. . . in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces all day through. You know the song. It was written in 1938 by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, and it was recorded by just about everybody – Billie Holliday, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, even as recently as 2020 by Norah Jones. It became wildly popular during World War II when it so perfectly captured the inner longings of those separated from ones they loved.
When the pandemic began . . . I was in India. Jaipur, India, to be precise, in the state of Rajasthan. It was my second time in India. On both trips, I had taken students for study abroad. We had ridden on rickshaws through Old Delhi, visited the place where Gandhi was assassinated, walked in and around the magnificent Taj Mahal, . . . but the part of India that reached into my heart was Jaipur.
If you’ve ever watched the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, first and second, then you’ve seen Jaipur. Most of the filming for those movies was done there.
When I think of Jaipur, yes, I think of the bazaar and the Hawa Mahal or Wind Palace and the Amber Fort, those places that tourists tend to go. But those things only come to mind. The parts of Jaipur that live in my heart are the drums of Rajasthani music, the ever-present incense, the mounds of marigolds at the flower market, the cold soft marble of the floor in my room at Ikaki Niwas, the smells of the dal and chapattis and samosas coming from the kitchen, that spring night when my friends and I ate outdoors under the stars just 24 hours past the full moon of Holi.
And, of course, the people — both the ones I know and have grown to love, and the countless, nameless ones in the shops and on the street and driving tuk-tuks and pedaling rickshaws and selling mutton tikka on the sidewalk and waiting for the curtain to be pulled away and the god to be revealed at the temple, and putting sandalwood paste on my forehead in welcome, and bowing slightly with the prayer hands of a thousand Namastes.
That is the Jaipur that this heart of mine embraces.
And just last night, without warning, for no reason, I was there. I mean, I was in my house in the United States, but for a split second, I was distinctly and absolutely in Jaipur. It stays with me still. I could close my eyes right now and feel the marble and smell the incense and hear the drums.
The English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, wrote about this phenomenon in several of his poems – the power of memory, the realness of memory, the way a reminiscence can hide in our spirit until it is called upon, either by our conscious mind or something that lives buried underneath it, and then it’s there. Because once the experience has been ours, it is always ours.
Wordsworth wrote a poem called “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” but it’s also known as “Daffodils.” The first three stanzas describe a field filled with thousands of daffodils by a lake. The last eight lines of the poem summarize the poet’s gratitude for this encounter. They go like this:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
I hope to return to Jaipur one day. To walk among the marigolds. To see my friends again. To bow in reverence at the temple. But until I do, Jaipur, I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.