Sunday, July 20, 2008

Open House/Empty House

Thursday my car arrives right on time—and I am still downstairs finishing up breakfast. Mira tells me “taa taa.”

“Driver?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she says.

On the way to work I see the word “taa taa” on a car dealer’s sign. It must mean car or ride or something like that, even though my Hindi dictionary lists “gari” as the word for car. I’m thrilled to have learned a new word by picking it up in context.

My time at the office brings more editing. I try to finish chapter one but there is more work than I first thought. So many citations need so much reformatting.

Just before lunch, there is an open house with the CEO, Vivek. We crowd into a conference room upstairs. There is no room large enough to hold all the employees in the office, so Vivek will have one meeting in the morning and a second in the afternoon.

The conference room has an LCD projector affixed to the ceiling and a screen at the front so that Vivek can present his slides. The office chairs are covered with white chair covers. The front of the room is covered in large squares of light wood paneling, but several of the panels are blackened with scuffs from who knows what.

Vivek wears a white collared shirt that is slightly creased from sitting during the morning. His belt buckle is plain. He talks about the year-to-date financials. The school publishing (primary and secondary books) business has record growth. The higher education publishing arm is on target as well.

At the end of this very familiar presentation, Vivek takes out a stack of papers and starts responding to comments people have written to him. Can we have snacks? Vending machines? Can there be a shuttle that takes you to the gate? What about leave to study? Or job exchanges? Will he support that?

Yes, he says. In fact, there is a visitor here doing a job exchange right now. I am introduced. “Come to Iowa,” I invite the room, forgetting about Brandon’s incident. He extended a similar “figurative” invitation and someone actually showed up at his office about a week after he’d arrived back home from Mumbai.

What about the evening snack—the 7:30 snack—can there be more healthy options like fruit? Are we getting a new office in a nicer place? This is expensive, Vivek says. He’s looking into what to do about office space, as the operation is clearly outgrowing its current digs.

What about training, more than one person wonders. Vivek shows the Pearson People Development website—the same one we promote in the United States. I think the folks back home would be excited about this. What about breakfast? What about a cafeteria?

He answers every question put to him on paper, even though most of them are about food.

On my way out of the meeting, I am stopped by a young woman from the school side of publishing. She wants to know how I’m finding India, how long I’ve been here, where I’m from, etc. “How are you finding the food,” she asks. The perennial question.

“Good,” I say.

“Where are you getting it from? How are you eating?” she wonders.

I tell her breakfast is provided by the hotel, lunch is provided by the office and I’ve just been having some snacks at dinner time mostly. I mention I tried a dosa at the restaurant near my house.

“Oh,” she says, “dosa. You be careful. You keep your thin,” she says.

So far, even though I don’t have much opportunity for exercise, I haven’t had a problem “keeping my thin.” It’s so hot that I don’t have much of an appetite. That, and a light touch of Delhi belly does dissuade one from indulging in too many foodstuffs.

Back at my desk after lunch, the power blips off six times and nobody skips a beat. Angshuman draws a crowd at his desk when he announces that the Watchmen preview is out. “Sweet,” he says, “They’ve got a doomsday clock going.”

An onlooker asks if he’s seen “the dahk connigut.” After a moment, I realize he’s talking about The Dark Knight and stifle a chuckle. This is amusing only until I think of all the Hindi words that I must have slaughtered while my Indian friends patiently tried to figure out what the heck I was saying--and not tricky words like "knight;" simple words like yes, no and thank you.

As promised, after work, Sonu stops at Indraprastha Park with me and walks over to the Buddhist temple, which I find out is not a temple at all. It is a stupa, which means when I ask to go inside of it to meditate, the guard laughs. You don’t go inside a stupa. There is no “inside” of a stupa. It’s empty, symbolizing the perfection of enlightenment. It’s simply a place for reverence with a bunch of beautiful statues on the outside of it.

What was I hoping to find on the inside anyway? I wanted another revelation like the one I had at the Lotus Temple. I want something deep to happen to me everyday. I want. I want. I want. Buddhism is the perfect antidote to wanting, and I learn a small lesson through my disappointment at the stupa. What I’m looking for isn’t going to be wrapped in a package waiting for me in one or another of these places. What I’m looking for is truly nothing. Emptiness. The Buddhist concept of emptiness holds that all our stress comes from the meanings and values we assign to objects and people in our lives, but those values are just creations of our deluded minds. We think, “I need ‘x’ to be happy,” wherein “x” is money or a specific person or a sign of success. But really, “x” has no actual value—all the value comes from our projecting. When we see “x” for what it really is (a neutral object), we understand a little bit about emptiness.

Emptiness pokes me in the ribs and makes me giggle as I photograph the golden Buddhas flanking the outside of the stupa.

This place was dedicated in 2007 by the Dalai Lama, a plaque on the front of it says. They’re still working on it, Sonu tells me, and I can tell he’s correct by the platform area in front of it that has a bunch of large red tiles stacked, leaning against it. Everything here is built from red sandstone.

We take off our shoes and walk around the dusty marble deck, looking at the four golden Buddhas on the outside. I take a few more snaps, then we walk back and put on our shoes. As we walk through the park back to the car, Sonu points. I can’t tell what he’s pointing at. He takes out his camera phone and takes a picture of two people sitting on the edge of a bench and kissing. He shows me the picture. I wonder how to explain that this wouldn’t be a photo worthy event in the United States, but think better of it. It is a cute picture, if voyeuristic by American standards.

We walk back to the car. I have to pay ten rupees for parking. This seems fair.

Dinner on Thursday is some Tetley tea and a piece of toast from the loaf of fruit bread I bought at the market when I went shopping with Julianne. I’m trying to shake this Delhi belly and “keep my thin.” Emptiness is not only a beneficial state of mind in Buddhism, it's a good condition for an upset stomache as well.

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