Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ood Ight


I walk down to the breakfast table and George is there. “There’s an American invasion today,” he says. There’s a woman at the table from Florida. She’s so friendly. She chatters the whole time. She’s been here strictly on pleasure. She was up north doing a lot of hiking.

At work, Amar tells me he’s just read my blog. Only 44 days left, huh? I must go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I must. It’s dirty. Very dirty, he tells me. “Dirtier than Delhi?” I ask. Yes, he says. This is hard for me to imagine. It’s a bit of a fright, actually.

Amar continues talking up the place. I shouldn’t go alone. There are a lot of touts who’ll try to separate you from your money. If you acknowledge them, you’ll never get rid of them. You have to ignore them. Oh, and the roads are bad. Very bad. So when am I going?

Hrm. I can’t wait.

There are other places I should see in Agra as well. There is the Agra Fort, another Mughul red sandstone masterpiece. Then there is the tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah. This tomb was actually designed by the wife of Emperor Jahangir while he was busy being strung out on opium and blitzed out on alcohol. His wife, Nur Jahan, actually wielded a lot of power and basically ran the empire for her chemically-altered other half. Since she was Persian, the style of the tomb is different, Amar says. It’s actually more intricate, even, than the Taj Mahal, though not larger or more magnificent.

At three thirty, I step out for my follow up appointment. The eye doctor wanted to see me again today. This time when I get to the front desk to check in, I wait a long time in line and, just when it is about to be my turn, a woman steps right in front of me and proceeds to get her business taken care of. It is a long and involved matter, none of which I understand. Another man walks up. He also looks like he’s going to step right in front of me. I have to get right up on the woman at the counter to prevent him from stepping in.

The woman at the next desk finally calls me over. I tell her I have a four o’clock appointment with Doctor Rajesh Gupta. She tells me he’s not here yet. I’ll have to sit down and wait for another ten or fifteen minutes, then she’ll prepare my bill. This means I have to also wait in this intake line all over again. I am not pleased. I’m also not pleased to spend a lot of time in the crowded lobby with sick people after just getting over my bubonic flu, but what can I do? I sit and watch the clock. I watch a small, thin boy with a plaster cast wait while his father with henna in his hair transacts business at the intake desk. The boy’s sling is a thin, dirty piece of cotton cloth tied in a knot. He holds a green plastic bag that says “Jain Bookstore” on it. There is a big Jain bookstore in Connaught Place. I wonder if this is something like the Catholic school system: religious-sponsored education.

Twenty minutes later, the woman calls me back to the front desk. She takes my two hundred rupees and sends me upstairs where I wait again. Two men are installing a wooden door in the waiting room. The door is only half stained, there is no glass in the opening, and there are nails sticking out of it. I think of the story Jonaki told me about the roads being built with substandard building materials. That’s why they’re falling apart so quickly. I think this problem is endemic. I am watching these men install a new door and it already looks old and dilapidated.

An Indian soap opera plays quietly on the television. There is dramatic music, then a close up of a woman with a glittering bindi and nose ring under a bright pink veil.

The men pound a hinge into the wall, then remove it because the door is crooked and won’t close. It strikes me that this is my method of assembling things: trial and error. I never hang a picture without putting at least three holes in the wall. I would think that professional craftspeople, though, in whatever country, would have a better system than I do. These men, however, do not.

I wait and wait and wonder if the doctor is exacting a karmic punishment on me for busting in on him so rudely last time when I came back thinking the medicine he prescribed me would give me eye blisters.

When I finally get called into the office a half an hour late, he gives no indication of being hurried or running late. He simply asks how my eyes are. They’re better, I tell him. What percent better, he wants to know. Eighty percent, I estimate.

He peeps into my eyes through his little apparatus, asking me to look to the right, then left, then up and down. He lifts my lids, then leans back. There is no sign of infection, which means it must be an allergy. I should keep wearing my glasses for the next five weeks or so.

“Five weeks!” I exclaim. “I never wear my glasses.”

He seems a bit taken aback. “I am sorry I have to tell you this news, but your eyes will probably get irritated if you wear your lenses again.”

I think I’m willing to risk itchy eyes, but I don’t argue with the guy.

He draws an elaborate scheme out to show me how many eye drops I should take for the next four weeks. Instead of writing out “week one: four drops a day,” he makes a little picture: a loopy line with four drops coming off of it.

It’s cute and all, I just don’t think I can keep wearing my glasses for that long, especially if there’s no infection and my eyes truly are eighty percent better already. Five weeks is the rest of my time in India. I refuse to be Ugly Betty’s red-haired bespectacled cousin for the rest of my trip.

I thank him for his time and get the prescription refilled just in case my eyes actually do bother and I need it. At the chemist’s downstairs, there is a poster that I hadn’t noticed before. It reads, “Help us fight the menace of spurious drugs. Insist on a bill.” I’m not sure what this means. I wonder if I’ve had any spurious drugs. I wonder if half the people here know what spurious means. It seems a complicated word for people whose second language is English. Why not say “fake” drugs, or “bad” drugs? Finally, how does insisting on a bill fight this menace? I am confused on many counts.

Back at the office I almost finish editing my chapter on marketing. It is such a welcome change to edit something readily understandable, unlike the morass of text on international financial management. This is almost too easy by comparison. I feel like I’m cheating.

On the way home, we pass the collection of painted Ganesh statues that has appeared in front of the crumbling brick village. One day there were hundreds of white statues, some six feet tall. Then the next day, some of them were painted fantastic pinks and reds and blues. Then more of them were painted. Now they’re all painted and people walk up and back browsing, shopping for Ganesh statues.

I decide to walk to the market for dinner. As I’m walking past Mister Kundari’s house, he pulls up in his car. I tell him hello. He shakes my hand and smiles largely. He heard I was sick. Am I better? Yes. Can I still come to his temple some Sunday, I’d like to know. Of course. And I should come over the day after tomorrow at eight thirty—no, eight fifteen.

At the market, I decide to try a different restaurant. I go to Moets, which everyone raves about. Amar and Tehseen came here the other night. Shabnum’s fiancée said I should try it sometime.

Moets is actually four different restaurants with different cuisines. There’s an Italian place, a seafood place, a continental place and a Muglai/Kashmiri place. I choose Curry Leaf: the Kashmiri place. The inside is decidedly posh with large fabric lanterns and crushed red velvet booths for seating. I order something I can’t pronounce and have to point to on the menu. It’s described as being made of red pepper and other ground vegetables. When it comes, it looks like four large cigars, garnished with onion and beet. The flavor and texture are okay, but it is decidedly dry. I only eat two cigars worth and have the rest packaged to go. Since I still have room, I ask for sweets (that’s what they call desserts here). The waiter recommends kulfi. “Indian ice cream,” he tells me.

He brings the ice cream and a bowl of rice noodles beside it. He tells me I can mix these in and eat it together if I like it.

I like it.

The kulfi tastes like sweet flowers and is full of coconut. It’s melty and milky and delicious. This dish I finish completely. It makes up for my strange cigar food.

Back at the Ahuja Residency, my Internet is on the fritz again. I can only hear every third word that my husband says, and our calls keep dropping. It’s frustrating to be unable to talk to him.

We say goodnight, or, should I say, “ood… ight,” and I walk into the other room to turn off the light.

There, by the door, I notice I have a visitor: a tiny pink and green lizard has dropped by this evening to say hello. I spend a good deal of time staring at him in his complete stillness. He even lets me take a flash photo of him without moving a muscle. I figure he’s going to camp out for a while, but when I leave the room and come back, I find he’s vanished completely. It was a brief visit, but a lovely one. I hope he comes back sometime soon, but not as much as I hope the Internet comes back.

1 comment:

SRWRay said...


I know you hate your glasses, but give your eyes a break at least for a few more days. And make sure you keep taking the drops the doctor perscribed. Just yesterday I was reading an artical about all the medical problems caused by people stopping their meds before they're done because they feel better. What a mess.

I like your new little lizard buddy. He's cute!

I had a similar friend when I was in Malaysia. He was very pale, and liked to hang out on the walls or cling to the ceiling. The amazing part was when he would miss his footing as he walked along the ceiling. He'd fall to the floor, but then just flip onto his feet, give a little shake and run right back up the wall.