There are two people in the car this morning. Palminder sits in the passenger seat and a bearded young man with fluffy hair, Gopi, sits behind the wheel. He explains to me he’s driving today because Palminder is very sick. Poor Palminder. He can’t just stay home and sleep. He has to ride along with us, presumably to show Gopi the route.
At work, Amar asks me how my trip was. I tell him it was wonderful. The Golden Temple was amazing. He recalls being a child in 1984 and hearing that two Sikhs had assassinated the prime minister. At the time, Sikhs were fighting against the Indian government for independence. He says there were some terrorists who took over the Harmandir and the Prime Minister sent the army up to disburse them. In return for what the Sikhs saw as an attack, the Prime Minister’s two Sikh bodyguards turned on her and killed her. Amar remembers his school principal crying.
This is certainly a different view of the Sikhs. I have to make room for this information in my schema. Things are peaceful now, it’s clear. But at one point, not so long ago, certain Sikhs were regarding themselves as freedom fighters and others were regarding them as terrorists. “We are a martial people,” Mister Singh told me. I wonder how the peace was made, if the horror of this assassination was enough to quell those clamoring for their own state.
At lunch there is a cauliflower and potato subzi. I don’t think it’s bad, but Amar says it’s undercooked. After lunch, I’m talking to Shabnum and Yajnaseni walks up holding her stomach and whining. Lunch was so bad. It wasn’t cooked. She hopes there were no worms in the cauliflower. At least if it’s cooked, the worms are dead.
We take our post-lunch walk as I ponder what I can do at this point to kill the possible worms in my stomach. How about a lot of hot coffee? How about some of that Indian after-dinner chew stuff? It’s supposed to be good for the digestion. I admit to myself that if there were worms, I probably can’t kill them on my own. I’ll probably need drugs. I'll have to email Susie and ask her for the name of that medicine when I get back to my desk.
Shabnum’s excited about the Pearson book sale coming up this Saturday. Am I going? I probably won’t, I say. I don’t have any room left in my luggage as it is, let alone the prospect of stuffing heavy books into it.
You should go anyway, Shabnum says. It’s really something to see, Jonaki agrees.
Maybe I’ll just go to browse then, I say. But Shabnum says there is no browsing. There’s climbing and yelling. The sale takes place twice a year in a warehouse where a giant pile, a heap of unsold books, is unloaded onto the floor. You get there at about nine in the morning and you have to climb up the side of the pile and start digging for books that look good to you. Last year Jonaki took off her shoes so she wouldn’t harm the books and then almost lost them in a landslide as she scrambled up the side of the pile.
Angshuman usually gets there early and digs a hole for himself in the pile. He picks up good books and calls the titles out to see if anybody wants them. The books are all, like, fifty cents a piece.
This sounds like an interesting event: something that might be the bonus round on a Japanese game show. I still don’t know if I’ll go, though. I wanted to sit in on Mister Singh’s daughter’s yoga class this Saturday morning. Yoga or book diving? It’s a tough choice.
I thought that Gopi told me he was going to drop Palminder off during the day, and he’d be driving me home by himself in the evening, but Palminder is still sitting in the passenger seat. I get in the car and we take off. I can see that Gopi, like Palminder and Sonu, is a Sikh. He seems to have pretty good English, so I tell him about my weekend trip. “I went to Amritsar,” I say. “And I bought a kara!” I hold up my arm and show him my bracelet. He seems excited about it. How did I like it? he wants to know. Did I go to the Wagaugh Border too?
Gopi is chatty all the way home. He tells me he lives in Punjab about 30 kilometers from Amritsar. His father farms wheat and rice. He has three sisters and a brother. He’s not married, but his number is up. It’s his turn. He points out sights as we pass them. This is the Akshardam Temple. It’s beautiful. Very beautiful. And here is a Sai Temple. Sai Baba.
I wonder how sick Palminder is and if Gopi will be my new driver for the rest of my stay. Not that I want Palminder to be sick, but Gopi is so much more friendly and helpful. Through all our conversation, Palminder sits silently with a familiar blank look on his face.
Gopi drops me off and I give both him and Palminder a tip. “Thank you, madam,” Gopi says and smiles, like he’s totally surprised to get a tip at all. Palminder just grabs the money and says nothing.
Gopi tells me tomorrow it will just be him picking me up. I say that’s just fine.
I spend the evening petting my dogs and having a mixed veg uttapum at Sagar. I think they finally recognize me when I walk in. It only took about three months.