Thursday, August 28, 2008

How's My Emptiness?


Wednesday breakfast, George is downstairs again. This time his colleague, Marie, joins us. Though she is obviously also British, she wears Indian dress and speaks to Mira in Hindi. Turns out she used to live in Defence Colony. She recommends Swagarth, a restaurant I haven’t been to yet, for their prawn curry. It’s owned by the same people as Sagar’s, my favorite place, so it’s probably equally good.

Palminder shows up in a silver car that looks like it’s driven to Mars and back and not done a good job of avoiding the meteor showers along the way. When I get in, the cab is full of exhaust fumes that get me feeling sick to my stomach. Once we get underway, I either get used to the fumes or they disperse. I wonder if I’m getting carbon monoxide poisoning but think since I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out or fall asleep that it’s probably fine.

At work, I start feeling antsy and hungry before lunchtime. Sucking exhaust must stimulate the appetite, so I decide to walk out to the nala vendor and buy some biscuits. When I get there, the little ledge that is usually filled with packages of biscuits is empty. I ask for biscuits anyway, hopefully, but the wallah holds out empty hands. No biscuits. I buy a package of salted peanuts instead. These will have to do.

I wait until almost one thirty and wander over to Amar’s office to have lunch. We usually eat between one and one thirty. I peak my head in and he says, “Come in. Come in.” But when I look to the bookshelves where our lunch buckets usually are, I see they are bare. Amar dials up the pantry. Where are our lunches? The daba wallah has set out late. He has just left. Lunch will be late today.

I’ll have to get by a little longer on my bag of peanuts. Amar goes out to smoke and I return to my financial management chapter that, even on a full stomach, takes all the effort and sometimes even more concentration than I can muster.

At two o’clock Amar calls my name. “Vicki! Come. Eat.” Our lunches have arrived. We spread out the sheet of newspaper and begin spooning out our subzi when the lights go off. I feel destined not to eat today. Usually the lights blink right back on, but now, because the darkness is standing between me and my late lunch, it seems to take a full minute for the power to come back.

Finally, the lights blink back on, the computers all begin to buzz and I can eat. Amar talks about places he’d like to travel: Greece, Turkey, Egypt, the Serengeti. He shows me pictures of the trip he took to Nanital over the Independence Day holiday. The landscape looks familiar because of the trip I took to Raju’s Cottage: many verdant green hills. The only difference is there are lakes in Amar’s pictures. There are also tons of pictures of Sukanya making faces. Sukanya is the young editor who started here as an intern. She went on the trip with Amar and his wife and her friend, iPod Girl (so named by Angshuman because she was one of the first people around to have an iPod).

Late in the afternoon, Shabnum and Jonaki call me. Jonaki holds up ten rupees, Shabnum waves her hand. “Vicki! Drain party! We are eating nala food.” A whole group of people walks out to the little tent where they make samosas and intermittently sell biscuits. Amar, Preeta and Jonaki get samosas on little silver plates. Shabnum gets a coke and passes it to Sukanya. They eat and share. Preeta offers me some samosa, but Jonaki says I shouldn’t eat it. It’s not clean. I don’t feel hungry at all anyway. I’m actually feeling weak and shaky and tired out by my virus. It doesn’t help that it feels to be about a hundred degrees and dusty outside. We stand in a circle and talk. I sweat and wonder how much longer the drain party will be. Amar wants chai. Does anyone else? Yes. Preeta does. They get little glasses of hot, milky tea and hold it delicately between their fingers. I watch a young boy crouching on the ground amidst the discarded plates and dirt peeling small potatoes with his fingernails. He puts the peeled potatoes into a metallic bowl where flies land, and passes them onto two older boys who mash them up for filling in the nala samosas. Amar and Preeta finish their tea and we all walk slowly back toward the office. “We don’t have coffee shops,” Amar says, “so we have to go here for a snack.” He says it’s probably not the cleanest, but he’s built up immunity, and laughs.

Back at my desk I feel the damp hair on the back of my neck and try, for the last half hour of the day, to get through as many pages as possible of my chapter. I thought I might have been able to finish, but looks like I’ll need more time. The air conditioning feels good, but I still feel shaky from the heat as I pack up my computer and head out for the evening.

In the car, Palminder rolls the window down instead of turning on the air. This isn’t necessarily an emergency, I think. I’ll give him some time before I ask him to turn on the air. Maybe he’s just trying to air the car out. Maybe he thinks it’s cool outside? I wait patiently for a long time. We travel almost three whole blocks before I lean forward and ask him to turn on the air. He turns the dial but nothing happens. He turns the dial again and again. “It’s broken?” I ask, feeling a momentary panic. To think about my hour commute through Delhi traffic and heat and smog with no air on a still day with a wheezing chest cold almost smothers me. But I tell myself I will be fine. I will not pass out.

“Is very old car,” Palminder says. Then he tries it one more time and the fan whirs weakly. He rolls up the window. The air is kind of working. Even for this, I am thankful. “Tomorrow, same car. New car. Same. White car.” For this, I am even more thankful. I also realize that tomorrow is August 28th, the day that Sonu told me he is coming back. I wonder if along with the old car, I will get my old driver back, though I have doubted this story from the start.

As we pass the Buddhist stupa in Indraprastha Park, I have this loud thought, “How’s my emptiness?” Kind of like “How’s my driving?” but more Buddhist.

Emptiness is the realization that nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. It’s a useful concept when “bad” things happen because we can realize that it’s only our perception that makes them “bad,” then we can mitigate our reaction. Everything doesn’t have to be such a tragedy.

So I should have this bumper sticker on my posterior today. “How’s my emptiness?”

There are no biscuits. How’s my emptiness?

Lunch is late. How’s my emptiness?

I feel sick and sweaty at the nala party. How’s my emptiness?

The air in the car is broken. How’s my emptiness?

And I’m happy to report, my emptiness is making some good progress. So much so that when I get home and flip on my air conditioner, only to find the Ahuja Residency has lost power, I still do not have a panic attack from thinking that the oppressive heat will smother me. I take a breath and walk downstairs where I ask Mira if the whole Defence Colony has lost its power, or just us. It’s just us. Perfect, I think. Then I’ll walk to one of the air conditioned restaurants in the market and eat slowly while someone comes out to work on the power at home.

The plan works out just fine. But even if it didn’t, I would have been okay.

I’m not saying I can handle major disasters and remain unruffled. I know the things that happened today were simply minor annoyances. But in the past I think I would have let them ruin my day or viewed them as some big accumulation of Bad Day, and today I did not. I just went about my business as best I could.

I had a perfectly fine day.

1 comment:

auntlinda said...

once this lesson is learned , life gets easier . good for you for learning it so young .glad you are feeling better. love you