Glad to be back in the USA following two weeks in India. I have always had so many Indo-American constituents, I wanted to see the country for myself, not to mention the Taj Mahal. I had to see that phenomenal building to see if it really lived up to all of its pictures.

But, after all is said and done, there is nothing like America.

In answer to a question that someone asked me, yes, there are people buried in the Taj Mahal. We always see the photos from the outside, which is magnificent enough in itself. But, inside are two crypts, one for the ruler at the time, Shah Jehan, and one for his wife, Mumtaz, for whom he built this grand memorial. Although the crypts are above ground and visible, the remains are below ground with the graves no longer open to public viewing.

One could imagine that this might be quite the romantic setting at moonlight. During the day, however, one can notice the algae-ridden reflecting pools (people were leaving messages within the algae, kind of like the messages one seeks rubbed into the backs of dirty trucks like “clean me” and such).

There is also a canal nearby, which I heard had been perfumed when President Clinton visited. We were not granted the perfume. Suffice to say, there was reason for the perfume. Well, so much for romantic settings.

I went sari shopping, though finally came to my senses and did not buy. Although the fabrics are beautiful (also available on Devon Avenue in Chicago, by the way), my Slavic body was never made to carry off the beauties of a sari. Just the thought that I would be experiencing drafts in my mid section were enough to stop me from buying.

And then, there was the time I did wear one in an Indo-American independence day parade down Michigan Avenue, and discovered that the non-secured skirt will unravel if stepped on. I decided, then and there, that I would always think twice before trying the sari gig again.

In fact, if anything, I will opt for the southern Indian/Madras-inspired tunic and pants, often referred to by Westerners as “pajamas.” I must admit, they can correct many bodily sins and are most comfortable.

Anticipating yet more foot surgery to correct other surgeries in the past, I could not help but notice the gals wearing flipflops of every kind. And, as a result, most had beautiful feet, many of which have probably never known the crazy, pointed high heels of the West which cause such female misery.

I was a part of a trade mission coming out of the Village of Bolingbrook. One of our mission’s number was kind enough to give me a copy of the local newspaper’s classified section. There were eight solid pages in a section devoted completely to “matrimonials.” Half was dedicated to “Grooms wanted for” and half to “Brides wanted for.”

In India, parentally arranged marriages are still pretty customary, though folks I spoke with said that more and more men and women were opting for their own choices in spouses. Interestingly enough, castes and education were highly touted in brides and grooms being sought, not to mention a whole bunch of classified ads seeking teachers of all levels. Education is highly valued in India. One way or another, I said I would take a pass and continue to watch the matrimonial world turn for others.

I think that, sometimes, we get our views of India from watching “Masterpiece Theater.” Yes, India was the “Jewel in the Crown” for the Brits, when it was part of the British Empire. But, India is something unto itself and lives up to its description of being a country of contradictions.

There are high rises, international companies, manufacturing going on at breakneck speed there. We saw a call center which now handles calls for a U.S. company, so when you hear from Jennifer or Sean, the chances are that they are not down the street or in America at all, but probably in Mumbai (Bombay).

While viewing a $2 million condo in a condominium high rise being built, one could see acres of such squalor and poverty that it made any level of poverty viewed in Illinois as second rate, to say the least. Acres upon acres were in or near major cities of shacks, leantos, tents or no covering at all.

There are often no sanitation facilities, electricity, running water, etc. I did not see a canal, rivulet or stream which was not garbage-clogged and fetid. Yet, they were being used for sewage, drinking water, bathing and washing.

Many of the squalid areas are being cleared for development, but I was never sure just who would be living in these new developments or where the poor would ultimately land. It was told us that in Mumbai, of some 12 million people, half lived in poverty.

Yet, one would have never guessed such by visiting a huge shopping mall in the gunsights of Wal-Mart, Michigan Avenue-like stores, top quality hotels an such traffic jams as to make ours look like speeding. Horns in traffic never stop, and it all blends into one, continuous din. But then, we don’t have horse, donkey and ox carts on our expressways, not to mention the armies of three-wheeled vehicles-mini-cabs which belch and sputter as they go along.

If I had my druthers and if it could be achieved, I would love all people to travel far and wide. I would encourage our politicians and government officials to travel, for sure, because one needs to see what is going on in the world over and above when what we see on the small screens of CNN and Fox and in our cropped, newspaper photos.

It is always an eye opener and, for me, always a confirmation that I thank my Czechoslovak forebears for having the gumption to immigrate to America.

After all is said and done, there is no place like home.