Friday, September 26, 2008

Honesty

Thursday

Thursday I have an email in my inbox from the newdirections program home office. They can’t put a link to my blog in their newsletter in light of recent entries. I understand, of course. My blog has been more personal than business-oriented from the beginning. Still, if I had written about breaking a leg or having chest pains or any other number of physical conditions, I don’t think there would have been an issue. No one was embarrassed on my behalf when I told them I had necrosis. The email was very kind, but still I feel a twinge of shame.

I debated about whether I should disclose the information about my health or not but finally decided that if I didn’t, it would be the end of my blog as we know it. How could I take this most important piece of information and pretend it didn’t affect me and my experience here and what I was thinking and seeing and doing? It’s certainly not the most glamorous or funny or intriguing part of what’s happened to me while I’ve been here, but it happened, and it’s part of my story, and that’s what I’ve been putting on my blog the whole time. My story. If I stopped telling my story, I don’t know what I’d post: a list of foods I ate and places I went? Why bother? We’ve been there already and had the meals together. A pancake at Sagar. A pasta dish at Liquid Kitchen. It’s all pretty routine by now.

Am I apologizing? I suppose I am, in case I’ve offended anyone or made them uncomfortable. I didn’t mean to do so. That being said, I’m going to continue to tell the truth, or at least try. It’s not worth the time and the energy it takes to write otherwise.

Thursday at work I get very close to finishing chapter seven. We have two more chapters from the author, and I’d like to finish editing them before I leave. I think I’m on track to do so. Then at least I will have handled half a book on my own while I’ve been here. I wasn’t here long enough to edit an entire volume, especially since at the beginning of my assignment I was working on multiple projects and meeting with people and learning about the editing process in general.

We’ve sent chapter six off to the author and asked him to revise the passages we found on the Internet, though we haven’t heard anything back from him. We’ll give him another day to respond.

“Good evening,” Palminder greets me on my way to the car. The drive has become so familiar and, unless it rains and causes havoc, it is routine and uneventful. We don’t pass any elephants or see any monkeys. The boys sell the magazines at the red light by Indraprastha Park. I am home in about forty five minutes.

At the gate the guard bows his head to me. “Good evening, madam,” he says. I don’t see the little black dog around anywhere.

“No dog today?” I ask.

“No, madam. Eighty two. Eighty two.” Mister Singh has stopped by. I go up to my room and drop off my bag. I take the book he lent me on the Golden Temple and the bag of scarves he gave me for our trip, then walk over to my neighbor’s house, wondering why he called on me.

Mister Singh is sitting in his bedroom on his couch watching tv. He wanted me to see this. There is a broadcast everyday live from the Golden Temple. It’s on from four in the morning until six a.m. and from six in the evening until eight p.m., the times when they “wake up” the holy book and put it back to sleep for the night.

“You reach home late,” he says. It’s already after seven. “Long work day.”

“And I’m the first one to leave the office each night,” I tell him. My colleagues work incessantly. Speaking of whom, I tell him, my boss has decided he wants to visit Amritsar. He heard me talk about it and it sounded so good, he wants to see it now too.

Mister Singh smiles. “Tell me when he wants to go and we can fix it for him.” He’s offering to set everything up again like he did for me. He’s a regular ambassador to Amritsar.

We watch the broadcast and listen to the hymn for a bit. He gets up and gets several books from the shelf behind his bed. One is wrapped in an orange bandana. Sikhs do this as a sign of respect for their holy books, Mister Singh explains to me. So this is what I saw everyone carrying around at the temple. He hands the wrapped up book to me and tells me to open it. I untie it and see that it is still shrink-wrapped. He tells me to tear off the packaging. I do. This is the Japjee, the Sikh morning hymn. The book’s in English so I can read it.

Poonam walks in clapping her hands, delighted to see me. I am likewise delighted to see her. She sits down next to me on the couch and says how much she enjoys listening to Mister Singh when he explains things to me. “I learn from him too,” she says.

Opposite the table of contents, there is a verse written in Punjabi. Mister Singh tells me this is the heart of their religion. It begins with a symbol that is like Om, but means more specifically that God is One. It continues with a symbol that means God is Truth. “God is the only truth,” Mister Singh says. “Man is never true. There is always something. But God cannot be untrue.”

I think of my dictum to be honest when I write. Am I? Can I be? It’s true that however much I disclose, there is still more that I keep to myself. Am I even honest with myself? Mister Singh is right. However true I try to be, it feels like an onion and I am never at the center, I’m always just peeling back layers. If I ever got to the middle, what would be there? Nothing? God? Some essential version of myself?

Mister Singh flips through the pages. The book begins with a short introduction, then has a verse about what makes a good Sikh.

“Read it out,” Poonam says.

I read aloud and surprisingly my voice cracks a bit in places because in reading this description, I very much recognize my kind neighbor, Mister Singh:

A true Sikh rises before the night ends
And turns his thoughts to God’s Name,
To charity and holy bathing.
He speaks humbly and humbly he walks.
He wishes everyone well and he is content to
Give away gifts from his hand.
He sleeps but little,
And little does he eat and talk.
Thus he receives the Guru’s true teaching.
He lives by the labor of his hands and he does good deeds.
However eminent he might become,
He demonstrates not himself.
He sings God’s praises in company of holy men.
Such company he seeks night and day.
Upon the Word is his mind fixed
And he delights in the Guru’s will.
Untempted he lives in this world of enticement.

Mister Singh shows me the rest of the introduction to the prayer. There is a brief biography on each of the ten Sikh gurus. He tells me the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, was put together by the gurus and they took hymns and wisdom from all over the world.

Verse 17 of the Japjee says:

There are myriad ways to worship the Almighty—whether they be through rituals,
self-abnegation, the practice of austerities, exaltation or contemplation.
Limitless are the scriptures and their elucidations. Numerous are the devotees
and their ways to attain self-realization.


Sikhs don’t try to change anyone’s religion, Mister Singh says. They believe, like the Japjee says, that there are multiple routes to God. Another large quote precedes the prayer in the book:

Some call him Rama, others know him as Khuda.
Some serve Him as Goswami,
Others remember him as Allah.
Some bathe at Hindu temples, others go on Haj
Some recite from the Vedas, others from the Quran
Some wear the blue robes, others are clas in white
Says Nanak, he who obeys His command,
He alone understands the secret of the Lord
Raga Ramkali V (Guru Granth
Sahib
, 885)

Mister Singh tells me the story of the ninth guru who was beheaded at the gurdwara in Chandni Chowk when he refused to convert to Islam, the same gurdwara where Palminder picked us up the day we went to the spice market.

I could stay and listen to Mister Singh all night, but I tell him I have to leave. Mister Kandhari has invited me over to his house at eight o’clock tonight. I’m going to meet his daughter who lives in New York.

Okay then. I should go. I should tell my friends they can see the Golden Temple on tv whenever they want to, though. And he’ll ask his daughter-in-law about yoga on Saturday.

He gives me the Japjee. I can take it home and read it. I should also take the book on the Golden Temple that he lent me before. I can give it to my boss. As I’m leaving he asks if I’ll put the books in my room before I go to Mister Kandhari’s so they’re safe. Of course. I shake his hand and thank him. It’s so nice to have such pleasant company in the evening. Normally I spend the nights alone. He says he’s happy to have my company as well. He enjoys talking with me.

I take the books home and walk over to Mister Kandhari’s house. He’s in his living room talking to a business associate. Mister Kandhari is always working; his cell phone is always ringing or he’s always off to somewhere to meet somebody. He works six days a week, he says, then on Sundays, he runs the kitchen at the gurdwara. And everyday, he works for two or three hours on his gardens. I don’t know where he gets the energy, except that he seems to really enjoy whatever it is he’s doing.

His daughter is heavy set. She’s dressed in black western clothes and wears an enormous rock on her left hand index finger. It could be a diamond from how successful Mister Kandhari has described her as being. “Would you just give me two minutes?” she says and walks away into the house.

Mister Kandhari asks if I’d like to sit inside or outside. Outside, I say. It’s pretty nice and his garden really is beautiful. He has his house helper set up three chairs.

We chat about how things are going. I might go to Jaipur. There’s a place about two hours past there that’s good for meditation. He’ll tell me all about it if I go.

His daughter sits down with us. They talk in Hindi, or is it Punjabi, about what I can’t make out. She asks me some questions. What am I doing here? How long am I here for? What do I do back home? Her cell phone rings. “Take him to the Cheesecake Factory,” she says. Just hearing Cheesecake Factory sounds so funny in India. It sounds so out of place. She’s clearly talking to someone back home. Always working, just like her father.

She wishes she could stay longer, but she has to go. Maybe I could stop by tomorrow if I get the chance. She leaves on Saturday, so it’s pretty much her last day here.

“I hardly get to see her,” Mister Kandhari says. It’s a real Cats in the Cradle moment. I feel bad for him.

He asks me to stay for dinner and I do. We eat in a little sitting area in the corner of his bedroom. He turns on the tv news. There is more investigation into the Indian Mujahidin. It’s sad that there’s so much terrorism here, I tell Mister Kandhari. I didn’t know it was such a problem before I got here. “Yes,” he says. “They hate anyone who is not a Muslim.” They learn from a young age that people other than Muslims are evil, then they go out and kill.

When we’re done eating, Gopi brings two large containers of ice cream. “Take,” Mister Kandhari says. I do. Like his rice pudding, it’s made with less sugar than usual, but it’s still good.

We walk out into the garden and sit for another little while. It’s almost ten. It’s past the time when Mister Kandhari goes to sleep. I tell him I’ll be going. “Will you come on Sunday?” He wants to know if I’ll go to Bangla Sahib to feed the hungry again.

“If you’ll call me to wake me up,” I tell him.

“Okay. Okay,” he says, and shakes my hand on the deal.

2 comments:

It's me mom said...

I think of my dictum to be honest when I write. Am I? Can I be? It’s true that however much I disclose, there is still more that I keep to myself. Am I even honest with myself? Mister Singh is right. However true I try to be, it feels like an onion and I am never at the center, I’m always just peeling back layers. If I ever got to the middle, what would be there? Nothing? God? Some essential version of myself?

I wanted to comment on the above paragraph. It's okay to hold things back, no one ever truly reveals everything about themselves. I'm sure at the center of that onion you would find your heart, which contains God.

GrandTrunk Road said...

I wondered about your candid comments on a very personal part of your life a few posts ago. They were very moving and you underscored the very nature and spirit of your blog---truth as you saw it, transparency, recording, compelling stuff. You are brave and I hope you keep using tis medium to explore this portion of your life journey. I think there's a place for this blog content in print as well.