings, which supported echoes of sounds as soft as a whisper.
Outside were many archways with dome ceilings. A guide told us about a cool way to communicate with each other using these domes.
It works like this: one person stands with his face pressed into the corner of an open room. The other person stands facing a diagonal corner. Somehow the sound – even a whisper – travels up the wall, across the dome ceiling and to the other person’s ear.
Also, if you stand on the center tile in one of these domed rooms and slap your hands together, it’s transformed into a booming thunder clap.
Parakeets and monkeyshines
But even these cool activities could not top all the animals we saw. Green and blue parakeets darted in and out of the large cracks in the building.
Peacocks and peahens strutted around the grounds with the elegant racing deer, each with two long spiral horns.
Aggressive red-faced monkeys like the ones at the Red Fort lined the stone walkways, but there were other monkeys – gray, white and black langurs – that are a lot tamer, though we did see one try to steal a man’s camera.
My little brother fed one langur and we watched another one, a showoff, in a game of Follow the Leader.
Leading a bunch of monkey babies, it walked along a wall and jumped up and ricocheted off a lamppost. The best part was when a boy rolled his ball to one of the baby langurs and then they all started to play with it, jumping around, fighting for it and tossing it to each other. But then a man took it away from them and they all huddled with their moms.
Back in Lucknow
We were so tired after our Agra trip we slept the whole next day. My dad’s cousins, whom I’d met the last time I was in India, came over in the evening. They looked so different from the last time that I saw them. They didn’t stay very long, but we had a special meal that night with cheese.
I loaded up on kulchas, which are potato or cheese filled pooris, which is puffed up fried dough.
For dessert, we had my great aunt’s homemade date sugar kheer, which is like rice pudding except it doesn’t taste a thing like rice and is a lot sweeter.
The next day there was a special shopping event in Lucknow featuring goods from Kashmir, so we took an auto down to Hazratganj, which is Lucknow’s main downtown, to check it out. We spent a lot of time just looking around and we didn’t really buy much.
There were many hand-painted wooden crafts, boxes, ornaments, statues, bells and even crayon sharpeners. There were also many leather and snakeskin products such as belts, purses, gloves, wallets, jackets, pants and all clothes imaginable. We bought some colorfully detailed, hand-painted Kashmir ornaments for our Christmas tree. They were really cheap.
Besides the fancy, expensive stuff, there were also stands that didn’t have anything to do with Kashmir. They sold cheap little plastic toys, candy and lots of trinkets that had to do with the Taj Mahal.
The maze of Bara Imambara
The next morning we headed off to Bara Imambara, a Muslim holy place. I was there when I was six, but couldn’t remember it because I was scared and closed my eyes for most of the time.
It’s a big, tall building with a lot of holes, tunnels and stairs. I’m not kidding about the holes – if it wasn’t for our guide, we could’ve died. If you don’t edge along the side of a wall carefully in Bara Imambara, you could fall through a small opening and tumble far down onto the stone floor.
After our guide led us around and showed us that anything you say can be heard because the walls are hollow, he told us to see if we could get out by ourselves and try to make the right choices. Since none of us could, he led us out.
Looking for British bullets
In Lucknow, we also went to the Residency which was built by Indians but taken over by the British. In India’s battle for independence in 1857, many British soldiers died there. This place was a prime fighting site, so there were a lot of bullet and cannon holes in parts of the remaining walls. We looked for bullets but didn’t find any the whole time we were there. They were probably raided a long time ago by kids like us.
Since it was so rundown, there were many places that we could climb on, hide in and jump into. I leaped into a deep hole and found that I couldn’t get out, so I slid through a hole without thinking and fell maybe seven feet further down into another enclosed place, but luckily there was a safe way out of that place.
A bad day for goats
The next day was a Muslim holiday called Bakrid, which to me basically means ‘goat killing day.’
Our neighbors in Lucknow were celebrating it and we could hear the cries of the goat as it bled to death. Yuck! What I don’t understand is, how it’s a sacrifice if you’re the one that eats the goat after you kill it. Shouldn’t God get it?
Anyway, we were invited to our neighbor’s house for Bakrid. My mom doesn’t eat goat, so they made fish and even eggs for her. I thought I was going to have a hard time because I didn’t think the kids spoke English.
But it turned out their 10-year-old daughter spoke very good English … too good. She sounded like a professor when she spoke to me in English, but when she spoke to her parents in Hindi, she sounded like a kid. Foreign language teachers in India must be from England.
I ended up playing chess with an older boy whose English wasn’t very good. He said it was his favorite game, but he had trouble remembering which way the pieces were supposed to move. On top of that, I killed his queen in five moves.
Our neighbors actually ate before we arrived, which I found weird, but I guess that’s good because the table was tiny. There was goat curry, which I ate a lot of, goat kabob which was deadly spicy, fish curry and fried fish which were stuffed with bones, boiled eggs for my picky brothers and lots of different types of bread.
For dessert, there was a small cake they bought at a store called Pat-a-Cake. It was awful! They might as well have given us gravel mixed with water and topped with shaving cream and slices of sponge. (Note to self: do not eat American-originated food in India. The pizza’s too spicy, the milk’s too creamy and the cake tastes horrible.)
I didn’t want to be impolite, so I ate one slice as quickly as possible to get it over with. But then they thought I liked it so much that they asked if I wanted more. I said I’d take a sliver, but they gave me half a piece – oh, puke!
Later that night when we went back to my grandparents’ house, I found out the boy that I played chess with was actually our neighbors’ servant. His English was poor because he didn’t go to school.
When I went to get some chicken with my dadaji the next day, I noticed a goat wearing the same headdress and fancy collar as the goats that were supposed to be sacrificed wore. I wondered why, because Bakrid was over.
The goat strutted in front of a dog as if to say, “Ha! I escaped the sacrifice! I knocked over the table and ran like crazy! Go me!”
Dispatch from Delhi
We took a large cab to the Lucknow Airport and said goodbye to my grandparents there before catching a flight on a small, stuffy plane to New Delhi.
Our first stop after our hotel was Qut’b Minar, a giant tower with intricate designs carved into it, built by one of the kings who ruled India about 1,000 years ago. Though there are many other ruins built by other kings, none I saw was higher than three stories. This tower was about 50 stories tall and about 15 feet in diameter.
Along with the ruins there were also follies, which are fake ruins built by British rulers in the 1800s just to show them off. You can tell them apart from real ruins because most of the stones just so happened to break off in a way that they formed steps.
That night we got lucky, because the hotel was celebrating Lohri, the traditional Indian festival celebrating the full moon and the beginning of spring.
A huge bonfire blazed right in the middle of about 200 tables set up in the hotel yard. The fire billowed smoke and ashes over people stupid enough to sit in front of it.
We sampled a lot of the foods and drinks the hotel had set out, including peanuts with different spices on them. Kids played on a big inflatable slide and an airplane ride.
In front of all the tables, men with machine guns danced to songs sung by a guy wearing fancy robes.
The next day we went to one of the oldest, biggest markets in New Dehli. The coolest thing about it was that it was at least 12 feet underground.
Damp and filled with incense fumes that burned the eyes, the market had shops selling everything from clothes to video games to antiques.
Shopkeepers harassed us to buy their products. If we even just glanced at vendors, they pounced, speaking fast in Hindi about why we needed whatever they were selling.
But the low prices for the things we wanted made up for all that. I saw a bronze statue for 140 rupees and – something I loved – video games for 400 rupees or less.
I noticed that people in New Delhi generally didn’t cross the streets. Instead, they went down some steps, and walked under the streets, like a subway for walkers. We went across underground only once, but my brothers were thrilled.
Whether we were above or below ground, we were clearly tourists and people continued to harass us to buy things. The bombarded us most with little portable chess sets made of corkboard that probably wouldn’t last more than a couple days.
A climbing paradise
We took a break from city life and went to Jantar Mantar, a very strange park in Delhi. There were curved stone structures that towered over our heads with hundreds of steps leading to the tops of them. It was the perfect place for climbing around and goofing off!
I climbed on everything – something that looked like half a baseball with steps crisscrossing all over it, three super tall towers, and two coliseum-like structures. It’s almost indescribable.
I found out later that the structures in the park were actually a giant deluxe calendar.
They were built to tell time and the phases of the moon, among other things.
Time to say goodbye
As I got on the plane for home the next day, I was filled with emotion. I wanted to stay in India and continue being crazy on the roof and waking up to a beautiful sunny morning every day, and, of course, being with all my relatives. But I was missing my puppy, my friends, hot showers and my bed.
There are just so many things Connecticut has that India doesn’t. Then again, India has so many things that Connecticut doesn’t.
I decided that I wouldn’t enjoy India as much if I actually lived there.
It felt like going back home was probably the right choice, yet as I stepped out of the airport into the freezing New England air, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where are all the cows?”
Wesley Saxena is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
Note: Connecticut-based Tattoo writer Wesley Saxena wrote most of this piece via early morning emails from his grandparents’ house in Lucknow, India.
It was tought for him to get online.
“Sometimes, the internet is available for about a half hour in the middle of the afternoon, but mostly not until late at night or early, early morning. Plus, there’s no high-speed cable access, and you’re charged for every minute you spend online. In fact, there’s barely any internet at all,” he wrote.
And even if the internet is available, sometimes electricity isn’t.
“Power outages are common, and many days during daylight hours, there’s no electricity at all. The power comes on when it gets dark early in the evening, but often goes out again about 8:30 p.m., when families are in the middle of eating dinner,” Saxena reported.
Usually, though, “whenever it’s dark, the power is on,” he said.
So he rose early and wrote emails that were sometimes sent at 4:30 a.m.
Here’s what the page looked like in print: