Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dead Kites and Live Lizards

Monday morning my temporarily functioning alarm clock goes off. I close my eyes for five more minutes, then open them an hour later. Somehow I’ve overslept. It’s a good thing I allow myself an extra hour in the mornings. I get up and Skype with Scott and my mom. We’re talking about a possible vacation to Disney World when I get back. Disney World, so clean, with all the trash picked up regularly and the sidewalks free from rubble. This is the part of Disney World that I look forward to the most right now.

At breakfast I eat my mango and toast with tea. It’s the good kind of mango today and I am so pleased to have it again. It’s the kind that turns to a quenching, sweet juice before you even get it into your mouth. They bring a small metal container of sugar for the tea and tiny bugs crawl in and around it. This challenges my appetite. I’m glad I finished the mango before the tea arrived.

There’s an article in paper today about how common counterfeit money is in Delhi, and if you get it out of an ATM machine, not only are you short on the cash you should have received, but you can get in trouble with the law. In other words, it’s your fault, not the bank’s fault for stocking their machine with bad bills, or the criminal’s fault for creating them. All I can do is hope this doesn’t happen to me.

Palminder arrives right on time. He skips the song on his CD that Sonu used to play over and over. I wonder if this CD is one of the discs I bought when Sonu took me to the store at Khan Market. I haven’t felt like hearing Punjabi music yet in my guesthouse room, so I haven’t played it. By the time I get to my room at the end of my day, I’m usually all Indian-ed out. I usually just want my BBC News and Hallmark Channel horribleness. I’m considering hoarding the CDs and letting them be a surprise when I get home—not listening to them until I’m back in the United States.

On the way into the office, I can see the leftovers from Independence Day. In the crumbling brick village across the street from Akshardam Temple, the power and utility lines are strewn with defeated kites. The people in this village build their homes from discarded bricks. There are no roofs, no plumbing, no electricity. The homes are simply leaning stacks of bricks.

I’m glad to be back in the office, back to my Indian routine. Everyone I see on the way in asks how the trip was; they all know about the twenty-four hour bus ride. Word travels fast here. Jonaki says this was courtesy of ABC: the Amar Broadcasting Channel. I tell my coworkers, and I mean it, that the trip was beautiful and I’m glad I went. I just saw a little more of the mountains than I bargained for.

As I’m typing, I notice the little battery icon in the bottom right tray of my computer screen. It shouldn’t be there. I’m plugged in. I climb under my desk and rattle the plug. The adapter seems okay, but who knows. Everything’s been a little out of whack since my trip. Maybe it got slammed around and broke somewhere between here and Manali and Simla and Chandigarrh.

I interrupt Amar in his office to tell him about my laptop. I’m a little panicked. If I can’t figure out the power issue, my computer will be dead in forty minutes. He gives me his power source. If it works, then we can assume that my problem is my adapter or my power source. I plug in my machine with Amar’s power source, but it doesn’t work. Then I try a different outlet across the office. That doesn’t work either. All the while, my computer is running out of battery. I try to keep my cool. I return to Amar with my dire prognosis. He says to check the Dell website to see if my machine is still under warranty. He’ll come out and look at it in five minutes.

I find the website and enter my service tag number. My computer’s warranty expired in March of this year. I consider what my life will be like without a computer for the foreseeable future. No Skype. No blogging. No work? This isn’t good. I’m going to be bored out of my mind.

30 minutes left until my machine is dead forever. I save a bunch of stuff onto the flash drive I bought at Nehru place yesterday. I think, I can blog on the machine in the common area, then backup the files on my flash drive. At least I can do that.

Amar walks out and asks if I’ve restarted my machine. Yes. I’ve tried that. He plugs and unplugs it, then he stands back and studies the situation. Without doing a thing he announces, “You don’t have to worry. I’ve fixed it.”

“You have?” I ask, doubtful.

He hits a switch on the wall behind my computer. The battery icon disappears. My computer is running on power from the outlet again. The battery is charging.

You have to turn the outlet on.

I had worked this long without realizing that you could turn the outlet off because it’s just been left on the whole time I’ve been here. Someone apparently thought to switch it off while I was on vacation.

We laugh long and hard. “You’re not going to let me live this one down, are you, Amar?”

“No,” he laughs.

It’s still an hour to our 1:30 lunchtime and my stomach rumbles. I walk over to Shabnum’s desk. “Are there any vending machines in this building?”

No. That was one of the items on the wish list for Vivek. We can walk to one of the vendors in the estate, though, she tells me. They sell potato chips and biscuits. They sell samosas, too, but those usually give even Shabnum a tummy ache and she doesn’t recommend them.

At lunch, he tells me that he was a little bit worried about me on my trip. He tried to call Jonaki but her cell phone wasn’t working. “We can go anywhere,” he tells me, “we don’t have to worry, but you have to be a little careful.” I tell him I know. I think of the car in the Defence Colony last night. Where can I go without stirring ire? The office seems to be the only place. And maybe the American Embassy.

After lunch, Jonaki, Shabnum and Soma are standing around the outside door. I join them so as to defrost a bit. The air conditioner seems to be working overtime today. A grey-haired man with a gold watch steps outside with a smoke between his fingers. This is Suproto, the former CEO, who is now working in London. He just moved there in March. His poor dog is still in quarantine and will have to remain there for a full six months. I’m glad I didn’t bring any of my pets with me to India. They’d have ended up in a similar clink back in the States, I am sure. It doesn’t make any sense. Why quarantine the animals when you don’t quarantine the people? We apparently get all the same worms and parasites, at least according to Susie we do.

Suproto talks about the quality of the production of recent books, then looks at me soberly and says, “I’ve heard about your blog.”

Who hasn’t?

The afternoon passes quickly and I finally finish editing my chapter on international finance—only to get another, longer chapter on international finance.

I’m having a hungry day. I was hungry before lunch and now I find myself starving again. Since it’s almost seven o’clock when I get home, I decide to walk to the market and try out the thali at Sagar once again: this is the meal that comes with the balloon-looking UFO bread. If there’s anything that can stifle hunger around here, it’s the thali at Sagar.

On my out the door to the market, I grab some cookies to share with Baloo and Acha and Baby (the newest dog who likes my pets). Only Baby is interested in the treats. Baloo and Acha just want love.

The thali is as good as I remember it being; it wasn’t just the shock of the UFO bread that bewitched me. So many flavors. I wish I was a food writer so I could say what half the spices were that I tasted in those dishes.

On the walk home I see something out of the corner of my eye. Is it a bird? It’s a very dark colored bird if it is. No, wait. It’s a bat. And there’s another. And another. And, oh. There are a gaggle or a murder or a flock or whatever you call a whole herd of bats. Can it be that they’re always around and I never noticed them before?

Don’t make eye contact, I think; then I think, no, wait, that’s for the men. Bats are blind. You can look at them all you want. Just hope their sonar is functional and they don’t crash into your head. They’re really flying all around me. I’d like to stay and watch them because I like bats, but I can’t find a place that seems at a safe distance from them, so I keep walking slowly ahead, not making any sudden movements.

Back at my room, I turn on my outside light and wander onto my balcony. On the far wall I see my little lizard. I haven’t seen him out here for weeks. Then I think I see why. He has a very stubby little tail. He has had a close encounter with a bird, I think; a near death experience, but he lives to tell about it, a little more skittish than before, but alive nevertheless.

No comments: