Monday, August 18, 2008

Back at C-83

Today is India’s 62nd Independence Day. I awaken in a cold sweat, still recovering, I think, from the body and mind-bending experience of Wednesday and Thursday’s travels. I think I’m just sick, but then I step onto my tile floor and notice it’s cold, as is the marble countertop in the bathroom. It’s actually cold in my room. I step out onto the balcony and discover that it’s not hot outside. In fact, it’s so mild that my air conditioners are doing too good of a job cooling off the place. I consider turning one of them off, but just can’t do it on the principle of the thing. I go downstairs to eat breakfast and sit outside on the veranda.

Pachu brings a red mango—the fleshy kind I’m not very fond of—and bland tea. The sugar he sets in front of me is crawling with tiny bugs. I miss the sweet, ginger, milky tea at Raju’s. I miss the fresh, fluffy omelet with tomatoes from his garden. I miss the doggies under the table to share my food with. It’s partially the fact that I’m feeling a bit under the weather, but this food is hard to eat this morning. It is literally hard to swallow.

There’s a poll in the Times of India: Do you think India’s democracy is an illusion? 79% of the respondents said yes. 19% said no, and 2% didn’t know. I wonder how many people they asked.

After breakfast, I go upstairs to take a shower. There is hot water for more than two minutes (unlike at Raju's) and it goes a long way towards making me feel better. I start up my computer and turn on the BBC World News for background noise. The channel comes and goes, then finally just goes. All the other channels come in just fine, but the BBC World News is black. There’s nothing there. I consider letting it go, but then think of the time when Ms. Sonu found out about my Internet not working. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she wanted to know. Well, I’m going to tell somebody this time. I find Pachu downstairs and bring him upstairs to show him what’s happening. He looks at the blank channel and the other channels all working fine.

“Satellite,” he says. “It come back,” he diagnoses. This seems satisfactory to me. I just hope it does come back. It’s the only news channel that covers world events, including those of the western hemisphere. There’s a CNN IBN channel, but half the time their reports are in Hindi and the focus is strictly on India.

After much blogging and editing, I need to get out of my little room. I grab some cookies for my dog friends and take a walk around the Defence Colony. The streets are surprisingly quiet and almost empty. No frantic honking. No crowds. This is quite the opposite of what I expected on Independence Day. I thought there would be drunken revelers and people blowing things up, but it seems that’s the American way. Jonaki told me that Independence Day is a dry day: there is no alcohol for sale. It seems that everyone’s either left town or is staying in. Before the satellite went out on my news broadcast, there was footage of the Prime Minister at the Red Fort addressing a large assemblage. He was talking about how the country has to unite against terrorist threats. It was very somber.

All of this means my walk around the Colony is lovely and relaxing. I even venture off in the opposite direction of the market, to see if I can get my bearings on how to find C-83 if an auto-wallah drives me in the back way. I find some landmarks that I think might help me: a triangular patch of grass, a gate at the end of the street.

Not even my dogs are at home. They’ve gone someplace else for the holiday. I hope they haven’t relocated completely in my one week absence. I would be sad if Baloo and Acha were gone. I have no one to give my biscuits to, but then I find a little brown and white dog at the end of the street. He is not so interested in my treats, but very interested in getting petted. He smashes his head into my legs as I scratch him, and when I stop, he paws me gently for more attention.

Back at the Ahuja Residency, I work some more on my blog and my textbook chapter. The BBC, I find, is back. I leave it on in the background to fill up the space around me with its news of Russia invading Georgia. I duck downstairs and ask Mira if they can make me dinner tonight.

“Veg or non-veg,” she asks.

“Veg,” I say. She smiles. She probably thinks it’s funny that the white girl wants veg food. I’ve found that some people here are amused by my vegetarianism. I get this feeling like they regard me as not a “real” vegetarian. “Are you a vegetarian by birth or by choice,” someone asked. By choice, I guess. But I’ve always hated meat, so I’m kind of a vegetarian by birth.

Before it gets dark outside, I decide to take another walk. This time I find my Delhi dogs. They wag their tails and look happy to see me. I pet them and scratch them and they soak in the affection. I want so badly to take them home with me. I want to put ointment on their sores and feed them antibiotics and stop the mites from eating their ears. But their lives are the lives of Delhi dogs with no veterinary care—no care of any kind. They will get along for as long as they can here on the streets. All I can do is brighten their days with a few little scratches and pets and some unappealing biscuits every now and then.

This walk finds a few more people out on the streets. People are in the parks, a few kids are flying kites as Tehseen, Amar’s wife, described they would be on Independence Day.

I return to the Ahuja Residency in the gathering dusk and walk downstairs around 8:30 for dinner. A boy brings it to me on a silver tray. As he’s setting it down, he smashes an ant scrambling underneath one of the metal dishes.

Dinner is a potato and green pepper subzi, a lentil dal, a wonderfully spiced paneer (homemade cheese) dish, chapattis (fresh flat bread) and rice. I still miss Raju’s food and the canine pals with whom I got to share it. I wish Acha and Baloo were sitting under my table.

I eat alone and go back up to my room alone, a bit bored. Then I think, “How can I be upset at being bored today?” Instead, I give thanks for having a boring day wherein nothing exciting happened or even threatened to happen. One boring day is a good thing every now and then.

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