If I were to write, in detail, about all of my days and my experiences every day, I would probably finish my moleskine this month. My relationship continues to be pretty schizophrenic. A good example of this was the other day when I went into the city to meet up with my co-volunteers, Wendy and Betsy to see Akshardham. Akshardham… well, is modern India’s attempt at an Angkor Temple. Complete with the intent of turning it into a major tourist attraction. They have a Pirates of Caribbean style cruise that tells you that Indians invented everything and a Vegas style magic fountain / light show at night. Considering it opened only six years ago, it does not have the same gut punch that most of the older temples around India have, though the detail (particularly inside), is stunning. I’d be curious to see it in about fifty years, as it only took about five years to build and I’m generally skeptical of modern Indian building standards.
Anyway, I was on my way into the city, with a detour planned to go to my fifth post office in order to mail some letters1. On the metro, I was in this hazy love mood. Love for this country, love for all the ridiculous things that I encounter in an average day, love for how nothing’s simple and how I just have to let things go in order to survive. Love for how little planning I’m doing here, love for its people. Hazy happy love mood. I’m reading a memoir right now of a journalist who was a South Asian foreign correspondent and fell in love with Pakistan and Afghanistan where she just kept on coming back and coming back until it was like an addiction. I found myself wondering if that’s what India would be like for me (considering I’m already day dreaming about my next two trips here, one for trekking in East India and the other for some time in Mysore doing yoga… though buying a rickshaw, installing a bad ass stereo system, and driving around India with Nathalie is also appealing). If learning Hindi would be because of a passion and not because it makes sense for my career.
So I left the metro with these thoughts and I navigated Connaught Place with the walk of someone who knows exactly where she is going even though I only vaguely knew where the post office was. I found the post office, went in and handed the envelopes to a man who spoke not a word of English. He didn’t give me stamps. Instead, I watched, fascinated, as he ripped off the stamps himself. They then disappeared into this mouth and reemerged so dripping in spittle that I wondered if the ink of my letters would smear.2 He put on way more stamps than 12 rupees worth and I asked him why. At this point, some of the people I’ve sent letters to at the 12 rupees rate have gotten their letters, so I know that it works. That the additional 30 rupees worth of stamps he smeared on each letter was unnecessary. Another post office employee directed me to a woman who allegedly spoke English. She didn’t. Like so many “English” speakers I’ve met here, she had memorized a few phrases relevant to her position, could probably identify objects and such, but thinking or carrying a conversation in English was beyond her skills. There wasn’t much I could do, as my spit-smeared letters were already in a bin somewhere, so I paid and left to recover with a cappuccino at Cafe Coffee Day (of which there are half a dozen at Connaught Place – it’s a vaguely Starbucks like entity but the only way I can get a decent cappuccino is if I ask for it with extra foam). My love-haze hadn’t diminished, not really. All this is part of it. Which doesn’t make it any less frustrating to not have a consistent answer on how much it costs for me to mail a damn letter. But it’s like a love for a particularly frustrating family member who makes no damn sense 60% of the time, but you still enjoy their company and you’ve mostly adjusted to navigating whatever bizarre things they send your way.
Speaking of family members.
Wendy and I had lunch with Rahul and Darshna (sp?), a young married couple (my age) who both work in the IT field and have a baby girl that was born this past November. The two of them used to live on the second floor of our apartment building, but they moved the other week and invited us over for lunch before Wendy leaves (which she does really early Wednesday morning). The lunch was absolutely lovely and it’s nice to have people my age (they’re both twenty four) to chat with, even if we’re in different places in our lives and have different viewpoints. They are both very passionate about their guru, Saint Rampal Ji, who is spearheading a new religious movement foretold by Nostradamus (or so I’m told) that believes that there is no separate religion, that they are all one (the distinction from the Bahá’í Faith apparently exists, though was unclear to me). Saint Rampal Ji cured Rahul’s father of his paralysis and continues to show his presence in their day to day lives. There has even been instances of his presence appearing in their computers, through symbolic images being frozen just so.
At the end of the very pleasant lunch, Rahul adopted me as his sister – he’s an only child, and I get the feeling sometimes that he’s a bit lonely, despite the small family he has going of his own. So I might have acquired a[nother]… passionately religious member of my family. At least I have been groomed to deal with dinner time conversations.
Continuing the theme of my last forty eight hours (no, really. This has barely covered the past two days, I’ve left a lot of crazy stuff out. Like petite bright-pink kamez wearing Wendy beating up a drunk Indian teenager who almost hit me on his motorbike.3), after that lunch I went to the internet cafe to attempt to write this entry.
The cafe was closed in the Indian way (as in, arbitrarily, with no rhyme, reason, or sign) and so I walked the five minutes back to my house and walked right through part of a wedding celebration. I chatted a bit with a Punjab band, who all wore bright orange turbans and carried bag pipes (complete with a red tartan). There was a group of Hijra dancing, one of whom was very insistant that I take her picture. Like every Indian whose picture I have taken, she leaned over my shoulder to peer into my cell phone screen to see how the photo came out. Her breasts, when they brushed against my arm, felt as if they would put Madonna to shame.
I was very quickly pulled into Kamlesh’s4 family’s house. She served me chai and said (in Hindi) that I shouldn’t take pictures of hijra, that they didn’t like it. She relaxed a bit when I explained in half Hindi-half English that she had posed for me. She pointed out that hijra were not women, they were men dressed as women. Then there was something else she was trying to say, in English, but she was having a hard time saying it. It came out as they were “rude,” but I feel like I missed a huge cultural interpretation of hijra because of the language barrier, though the fact that she “rescued” me from them seems to speak volumes.
Tomorrow evening I leave for Dharamsala with Nathalie on a public interstate bus. There is no return date or plan other than “eventually” and “under two weeks.” I plan on doing yoga, taking philosophy courses taught by Tibetan monks, learn how to cook Tibetan Momos, and maybe go on a hike. Also, there is a chance that we might get to see the Dalai Lama give a public speech, as we are in town for his “annual political statement on the commemoration of the 52nd Anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day.” (link)
Really though, this is India. I try not to make too detailed plans here, because this country is a black hole of planning and time and the effort that goes into planning is largely wasted.
So, we’ll see.
(P.S. New page on the frequently mentioned people!)
1 The first post office tried to sell me 12 rupees worth of stamps for no less than 21 rupees. The second one overcharged me as well – the math worked out in their favor, but I used them anyway. They said it was 12 rupees to send a postcard or letter to the US. The third one said it was 15 rupees to send a postcard or letter to the US. The fourth one said it was 30 rupees to send a letter. Then there was this post office. Those of you who receive postcards or letters from me should feel the love oozing on every stamp. Especially the stamps from this last batch, but they got bonus love from the postman and I can claim no responsibility for that.
2 Sorry, Candace.
3 I’m fine.
4 Kamlesh is the landlady that I’ve mentioned before. She grew up in this neighborhood and her family’s house is right around the corner from where I live (the wedding was between the two houses). You can see her in the far left of the picture of the hijra, she’s standing in the door frame with one hand on her hip.