Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hot or Not

I’m trying not to measure the quality of my days by whether or not I get a hot shower, but this Wednesday I was fortunate enough to get one, and, boy, it was nice.

Tuesday night I wrote a eulogy for my Uncle Joe to be read at his wake and funeral. Today at the office I’ll be able to email it to my mother. The eulogy closely follows what I said about him in yesterday’s blog. My bionic uncle.

I eat my breakfast mango, toast and tea and go back up to my room to await my driver. I don’t know who it will be, as Sonu told me his last day was yesterday. I hope somebody shows up in his place.

At home, I’m used to sleeping until the very last second possible, then scrambling around with my eyes half opened to get to work on time. Mornings here are different. I have time. This is partly thanks to the mind-bending time difference which is, right now, allowing me to happily awaken at 6:30 a.m. This time after breakfast when I come back up to my room and have nothing to do but wait for my driver to show up is delicious.

I lay back on the bed for a bit then think to look up how to say “broken toilet” in Hindi in case it still isn’t fixed today. “Taa-i-let too taa,” the book tells me. I repeat this out loud several times, trying not to sound too stupid.

The phone rings, “Madam, driver.”

“Shukriya,” I say, putting my book away. I grab my backpack and purse and head out the door.

Downstairs standing outside a small, beat up silver car is Sonu.

“Sonu!” I exclaim, probably showing too much glee. “I thought you were going back to Punjab.”

“Yes, madam, I stay only for you,” he says as he closes the car door behind me and climbs into the driver’s seat.

I feel bad that I’m keeping him from his family. “I’m sorry, Sonu, that you can’t go back to Punjab right now, but I’m very happy to see you,” I tell him.

“Yes, madam,” he says.

This “new” car is less, shall we say, posh than the other car we’ve been driving. The outside is dented, the seat covers look a little tired, and it has a, shall we say, scent inside. There are also no seat belts in the backseat. At first I’m unsure it has air (which is essential for an hour-long commute through the Delhi heat and smog), but then Sonu rolls up the window and monkeys with a knob and a cool blast of air helps dilute the eau de Sikh leftover from previous occupants.

Someone has written “God is one” on the driver’s side visor—both sides of it. In Sikhism, there is great emphasis placed on the belief that God is everything. Sikhs don’t anthropomorphize God; they avoid assigning a human form or attributes to their deity. Instead they believe that God is the entire universe and vice versa. Everything is united in God. God is one. I think this may be Sikh graffiti in our new cab.

This morning as we’re pulling past the industrial park gate that leads to the office, I see a turbaned man with a dog on a leash, but then realize that the dog is a monkey. He’s pulling it along against its will. And then they’re gone and I’m looking at street vendors and rickshaws and peeling advertisements and a sea of pedestrians, some in collared shirts and Dockers, others in rags. In the dictionary under “sensory overload,” it should just say “see Delhi.”

At work, I sign in to my computer and take up editing where I left off the day before: half way through chapter one of Operations Management. The author has definite problems with indefinite articles (using “it” and “these” all the time when he needs to actually say what “it” and “these” refer to), but this is an easy fix. The citations are also quite a mess, and these are a more complicated fix because I’m not familiar with the end note formatting used here. It’s not simply the Chicago or AP or APA style guide. It’s a house style I need to learn.

Today I have lunch with Amar again. “It is looking like our prime minister may be going,” he tells me. There’s going to be a no-confidence vote, and it’s not looking good for Monmohan Singh. Amar says he’s a good enough prime minister but there’s been terrible inflation here, food prices, gas prices, everything has shot up because of the world oil prices. Amar says Mr. Singh is paying the price for this situation when, in reality, he thinks the inflation is unavoidable.

“This is not good for our book,” he says, and I remember that the brilliant history book the department has just labored to produce was written by the prime minister’s daughter. Companies were lining up to sponsor the book launch and subsidize production in order to win favor with the prime minister, but now those companies are not so interested in helping. I’m suddenly very interested in whether Mr. Singh can win over the five or ten MPs he needs to circumvent the coups. I’m rooting for him. Well, I’m rooting for Pearson’s gorgeous, important book.

After lunch, I talk with Jonaki. She is another development editor who worked on the first book to undergo full development in the company: Macroeconomics. Jonaki went to school for engineering at Champagne Urbana in Illinois, so we talk about Chicago and her extensive travels in the United States.

Jonaki has an Emily Dickenson poem posted in her cube, and also a T.S. Eliot quote that I used to have in the front of one of my journals, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The story of my life, I think. At least my life in its present form, in India.

I think Jonaki is a kindred spirit.

We talk about being far from home. Her brother just went to Paris on business and she is jealous. “I’ve read all these books about Europe but never been there. I asked my brother what he’d done over the weekend and he said, ‘Oh, I just stayed in my hotel room.’ He is a geek!” she declares, then concludes, “I’m half geek.”

A man comes by with a box of sweets. They’re from Preeta, another editor. The sweets are diamond-shaped and metallic on top. I question the metallic sheen, but decide to try one. I bite off a corner and it tastes and feels like I’m chewing on aluminum foil—or aluminium foil as they spell it here. I wonder if I’ve been poisoned while Jonaki is happily munching her metallic diamond into oblivion. I wonder what kinds of consumer protections exist in India—who is checking to see that these treats aren’t slightly poisonous? Maybe no one. No one certainly is worried about people falling off the tops of crumbing monuments and ruins where there are no railings or even ropes. No one is worried about the women and children on the backs of the motorcycles who wear no helmets (while their husbands do). No one is worried about the dogs and cows traipsing into traffic. No one is worried about the three-wheeled auto-rickshaws tipping over when they take corners too quickly. There are a trillion hazards here, small treats at the office notwithstanding. Still, I wonder how much safer we are in the United States. We pretend we are, what with our bicycle helmets and health inspectors, but we still have accidents. We still get salmonella and e-coli. We go crazy and shoot each other with guns. All the bicycle helmets in the world can’t protect us from one wacko packing heat.

I return to my chapter and happen across a question on which I need consultation. Idli is an Indian snack food—kind of like a cake in a sweet yogurt sauce. The text says something about “a restaurant stocking idli that are later sold at a discount…” Is idli the plural of idli, I wonder, like deer is the plural of deer? Is the correct usage “idli is” or “idli are”? The question bubbles about the office. Everyone has an opinion. Idli, idlis? My office mates finally decide that if you’re going to say “are,” you have to say “idlis.” I change my text accordingly and shortly thereafter pack it up for the day.

Sonu is waiting outside in a different shirt than he had on this morning. “You changed your shirt,” I say.

“Yes madam,” Sonu says excitedly. “My sister, she is go United States. Today she go for ten years. Her children stay India.”

“Ten years,” I say. “Why is she going for that long?”

“Work,” he says.

“Are you driving her to the airport?”

“Yes,” he beams.

I ask Sonu if we can stop at the Buddhist temple near Indaprastha Park that we passed by, the one I tried to get him to visit yesterday when we went to the Lotus Temple instead.

“Tomorrow?” he asks. “My sister,” he says.

“Of course,” I tell him. “Tomorrow instead. Yes, be with your sister.”

Sonu drops me off at home and whizzes away to see his sister off to the United States. I decide I’m going to take on the market by my house on my own, but first I grab one of the shirts I bought over the weekend that was too big on me. I look up the word “small” in my Hindi dictionary and head off toward the tailor by the park.

“Namaste,” I tell him, and he folds his hands returning the greeting. “Chola?” I tell him. “Make it smaller?”

“Measure,” he says, and measures my arms and my chest. He looks inside and sees that the shirt came with sleeves that were not put on. “Sleeves?” he asks.

“Ha gee,” I say. “Yes. How much?”

“One hundred rupees,” he says.

This is two dollars and seems fair, but I bargain a little just on principle. “80 rupees?” I ask.

“Tikka. Ok,” he says. “Sunday,” he says.

“Shukriya,” I tell him. “Namaste!” and he folds his hands again in greeting.

I feel totally cool that I’ve been able to pull this off and speak a little Hindi to a native while I was at it.

Because I’m just too cool for words, I continue on to the market and stop at Sagar, the restaurant I’d eaten at with Julianne over the weekend. The gentleman opens the door and greets me with a bowed head. Here every restaurant and many shops have a gentleman who opens the door—that’s his job.

I sit down and order pani (water—though this word means “girl” in Polish). The waiter wants me to get a mango lassi. “Pani,” I tell him.

“Mango lassi,” he tells me. It’s a fruit and yogurt drink. Very good, but I’m more thirsty than in search of confection.

“Pani ki botal,” I attempt again. Water bottle.

“Mango lassi,” he says.

Mango lassi it is. “Tikka” (ok).

To eat, what could I order but one idli? It’s ready in just a few minutes and has a complex variety of flavors, from sweet to savory to spicy. Between the idli and the lassi, I’m a little over-sweetened, but definitely satiated.

After my idli and lassi, it’s pretty dark outside, so I wonder home dodging the traffic and the dubious puddles, ready for bed. It’s been a long day.

Before I can get into bed, though, my stomach stirs then I feel a stabbing pain like there’s an alien in there with a miniature sword. “This is a bad sign,” I think. I flip on the tv and watch some BBC news while the idli brews up something nasty in my midsection. Or maybe it’s the mango lassi that I didn’t want in the first place.

Whatever it is, before I go to sleep, I have my first official case of Delhi belly. All of my sources said this was inevitable. Still, I thought I’d make it more than two weeks. I thought I was being very careful. I thought my belly could stand the challenge.

No such luck.

Thursday morning brings with it intermittent stomach aches that make me want to double over. As does Thursday afternoon. And Thursday evening. And Friday morning.

Aside from the stabbing pain, my symptoms aren’t that bad, and for this I am thankful.

I am also thankful that Wednesday night when I arrive back at my hotel, my taa-i-let is no longer too taa.

Thank God for small miracles.

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