Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On Hoarding and Hate

Sunday I skip breakfast in favor of sleeping in and talking with Scott. At 9:15, Julianne and Susie knock at my door. The auto is waiting outside to take us to the Delhi Bible Fellowship service. Susie checks out my room. She hasn’t been here before. It’s nice, she says. It’s cool. It feels like I have central a/c. Pretty posh, I say.

Susie slept over at Julianne’s last night because she wound up there too late at night to take an auto home. It really makes me think I should have stayed at Susie’s the other night when I had my necrosis-catching late night auto-rickshaw ride in which I almost got dropped off in the middle of nowhere. There are things you can do in the United States with no problem that no woman should attempt by herself here. There are places where women should never go by themselves, day or night. It’s a strange concept to me. If I were a man, I’d be able to travel a lot more freely around the city. But because I’m a woman, and a white woman at that, I need to be careful. There are things I can’t do and places I can’t go. I’ve never felt this limitation before, and it takes some getting used to.

At church, the regular pastor is still ill. The good story-telling Indian man is back. His sermon is hard to summarize. He starts out talking about how God is the only constant, the only authority we should rely on, then gives us some extended analysis of a story in the book of Samuel, which I never knew existed.

After the service, I talk a lot to Ruth. Ruth has, like, eight daughters. Two of them just went back to the United States to start college. Needless to say, she’s very motherly. I think Ruth can see that I’m still feeling a little homesick. She asks how long I’ll be here for. I tell her three months. She says three months can go quickly or it can seem like a long time. The compassion in her eyes almost makes me weep. Right now, to me, three months seems like forever.

Susie, Julianne and I leave church. We’re going to Julianne’s for lunch today, but before we go, Susie has to run some errands for work. She has to get some certificates printed off and then has to have her boss stamp them. We take an auto to the Nehru Place Market. I know this market only because I pass the front side of it on my way to the Lotus Temple. There’s a big movie theatre there. The auto drops us off on the back side of the market. This is the place to come for anything related to computers, Julianne tells me. Women should never come here by themselves, Susie says. That’s why she wanted to come here with us today. Most of the stalls are shuttered closed. Refuse blows through the square. A man tries to sell us bootleg DVDs. Susie says she’s looking for an ink cartridge. He says all he has are movies. The market is largely empty. Up a staircase, we find two shops selling CDs and flash drives and other computer peripherals. The vendors have a little price war while we’re shopping. My flash drive is suddenly 50 rupees cheaper from the vendor next door. So are Susie’s headphones.

We walk back down the staircase past a sleeping dog. Here Susie finds a print shop. They take over an hour to print and cut out her certificates. Her and Julianne worked on these last night. They’re for the trainees Susie works with in her “accent neutralization” and cultural sensitivity practice.

By the time the printing is done, it’s almost two o’clock. We are all starving. We still have to go to Susie’s boss’ house and have him put the company stamp on the certificates. Steve’s house is in Greater Kailesh, the same colony that Julianne lives in. We find his apartment and his wife, Cindy, invites us in and offers us water. They just moved in, so it’s kind of empty looking. They still need some furniture. As Cindy shows us around, a giant cockroach scrambles across the floor and she smashes it. Its legs continue kicking. Susie is signing the certificates along with Steve, who then stamps them. As Julianne and I wait, I see another even larger cockroach scurry right over Susie’s bare foot. Julianne points it out and Cindy smashes this one too. She says it’s a problem because they live on the first floor. The bugs come in through the drain, especially when it’s rainy. I’m glad I don’t live on the first floor. I’m glad I don’t have a drain in my apartment. I’m glad I just have friendly ants to keep me company at the Ahuja Residency.

At Julianne’s, we order pizza from Pizza Hut. Julianne has a hard time ordering because they keep trying to get her to buy things she doesn’t want. Then they ask for two different phone numbers to confirm the order. Finally, she is able to get the two medium pizzas we want. While we wait for lunch to arrive, Julianne offers cookies she made last night. Then she pours me a glass of juice. Then she wants to know if I like Good ‘n’ Plenty licorice. Her mother sent a package. I think at first that she doesn’t like licorice and she’s trying to get rid of it, but this is not the case. She is just so generous that she’d share a rare treat sent from home. This totally flies in the face of my hoarding instinct. What sweet friends I have in India, I think.

The pizza actually approximates pizza. I’m very excited when Julianne even brings out a container of parmesan cheese. As we eat, we talk about dental care in India. Susie knows a good dentist. We talk about my driver situation. I say I don’t think I know the truth of the situation. Sonu tells me he’s coming back on August 28th, but Ms. Sonu says nothing about this. Someone must be wrong. Julianne says that lying is completely acceptable in India if it helps somebody save face. She also says that Ms. Sonu might have made up the whole stealing thing completely. You have to have a good enough reason to fire someone here. You can’t just let your domestic help go because they’re not doing a good enough job. The problem has to be severe. Further, if you move or leave, you’re responsible for finding them another job, for making sure they’re okay. Susie says she’ll have to do this for her “house helper” when she moves back to the States.

So was Ms. Sonu trying to save my face by telling me that Sonu was stealing? Did she know how inappropriate our relationship was? She could have. Sonu called her and asked if it would be okay if I emailed pictures of us to her so he could print them out. It would certainly have been awkward were she to have told me that she was firing Sonu because he loves me.

There is, as there always is these days, another downpour. Still, Susie and I need to get going. Julianne gives me a piece of pizza to take home, loans us both umbrellas. We walk out to the road, dodging deep puddles, to catch our little green autos. Just when it seems that none will pass, a wallah pulls over. He doesn’t want to drive to Malviya Nagar where Susie lives, but he’ll take me home for 40 rupees. It should cost 20, but the wallahs double their prices when it’s raining. I’m getting wetter by the minute, and there are so few autos around, that I decide to pay the extra 20 rupees. I give Julianne her umbrella back and jump in. The back seat is wet and getting wetter. I resign myself to having to completely change my outfit and dry off when I get home. I accept the wetness.

Back at home, it’s a little after five. My guesthouse room feels a little lonely. I dry off and see that the laundry I set out for Mira and Pachu this morning is strung along the fence adjacent to my balcony. There are my underpants and my jeans, in the pouring rain. I guess they’ll be extra clean when I get them back this time.

The rain finally stops and birds land on my clothing to puff the water from their feathers. I watch them and hope they don’t poop. After a while, I decide to walk to the market.

Acha is wagging her tail in her usual spot on the side of the road. I pet her until she tires of the attention and crawls under a nearby car for a nap.

In the market, I try to find milk but have to ask for it. It is unrefrigerated, in a box. I also go to the Defence Colony Bakery and get my favorites: a rum ball and a lemon tart.

As I walk home, cars honk and swerve past me. A man rolls down his window and drawls ominously, “Leave my country.” He doesn’t pause for a response. Thankfully, he just drives on into the dusk.

After my initial shock, my first instinct is to say “Gladly!” I think of the cockroaches at Steve and Cindy’s house and the bugs in my sugar. I think of my necrosis. I think of the hole-in-the-ground toilets and the crumbling roadways and the crowded markets and the rude wallahs and the white tax I have to pay everywhere I go. “Just get me out of here, please!” I want to tell this man. Perhaps he’ll give me a ride to the airport, but he is long gone.

I know the stares I get from people when I walk around are unfriendly, and maybe I’m na├»ve, but I didn’t imagine this kind of antagonistic sentiment behind them. I wonder how many people I’ve passed who thought this but haven’t said it. Do the people at my guesthouse resent me too, I wonder? Is this what all the men in the industrial estate by my office are thinking when they scowl at me? The people at Sagar are never very friendly to me, no matter how many times I eat there. Do they also wish I weren’t here? How many people want me gone, want me out of their country?

All I want to do is understand this culture; I’m not here to destroy anything or change anything or dominate anything. All I want to do is appreciate the gulf of difference between what I know and where I am, but history and politics proceed me in my visit. There are people who hate me because I’m white, because of what I represent to them. I can’t change this fact. I guess I just have to accept this too.

Just as I’ve received a drive-by “I love you,” I have now also received a drive-by “I hate you.” I guess it’s only appropriate, but it still leaves me feeling a bit unsettled.

Back at the Ahuja Residency, I eat my lemon tart right after my leftover pizza for dinner. The rum ball, I save for later. I still haven’t overcome my hoarding instincts.


auntlinda said...

could it be that the men who dont love you.. hate you because they think you might change the thinking of their women? they are happy being the boss.. they are happy not caring about girl babies ..they are happy to cheat on the women who worship them and walk behind them ... go home before our women wake up and see they have worth!! im sure thats why the amish folks dont like us so maybe its true of indian men. fear can produce hate

Vicki said...

Hrm. That's interesting. I hadn't really thought about it that way. I was just thinking in terms of British colonization and the like, but this is probably a factor as well. You're right. I am so surprised by the women's issues I'm encountering here. I was not prepared to deal with a culture so different in regards to gender equity.

It's me mom said...

When I talked to Aunt Terri, she asked me if you can go out by yourself because women are not supposed to be out in India by themselves. She said she knew a woman who went there. Maybe that's why all the odd looks and comments.