Thursday, July 24, 2008

Great, Gleaming Buildings

Wednesday morning a Brit joins me at breakfast. “Just toast,” he tells Pachu as he sits down at the dining room table.

“They’ll serve you mangos here,” I tell him. It’s rare that there’s someone at breakfast to whom I can talk, so I figure I’ll take advantage. My other breakfast companions so far are Asian and can only say, “Hello.”

“What?” the Brit asks me. Come on. This guy has to understand me.

“They’ll serve you mangos. I thought you might like some fruit.” I tell him.

“Oh,” he says. “We have mango trees in our backyard, mangos in our fridge, mango jelly, mango cakes, all the mangos you could ever want, then more.”

I get the feeling this guy doesn’t live in the UK.

I ask where he’s from, and he tells me he’s lived in Goa for the last thirteen years. It’s a beautiful place. “You know it was a Portuguese colony until the 60s?” Before Goa, he lived in Delhi, and he tells me he’s surprised to see how Defence Colony has changed since he left. “They built these great, gleaming buildings here.” He’s talking about the three story apartments across the street with the dingy walls and dripping window air conditioning units. Great? Gleaming? I’ll have to take another look.

I see in the morning paper that the Prime Minister has survived the no confidence vote. Good news for Pearson’s history book! Good news for me because I get to meet him at the book launch party—I think. They’ve given me a formal invitation to the Macroeconomics book launch on Saturday, August 2nd. I haven’t received a formal invite to the history book launch, but I keep asking about it. Maybe soon I will be less subtle and just ask if I can go to the darn thing for sure, bad hair and all.

Sonu shows up late again at 9 a.m., but we arrive to work by 9:30 when I’m supposed to be there. I wonder if this is a fluke or if he’s figured out a route that saves us an entire half hour in the morning. This would be a happy development—especially for someone like me who is used to arriving at work five minutes after she’s left her front door.

At work, Shabnum gives me the preface of a book on finance to work on, and Srinivas asks if I have time to talk to the CEO about the Assessment and Information group where I work. Do I have time for the CEO? The question is perplexing. Isn’t that supposed to be the other way around? Certainly, I tell Srini. Good. We’ll talk at 3 p.m.

I work the morning away, then have lunch with Amar. Amar really does a good job of keeping up conversation at our lunches together. Today he asks me about gangster movies and whether I’ve seen the series Firefly. He can’t stand Bollywood movies, he confesses. All that singing. He shakes his head.

The meeting with Vivek, the CEO, goes well. I use the new employee orientation training I created to give him an introduction to the assessment group and what we do. Afterwards, he invites me to take a sneak peak at the new Pearson India website now in development. It looks stunningly like a Pearson Iowa website might look, with just a few more pictures of Indian people. Even though they’re Indian, the people in the pictures wear very westernized clothing. It doesn’t really reflect what I see on the streets or even in the office, but I haven’t been on a university campus yet, which is the market I’m working in. Maybe the look is more western in these institutions.

There’s a question of the slogans on the website. Vivek doesn’t really like them right now. I mention that I have a list of possibilities that we considered when putting together our website. They ask if I’ll share them. Sure.

After my meeting with Vivek, I meet with Anindita, who is a commissioning editor for the professional technology and trade book group. Commissioning editors find new projects, do the initial review and development of manuscripts, then put proposals in front of the board who decides whether a book gets made or not. Anindita is clearly excited by this work. She shows me a list of titles and ideas under consideration for next year. I notice that there are books about entrepreneurship and books about caste and ask if this isn’t somehow contradictory. There is such a sense in Delhi that there are big opportunities available to anyone who wants to take a shot. How does caste figure in to this phenomenon?

Anindita says caste is a curious thing. Its effects are regional. In the south where the general level of education and literacy is higher, caste is less of a factor in people’s lives. In cities, caste is less relevant and opportunities abound. It is in the rural north of the country where caste still has a choke hold on people’s lives, even though it was abandoned as a formal economic and social system years ago.

Apart from caste and entrepreneurship, the group Anindita works with has published books on everything from Indian fashion to low fat cooking (which is apparently a totally new concept here where most foods are prepared with generous helpings of oils).

To hear Anindita talk about the people she’s worked with is humbling: the finance minister, the Vice President. The group’s titles are high profile pieces of work that undergo media scrutiny. Editing in this group is different than working on textbooks, which I’m doing. Textbooks are created to match course syllabi, so the editors have a heavier hand in making sure that happens.

Sonu picks me up promptly at six. I notice he’s wearing a different shirt than he had on in the morning, and the cab smells like men’s cologne. I wonder a little what Sonu does during the day when he’s supposed to be sitting and waiting for me in case I need him—which is a boring job to say the least. Still, what if I’m stricken with a sudden deathly case of Delhi belly? And now he doesn’t have a working cell phone so I can’t call him if he’s not there.

We’ll just hope my belly holds out okay.

Today when I get home, Pachu wants to know if my Internet is still not working. “Yes,” I tell him. “It’s still not working.”



It all gets a little confusing, but I think I get the point across. He will send a man, he says. When will I be home? In just a little bit, I tell him as I head out the door to visit my dogs and share with them the last of the McVittie’s biscuits.

I’ve taken to calling them Baloo (bear) and Acha (good), mostly because these are some of the only Hindi words I’ve learned so far.

Today when Acha sees me, I think she wags her tail a little harder than before. I think she knows me a little. I know I shouldn’t get attached to these animals, or get them attached to me, but it might already be too late for that. I scratch her head and offer her a biscuit which she accepts politely, much like I took the biscuit from the watch vendor in Khan market even though I didn’t want it.

Baloo is lying under a car today and doesn’t want to come out, but there is another dog who is eager for both pets and biscuits, so I share with her as well. This dog decides she loves me and grows affectionate very quickly. She jumps up and gets my shirt dirty. I have to tell her to get down. This would be a bad habit for a stray dog in Delhi to develop: jumping up on people. It could get her in trouble. She lies down in the dirt and lets me scratch her belly until I decide it’s time to go home and leave my canine friends behind.

I don’t see anyone else giving these dogs attention, but I also don’t see any weird looks while I do it, so it mustn’t be that bad. And they seem tame. They seem used to human contact. I can’t be the first person to have approached them. They would have been terrified like the dog we saw at Humayun’s Tomb was. Or maybe it’s just these dogs nature to be okay with a random human coming over and scratching them on the head. Hard to say.

If I could, I’d take them to the guest house with me and give them baths and proper meals. If I could, I’d fly them back to the United States to live in my great, gleaming Coralville duplex. But I can’t. So I’ll slip them a biscuit here and there and spend a little time scratching their tummies and heads.

I know I shouldn’t. But I do.


Kathryn Jane d/b/a Kit Kat said...

Amar likes Firefly? How radom :)

Can you take pictures of Baloo and Acha to share?

Nelle said...

Just what you need!
Some more playmates for Gilda. Your duplex,cats, dog, and husband might not be able to take that.

I'm more worried about the duplex and cats then anything else. Sorry Scott.

I have enjoyed reading your adventure. Take care. Got a wedding to prepare for.