Friday, August 8, 2008

To Go or Not to Go

Wednesday I’m lying in bed after my Skype call with Scott and the phone rings. It’s eight o’clock. If Balminder is this early, I’m going to kill him, I think. This is getting ridiculous. I pick up the phone.

“Hello madam. I am Sonu,” I hear.

“Hello, Sonu,” I say, trying to wake up and get my bearings.

“You are okay?” he asks.

“I am okay,” I say.

“You are working?” he asks.

“I am working,” I say.

“You are okay?” he says.

“Yes, Sonu. I am okay.” This early in the morning, all I can think to do is passively answer his questions. I think: I shouldn’t get into a big conversation with him. I shouldn’t encourage this phone calling. I don’t ask how he is. I don’t ask about his babies. I tell him, “Okay, Sonu, goodbye,” before he can say he loves me again. But just the fact that I didn’t tell him not to call me anymore probably encouraged him. Just the fact that I politely answered his queries was probably enough for him. It all happens too quickly for me to reason through a course of action. I just react. And then there’s the fact that I’m averse to confrontation, even over the phone, which is probably what this situation calls for—or maybe it will just go away. I can always hope.

At breakfast, I’m reading the Times of India and I notice a familiar face in a picture off to the side of the main article on the front page. The caption reads, “Proud Papa,” and the picture shows the Prime Minister hugging his daughter at the book launch I attended last night. I stare at it for a while. I was there. I met Upinder. She’s cool, but I didn’t tell her that. This time I was eloquent. I told her when she was signing my copy of her book, “I’m a former teacher, so I really appreciated your remarks tonight.” Score. Points for Vicki.

At work, Jonaki wonders if I was freaked out by Anindo’s comments about the trip last night. Nah, I tell her. No big deal. But Anindo’s cautions do feel a little different after the glow of the book launch has waned. I go about my day, but grow a little more worried as time passes.

It’s six o’clock and Jonaki is at my desk again, running through a checklist of things we should do and get before our trip. We should get medicine for motion sickness. We should get cash from an ATM. Amar listens in, eating a samosa in a little silver paper tray. “Do you want some nala food?” he asks me, then laughs. He’s not really offering me his nala food. Nala means drain. It’s the food they cook in the streets over the drains (read sewers). Jonaki says if you can eat nala food and survive, then you have an iron stomach. I take a pass on the nala samosa.

At home, I eat one of the packages of macaroni and cheese that Scott sent to me and have to stop half way through because I’m crying too hard. I watch the end of Marvin’s Room because I was in the stage version and I think it will be fun to see Meryl Streep play “my” character. Diane Keaton’s character just learned that she doesn’t have a bone marrow match; she’s going to die. She tells her sister, played by Streep, I’ve been so lucky because I’ve had such love. Streep says, yes, Dad and Ruth really love you. Then Keaton says, “No. I love them. I’m so lucky to have had them to love.” I think of my husband and dissolve into tears which do not abate. I curl up on my bed and cry, hoping that giving in to this fit will take care of the matter and I’ll feel better afterwards.

Afterwards, I see an accidentally smashed ant on my hotel room floor and get upset at the other ants for not having a funeral for it. They just leave it there on the floor. Aren’t they supposed to carry it off and do something with it? Careless ants.

I turn on the news. Exhiled Tibetans are protesting and screaming and crying on the Indian border with China. You can see the veins in their faces. You can see the grief contorting their faces and bodies. They want their home back. I want my home back, too. I know I’m getting mine back in three months, but it feels so far away in time and distance and culture and memory. I feel contorted tonight too.

I Skype with Scott on his lunch hour. I don’t realize until I start talking to him how frightened I am about this trip, and how the trip is what’s making me so homesick tonight. The trip means I’ll be cut off from Skype and email and all communication for five days. Plus I’ve heard that the roads are bad. And my guidebook says that visitors to the Himalayan National Forest near where I’m staying have to make sure their insurance covers emergency helicopter evacuations. The guidebook also has a warning box with the header: Fatal Vacations. It seems that a few dozen foreign visitors to an area just north of where we’re going have never returned.

Scott says I shouldn’t go. He says I can’t be sure that anyone here is looking out for my best interests but me. Law in India is like the truth: subjective. You might or might not be held responsible for something and even if you are, the courts will take years fighting it out. So businesses like tour bus companies and resorts have no interest in being safe. They just have an interest in separating you from your money.

He says everybody will tell me it’s safe, but I should just not go if it’s making me this upset. I think of not going, and, suddenly, I feel lighter. I feel fine. I’ll tell Jonaki tomorrow. I can’t go.

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