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Pt 2: Hello, Madame President

Most of this blog will aim to be my reflections rather than FOMO-inducing travel stories and photos. This post will be an exception.

While we were waiting in Bangkok, our friend Rob sent us a string of messages from Amritsar that amounted to "We met the best host ever on the plane who is taking us VIP to all the best things to see in Amrtisar and has invited us to his family's University/hotel/home/candy shop in the next town over." While disappointed that we had missed day 1, there was lots of potential for the next couple days. A driver was waiting to take us to Jalandhar on Monday morning to get started.

The first hint of how we’d be rolling around came as we pulled into Lovely Professional University. You know how ski patrol wave at you to slow down on main runs at busy times? That’s how our driver treated the security guard waving him to stop at the gate to the admin building. Our new host (and bff) Pratham welcomed us and ushered us into what felt like a cross between the control room in Star Trek and a Miami hotel suite. It turned out to be the office of the Chancellor, aka his father. We sat down on the couches, chatted as the first commencement ceremony wrapped up, and tried to act comfortable as people in suits brought us coffee and tea.

Why act comfortable? I’m normally very at home in flip flops and t-shirts. But beach attire quickly goes from appropriate to awkward to downright silly when you’re sitting in a formal office and a commencement procession walks in and you get introduced to the honored guest: the President of Mauritius. (photo proof coming soon)

After brief introductions, the returning party took seats at the other bank of couches in the office. And then Pratham beckoned us to pull up chairs and join. So we did. And for a good 20-30 minutes our group chatted with the President about her unexpected rise in politics, her background in business, the African Union, her policies and initiatives, her ties to India and LPU, and I’m sure plenty of other things I missed as I marveled at the absurdity of what was happening.

We wrapped up the conversation without embarrassing ourselves too badly (except for the initial impression, obviously) and adjourned to a tour of campus (plenty of thoughts on that coming soon), a many-course lunch, and more coffee and tea. Then it was time for the afternoon commencement ceremony.

Earlier in the day I had assumed we’d sit in the back and observe from a distance. By now, I knew better.

Still in casual gear, we followed Pratham’s lead and walked with the marching band into the auditorium, apparently part of the procession. Then he beckoned us into a couple of large leather couches in the front row. Alright, time to feel even more out of place than when meeting the president. After the speeches - 3 of which referenced the ‘visitors from the US/Harvard’ - it was time to move onto an even sweeter part of the day.

We got back to the Chancellor’s office and the procession congregated again, and we briefly milled and drank tea before Pratham ushered us back out to cars in a bit of a hurry. “We want to be part of the motorcade to avoid traffic!” That would be the presidential motorcade, which was taking us to his family’s emblematic sweets factory, Lovely Sweets. After the easiest in-India drive we’d ever seen, and working our way through the crowd outside waiting for the shop to reopen, we entered a 5-story Indian sweets emporium. Of course we made no real decisions - Pratham took us from counter to counter and ordered samples of his favorite candies - nuts and fruits and chocolates and yogurts and pastries and so many combos I can’t really remember - working our way up floor by floor. At one point, so beyond stuffed from 3 courses of lunch and ~10 courses of dessert already, his uncle came to say hi and that Pratham didn’t know what was best and that we should start the tour over with him. Torn between our stomachs and politeness, we exchanged panicked looks until Pratham saved us.

The top floor of the factory is a display of the box sets that Lovely Sweets creates for wedding invitations, of which even the most modest are impressive when you realize they are sent to every guest. I believe it was around here we started discussing what to bring Kunal for his wedding as a gift from our group, and in addition to a sweets box Pratham excitedly suggested “You should do a Bollywood dance!” Apparently, this was tradition and everyone loved folks who did a prepared dance at the wedding, showing respect and helping start the party. Not that any of us had any Bollywood experience, or general dance skill, or time to learn with the wedding 24 hours away.

As soon as we were back at LPU, Pratham arranged for one of the university dance teachers to choreograph a popular song for us. 3 hours of practice, a lot of patience and MANY simplifications from our teacher, stifled laughs from Pratham and his mother, and we kind of had it a little bit down. We could, with a bit more practice and a few drinks, try it at the wedding tomorrow.

Pratham had other ideas (we secretly think it was his self-reward for the insane hospitality he’d been showing us): there was a “One-World Festival” as part of the commencement ceremony, with thousands of students visiting, a few ambassadors to India in the front row, and celebrations of various cultures with dance and other performances. Nobody had done the USA yet. We should do our dance for the whole school, Pratham suggested. I don’t think any of us loved this idea, but at this point Pratham’s word was law, so after the LPU MC pumped us up to the crowd (“this has never been done before, we’re making history here!”) here’s the embarrassing result:

Sadly, at this point it was time to say goodbye to LPU and our hosts, head back to Amritsar for the night, and catch our flight to the wedding (and our real performance) the next day.

#India #stories