Friday, July 11, 2008


I had convinced myself that yesterday’s cold shower was a fluke because in the morning I’d gotten up a later and spent about an hour on the computer talking to my family in a pretty nifty international conference call. It was close to 9:30 when I showered, so I figured all the hot water in the place was used.

So today I arose at 6:30 thinking that the hot water wouldn’t be consumed by then, but now I’m afraid that Tuesday morning’s hot shower was the fluke and my usual ablutions will take place in cold water.

There are signs all over here compelling you to conserve water. “Collect rain water,” one billboard we passed yesterday suggested. Maybe I should. It would be warmer than the stuff in my shower.

Thus continues the pattern of getting one thing fixed only to find another thing not working.

Yesterday morning I started the day (after my cold shower and phone call) with my usual breakfast of fruit and toast. At breakfast, I let the woman downstairs, Mira, know that my television stopped working the night before. I had no sound until I pressed the “up” key on the volume on the front of the television. At this action, the sound came back, but the picture turned to rolling stripes. Mira said something I didn’t understand, and I left thinking I’d have to try talking to her husband Pachu about it later.

After that, I called Sonu who said, “Yes ma’am. Half hour.” When he arrived an hour later, we went back to Khan market where I’d purchased the watch that stopped working the day after I bought it—the one I’d been entrusted with before I fully paid for it.

When we got to Khan market, I first tried to open an Indian checking account so I could deposit the check from Pearson and use the money to pay for my cab fares. Once I start work, I will not have Sonu to be at my beck and call all day—and I will miss him. I’ll have to hire a metered taxi to take to the office and home again, and (unlike the hotel’s driver service) the metered taxis demand payment in cash, in full at the time of service—just like a cab in the US would. Sonu’s services will be paid for when I check out by Pearson, but we don’t have a way of paying for these metered cab rides yet.

Because it’s going to be a considerable expense, Pearson wrote me a check, but I failed to recognize that I wouldn’t be able to cash it or deposit it when I got here, and I just packed it in my luggage.

Bank of India was an education in Indian bureaucracy. I had to talk to three people who kept sending me in circles to talk to one of the others. Back and forth they pointed me. “Talk to this lady,” they’d point. Finally, they made a list of things I'd need to open an account: a photograph, a letter from my employer, proof of residency, my passport and visa, etc. etc. So I think I'm going to contact Finance in Iowa and see if they can cancel that check and just do a direct deposit instead.

Next, Sonu walked me around the corner to the watch stand. The man immediately recognized me and smiled. I said, “I owe you 500 rupees, right?”

“That’s right,” he nodded.

“But first, the watch is broken. It isn’t working.”

“No? Give it to me. We will fix or give you another,” he said.

He took the watch from me and handed it to a small man who was sitting on a bench. He said something in Hindi and the man popped off the back of the watch.

“We think it might be the battery,” he explained, as the skinny guy on the stool replaced it with what appeared to be another used battery. “We have no idea how long it’s been sitting. It’s probably the battery.” I noticed all the watches in the case were running rather then being on display with the pins pulled out to save the batteries.

I took out the money and the man said, “You wait. We see if we fix.” He wouldn’t take the money until he saw that the watch worked. It did, and I thanked him and paid him the remaining sum. One broken thing fixed.

Later that night before dinner, I again asked about my tv. This time Pachu, the grey-haired gentleman on staff who lives downstairs, was in. He followed me up to my room and mashed a bunch of buttons. “This and here. Press volume,” he told me and nodded. Somehow I had a picture and sound back. The tv was doing this weird flashing in and out every few seconds, but it had been doing that since I arrived and I wasn’t going to complain, what with a picture and sound and all.

So two broken things fixed: the watch and the tv. That just leaves the hot water and the long suffering Internet connection.

A Very Happy Addendum: So the whole hot water issue was all user-error, and don’t I feel like a fool! Turns out, as Pachu just showed me, I have to have the hot water switch turned on in order to get hot water. It looks like a light switch and seemingly does nothing, but it actually turns the hot water on and off. Thank the Lord for Pachu and for the return of a humane shower. Looks like conserving water will be more difficult again. At least now I can stay in there long enough to shave my legs.

I believe at least half of my “disrepair” issues arise from my cluelessness. Take the deadbolt which I could not figure out for my life when I first got here. It works perfectly fine once you figure it out. As do the magic keys. So does the shower. So does the tv. So does the microwave with the knob and the amusing precook settings and the switch on the outlet that you have to turn on (which looks like off to me) in order to get the micro’s power to come on.

I think poor Pachu and Mira must think I’m a dolt having to drag them up here for these mundane problems all the time, acting like everything’s broken when all I have to do is be patient and think a bit about how all this must work.

I’m getting better, though—or at least I tell myself I am. I at least understand the big hot water switch and the deadbolt, so I’m calling that progress. The phones remain somewhat of a mystery, as does the tv. But I can’t say I even understand my tv at home, so I’m not holding it against myself. I’m one of those wives who makes her husband hook up all the electronic stuff. This is my chance not to be—and I’m still trying. That would have been a good answer for Lowden Singh. Too bad I just thought of it now. “Lowden, I’m trying not to rely on my husband for my cable tv dilemmas. That’s why I can’t carry him with me here.” I’m sure that would have satisfied him—or at least made his jaw drop again, which was fun to see.

I have no idea why the tv and phone work or don’t work as the case may be, but I’m growing more convinced it’s because of my reckless button mashing that these devices become uncooperative. I just have to stop and think a little more analytically about what I’m doing instead of just wanting everything to be automatic, instantaneous. “Work, hot water! Work, door lock! Work, phone! Work how I expect you to work, not how you are made to work!”

The computer is still my biggest enigma. I had no idea I was so addicted to the Internet. I should use this experience to examine this deep attachment I have to the virtual world instead of using every disconnected moment to obsess about getting my computer fixed. I should think of this moment as an opportunity rather than a torturous albatross.

It’s just that I have so much to blog about and I find myself much more motivated to write when I can “publish” it immediately. What I’ve been doing in the meantime is typing up Word documents that I’ll be able to cut and paste once I have connectivity. Maybe my writing will be better that way. I’ll have a chance to reread and revise before I post.

This week has been a lesson in patience that I have been resisting. If I resist much longer, I’m going to drive myself crazy. Things will work when they will work. I will have a connection when I will have a connection. Sonu will get here when he gets here. But just as important as patience with others, I’m finding, is patience with myself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a pernicious streak of self-criticism that keeps me perpetually dissatisfied with myself. If something isn’t done right, and isn’t done to a standard higher than any reasonable person might expect, I berate myself for failure. My sophomore year drama teacher first put a name to this when he saw my upset after a performance in class one day that he considered quite good. “You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?”

Yes, that’s what you can call it.

So I took a day to figure out the lock on the door. I took two days to figure out I had shut my own hot water off. The phone with its array of seemingly random beeps, blips, messages and music throws me off. I’ll figure it out. It will be okay. It will have to be. This is the situation I’m in and I can’t change it. I can only figure it out with the time and resources at my disposal: my Hindi phrase book, Mira and Pachu the hotel staff, Sonu my driver, the Ahuja Residency owner, the people at the Pearson office in New Delhi, my family and coworkers back home. I really have so many people supporting me that it’s ridiculous.

It was never just me and the giant snail and the mumbling guard. I am really not alone at all.

1 comment:

Cheeseball said...

It sounds like you are exploring youself as much as India. I am very happy for you.