Wednesday, September 3, 2008

God In My Pancake


Tuesday is a pretty standard day at work, except for the fact that while I am working, I also upload a few photos to Photobucket. So to see just a fraction of the pictures I’ve taken while I’ve been here, you can go to:

On the way home from work, Palminder pounds into an auto-rickshaw that stops short in front of us. No one stops or gets out to exchange information, but a few miles later, he pulls over to assess the damage. I think of Susie’s admonition over the weekend: if you’re ever in an accident, get out of there as soon as possible. These events can rapidly escalate into violence. I’m glad Palminder didn’t stop on the scene or make a big deal out of it.

He gets back into the car with a grimace. I ask, “Tikka? Is it okay?” He shakes his head back and forth. It is not okay. There is damage. I hope I don’t loose another driver over the matter, but if I do, I hope the new one speaks more English than Palminder. On second thought, maybe a driver who doesn't speak much English is just fine. The relationship is much less complicated that way.
After work, I walk to the tailor. I had to take the twelve dollar silk skirt I bought on Saturday to him after I wore it on Sunday and noticed it completely unraveling. I’d be walking and there’d be a pile of threads wound around my sandals. There was no hem in the bottom layer of it. It was just cut fabric, and it was totally fraying after just one day’s wear and tear. I also noticed a red stain on it like Kool Aid had been dripped on it. I guess even at the government emporiums you need to be very careful about what you buy. Paying more for something is no guaranty of its quality here.

The tailor’s booth is lit up against the gathering darkness, but he is nowhere in sight. I am just getting ready to leave when he appears from behind the back wall.

“Namaste,” I tell him.

“Namaste,” he replies.

I pull out my wallet and he stops me. “Small,” he says, and points to a hem he’s put in the side of the skirt. “Problem,” he says. “Problem. Which is up? Which is up? You no understand? Which is up?”

It takes a second, but finally dawns on me what he is asking. The skirt is a reversible skirt. He doesn’t know which side to put the hem in, so he hasn’t sewn it yet. I show him which side I’d like the hem in, holding the skirt to me to show him how I plan to wear it.

“Tikka. Tomorrow. Sorry,” he says.

“Tikka, acha,” I say. “It’s okay. No problem,” I tell him. He folds his hands at his chin and bows his head to me. I do the same. I’ll see him tomorrow.

I walk to the market. I’m not that hungry, but I think I’ll eat at Sagar’s anyway. I order a paper masala dosa. It arrives in front of me, a rolled pancake, thin as paper and crispy, and about two feet long. It is an exceptionally odd looking dish. Stranger, even, than my UFO bread. I take a picture of it. The waiter squints my way. Who is this woman who keeps taking pictures of our food? They must wonder.

The paper dosa is not only exceptionally strange; it is exceptionally good. The crispy, light crepe-type dough is the perfect way to enjoy the coconut dipping sauce and zesty sambar stew they provide in unlimited quantities. I am slightly ashamed and slightly amazed when I eat the whole two feet of the thing, leaving nary a crumb behind, but this is the way it always is at Sagar. I think, I’ll just eat a little bit of this thing. I’m not that hungry. Then the food arrives and it’s no morsel left behind.

There is a family sitting at the table in front of me. Their teenage son wears a t-shirt that has a swirling design and the word “STUDFARM” sewn onto it in all capital letters. I wonder if he knows what a stud farm is. I wonder what other t-shirts he owns.

Back at the Ahuja Residency, I again have trouble trying to talk to anyone on Skype. I call Alok, who is in charge of the hotel’s IT. I tell him “Hello, it’s Vicki from the Ahuja Residency.” He says, “I know.” He recognizes my voice on the phone. He asks me how long I’ve been having this trouble. Three days, maybe, I tell him. He wants to know why I didn’t call him earlier. I thought it might have been a passing issue. I thought it was just a lull in the network and it would repair itself, but it hasn’t. I need his help again. He tells me he can come over tomorrow and take a look at it. For tonight, though, I’ll need to talk to Scott the old fashioned way: on the phone.

After our call, I read a little Vivekananda. He is talking, of all things, about the suffering of humankind, referred to in Hinduism as maya. He says that to change the object (the world around us), we have to change the subject (ourselves). To prove this, he explains that the things that bothered him as a child no longer bother him as an adult. He used to cry when he was hungry, for instance. Now he no longer weeps. This is because he has changed.

Further, he says that we will understand and overcome suffering when we recognize that God is in everything. The flooding in Bihar, the violence in Kashmir, the lovely lizard who has come calling on me this week, my giant, wonderful crepe: God is in all these things. This knowledge, he says, changes our outlook on life. This is the knowledge we need to change ourselves.

It strikes me that this is the exact same thing that Julianne was trying to explain about how God has changed her life when we were talking about suffering on Sunday—only this time it kind of makes sense to me.

And this is exactly why I’m interested in looking at religion from different angles. I have come to understand the same thing by a different path, one that is less ruined by personal associations with bad American politics, by far right-wingers who use religion to forward their personal agendas and who, by so doing, create resistance and walls that I can’t get over. These people who use religion to beat people, to judge people and to get power just make me angry and send me packing. They muck it all up for me.

It’s possible that here in India, there are the same kinds of twistings and controversies, but not in the books I am reading on the subject, not in the basic facts of the religion. And that’s all I’m looking for: the basic ways of thinking about God and the self that are at the root of religious thought here. Vivekananda is a great introduction for this. I am happy to have had this book loaned to me; I would never have happened upon it myself.

I read a little bit longer than I should and go to sleep a little bit later than I should if I want to wake up at six thirty to start heating my hot water. But when I finally go to bed, I am relaxed and fall asleep quickly, knowing that God, if he exists, is surely with me and my pet lizard who I’ve just spied outside my balcony door.


auntlinda said...

thanks for the tour of india via pictures . they are very candid and show a true picture of where you are. loved them. thanks so much for sharing . loved the sham market. i can think of a few places here in chicago that could use such a sign!!!

It's me mom said...

Fantastic pictures. I'm enjoying the tour, got to see where you work and all the places you've been writing about. Gorgeous pancake too, by the way.

Kathryn Jane d/b/a Kit Kat said...

I enjoyed the Snake Facts sign. You have no idea how relieved I am to finally know that snakes aren't flying, cold-hearted, revenge seeking killers...

Vicki said...

LOL on the snake facts. I'm glad it was readable. Yes, I liked that sign as well. Isn't Photobucket a great site? I was so glad to be able to get my pictures out there to share them. And that's just a few! I didn't realize I'd taken so many snaps until I started going through them to upload them. I'm glad I did. It brought back a lot of memories of my time here already =)